Overcoming Workplace Challenges:

Name Them to Tame Them

How can you as a leader or individual team member work with your team when it comes to overcoming common workplace challenges? First, it’s helpful to know that I call workplace challenges POWs. A POW is something internal or external that feels like a heavy blow. When dealing with challenges in the workplace, one strategy is to name the POWs to tame them. To overcome common workplace challenges, categorize them and take the power out of the POW.

Ideas for overcoming workplace challenges

Here are a few ideas for how you and your team can talk about overcoming workplace challenges in a positive and productive manner. Together, you can identify specific strategies to manage the problems that inevitably arise whether they are obstacles in the workplace or personal challenges and strategize ways for overcoming workplace challenges. Let’s look at the four different types of POWs and how you and your team can shrink each one.

Predictable POWs

A predictable POW is a problem or challenge that the team can anticipate. It has a trigger or direct cause. When “A” happens, then “B” is most likely to follow as a POW. For example, the introduction of new technology is often a Predictable POW. (Remember, when we talk about overcoming workplace challenges, it helps when we identify them – new technology introductions are often cited as workplace challenges that need to be overcome.)

Other Predictable POWs include scheduling time off for holidays or summer vacation, new employees needing orientation, changes in leadership, annual performance reviews, physical changes in the office and busy or slow seasons. These are just a few Predictable POWs that directly impact how employees feel about overcoming workplace challenges.

The one good thing about a Predictable POW is that you can anticipate it and with a little forethought, you and the team can work to minimize its impact. (This is a great tip for overcoming workplace challenges.) If you can eliminate the POW altogether, you have just overcome a workplace challenge. The shortcut is to get the team involved before the POW occurs to determine what is within everyone’s control:

  1. Identify potential triggers – situations or events that could cause a POW.
  2. What are the likely negative effects of the trigger?
  3. Can you minimize or eliminate the trigger? If so, how?
  4. If not, brainstorm ways to manage the negative effects so the team can work toward overcoming workplace challenges

Perpetual POWs

Perpetual POWs repeat over and over regardless of your best efforts cannot be stopped. Rush-hour traffic is a perfect example of a perpetual POW that you might experience personally. A Perpetual POW for every work team is change – it’s rapid, ongoing and often complex. Get used to it. This is a type of workplace challenge you cannot shrink. The volume of change might ebb and flow, the pace of change might speed up or slow down, but in the end, we will still be experiencing vast amounts of change. Other examples of Perpetual POWs include managing last-minute staff call-outs and experiencing conflict between cliques on the team.

When talking about overcoming workplace challenges, we cannot eliminate Perpetual POWs, but we can create a shortcut to shrink the effects of a Perpetual POW. A good way to minimize this type of POW is to create a “work-around” or alternate plan. For example, to avoid the POW of traffic find another route or choose a way to entertain yourself during your commute. You can shrink the POW of constant change by conducting training, sharing information and keeping people updated. These strategies directly contribute to employees’ ability to effectively manage workplace challenges. Another way is to benchmark how others have made improvements during various change efforts and then adopt those ideas.

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Preventable POWs

This type of POW is an internal or external situation or event that can be fixed or avoided. Procrastination is a prime example of a preventable internal POW. Putting something off until the last minute and all the stress associated with doing that is avoidable. External preventable POWs include lack of communication within a department due to team members not reading or responding to their email, gossiping, three-way conversations that avoid the real issue and lead to passive-aggressive behavior, bullying and so on.

When it comes to examples of overcoming workplace challenges, a common preventable team POW is inter-departmental conflict. When I worked as a nurse on a postpartum unit, we used to get frustrated with the labor & delivery nurses when they would call in a report for a new patient at shift change or send us a couple of admissions at once. We were only seeing things through our eyes and never stopped to think about what might be going on in their department. The real POW wasn’t the patient transfer; it was our misguided idea that they were “being mean” or doing it on purpose.

Open communication would have enabled us to overcome this workplace challenge. We could have gotten past the hurt feelings and misguided blame. As a leader, you can encourage inter-departmental communication and team building, shrink these kinds of POWs and guide employees to quickly overcome workplace challenges. (Here’s a helpful article from the Washington Post: “Tips for Overcoming Workplace Misunderstandings.”)

The shortcut to shrink Preventable POWs is similar to Predictable POWs. The process doesn’t have to be long and protracted. Think shortcut:

  1. Recognize the issue as a POW.
  2. Determine the root causes.
  3. Brainstorm ways to fix the underlying problem…and then fix it!

POWs you introduce

There is a final type of POW we need to talk about. Whether you’re a leader or team member, you may be the person introducing the POWs. Consider this the list of things NOT to do in your daily interactions with the team:

  • Micromanaging staff or other team members
  • Being disorganized
  • Holding back information
  • Not being present in the work area
  • Letting people “get away with things”
  • Being visibly disengaged yourself
  • Not personally greeting team members
  • Not listening to ideas from team members
  • Not addressing strategies for overcoming workplace challenges

We’ll stop here before you get too depressed. The point is to be aware of POWs that you are creating. They may be unintentional, and it’s important for you to recognize how these POWs could be negatively impacting team members’ engagement and set up road blocks for overcoming workplace challenges. The goal is to stop doing the POWs or shrink them before they become too big.

People often mistakenly think they shouldn’t talk about problems and workplace challenges because it will lead to more disengagement. In fact, the opposite is true. Leaders can enhance engagement when they acknowledge and validate something as a POW. Everyone on the team knows it’s a problem and some may be working on overcoming these workplace challenges. Yet if the leader acts like there is no problem or doesn’t help to overcome the workplace challenges then the team thinks the leader is clueless.

Remember, you and your team can talk about overcoming workplace challenges in a positive and productive manner.

Whether you’re a leader or individual contributor, you have the power to call a POW a POW. Your genuine concern, empathy and focus on overcoming workplace challenges goes a long way toward softening the blow of the POW. This is not the time to put your head in the sand. Jump in and help your team effectively shrink the POWs. Together, you can identify specific strategies to manage the problems that inevitably arise and strategize ideas for overcoming workplace challenges thus creating improved employee engagement.

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