How to Stay Positive When Things Aren't Going Well

In times of stress, nurturing team culture can feel like work you don’t have time for. But I’d argue that during times of uncertainty, being intentional about it is vital—because your team culture can determine how you and your crew weather the storm. Last summer, we learned this lesson the hard way.

In August of 2016, Moz laid off roughly 28% of their staff. This was an emotional time for the folks we lost, and for those of us who remained after the dust settled. While we’d weathered challenges before, we’d never experienced anything at this scale.

Looking back on the past several months, I’ve distilled our hard-earned learnings into seven tactics anyone can use to maintain their team culture when the going gets tough.

1. Ask Yourself, “How Am I Showing Up Today?”

The attitude you choose to bring to a messy situation will affect you and the people around you, so make it count.

Asking yourself how you’re showing up is fairly easy, but doing something productive with the answer can be tricky. One of the most important lessons we learned is that it’s OK to take space to be upset. If a situation has you feeling discouraged, talk to someone you trust about it. If you’re feeling inspired, share that with your team—you might inspire them, too!

And if you bring a negative attitude to a situation, it’s likely that you’ll get nothing but negativity in return. Instead, try to see the positive, even if the positive is this can’t last forever.

2. Take Breaks

We’ve all had those moments where we’ve stared at something for so long we convince ourselves we’ll never have a creative thought or clever response again. Those feelings are signs it’s time to take a break.

Step away from what you’re working on and grab coffee or lunch with your team. Take a walk. Find a space to go offline for a while.

It might feel like you’re too busy swimming just to keep your head above water, but that’s usually a perception in our own heads. That lunch, coffee, or walk might inspire a creative solution you couldn’t see before. Even if that break just reminds you that there’s a life outside of the challenge you’re facing, take it. Encourage and support those around you to do the same.

3. Leave Space for Fun

It’s OK to acknowledge that sometimes work is hard, but it’s important to still find moments to have fun. Maybe you and your team need to work through lunch to get through a backlog. What if you moved to a conference room for a change of scenery and ordered pizza? What if you all agreed to work a little late and regardless of what you finish, end the night with a quick board game to lighten the mood?

Making time for fun can save you and your team from hating everything. It can also dramatically change your answer to the question, “How was your day?”

4. Remember Your Self-Care

Self-care, like breaks and fun, can feel like something we just don’t have time for when we’re busy, but this is when it’s most important. Self-care doesn’t have to be a whole spa day or expensive vacation. It can be reading your Kindle on your commute, binge watching Netflix, a delightfully early bedtime, knitting, a long run, or dinner with people you love.

Neglecting to care for yourself is a recipe for burnout. If you aren’t taking care of you, how do you expect to support those around you?

5. Tear Down and Rebuild Your Processes

Your team will change and evolve every day. Remember that what worked for you a year ago might not make any sense now. Even if a process used to be fantastic, don’t cling to it if it doesn’t work for your team anymore.

Instead, acknowledge that process for how it helped your team, set it to pasture, and create a new one that works for you today. Taking a little time to make a workflow more efficient now can save you some time (and energy) tomorrow.

6. Don’t Get Stuck in the Weeds

I’ve had moments in my career where I’ve been so focused on the fire that’s in front of my face, I’ve completely dismissed my long-term growth and career goals. Sure, we all have moments where we need to focus on the present rather than thinking toward the future, but make sure you don’t stay so zoomed in to the problem at hand that you don’t give enough attention to the long term.

After the layoffs, our team members became experts at giving each other tactical, day-to-day feedback, but we stopped having meaningful check-ins around career growth and development. Once we realized it, we went into high gear to write new documentation on career growth and re-invigorate our check-ins. Now even when times are hectic, we still have ways to keep the big picture in mind.

7. Have Honest Conversations, Even When They’re Hard

I get worried if I see my team make similar mistakes over and over again. Talk with your team, and ask yourselves questions like, “How did we get into this situation?” “Given what we know now, would we handle things the same way?” “What did we do well?” “What could we have done better?” “How can we avoid these pain points down the line?”

It’s OK to acknowledge that as a group you’re going into a difficult conversation. What’s important is that you stay honest in those conversations. Tell your truths, and take the time to hear others. Apply what you’ve learned the next time things get tough. Sometimes the hardest conversations build the most trust.

Last summer reminded me that it’s impossible to control most situations—all you can control is how you react, where you put your energy, and the intention you bring to your work. At the end of the day, team culture begins with you. Do your best to keep it awesome.

A version of this article was originally published on Help Scout. It has been republished here with permission.

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About Richard Moy

Richard Moy
Richard Moy is a Content Marketing Writer at Stack Overflow. He has spent the majority of his career in talent management, including a stint as a full-cycle recruiter and hiring manager. In addition to the career advice he contributes to The Muse, he also writes test prep and higher education marketing content for The Economist. Say hi on Twitter @rich_moy.

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