Managing Teams During COVID-19: Leading in the Grey

Posted May 25, 2020 by Casey Clark in Managing Your Team
Develop your skills as a proactive leader in your business and learn how to lead your team with empathy while maintaining a strong performance culture.

As COVID-19 continues to impact companies everywhere, many owners are wondering, “what comes next?” Given this uncertainty, Justworks partnered with Cultivate Advisors to host a webinar aimed at developing your skills as a proactive leader in your business. Co-Founder and CEO of Cultivate Advisors Casey Clark shares some of those vital insights here to help you lead your team with empathy while maintaining a strong performance culture.

Leading in Uncertain Times

Uncertain times can severely test your leadership skills. It is during these times that great leaders act — and act decisively. Through their actions, they determine whether their company is going to survive or thrive in a crisis.

The past few months have forced many leaders to lead in the grey. As the economy begins to reopen and life starts to shift towards a new normal, there are still many unknowns. However, one thing remains black and white — to grow and thrive, you need talented employees to retain, engage, and perform.

How can you step up to lead effectively and refocus your team's attention towards your long-term vision? You must learn to be a proactive leader in your business, leading your team with empathy while maintaining a strong performance culture. The keys to building the foundation for a performance culture include:

  • Building trust
  • Mastering conflict
  • Holding accountability meetings

These key concepts, along with others covered in the webinar, can help you develop your employees and create a high-performance culture.

Use our guide to to answer common questions and keep your team safe and informed about COVID-19.

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Building a Performance Culture

Often, what separates high-performing teams from other organizations is their culture. And by creating a performance culture, you can lead your organization to achieve high results consistently. In addition to delivering consistent results, high-performance cultures have a stickiness factor that leads to outstanding employee retention.

Without a performance culture, businesses run the risk of attrition and lack of engagement. According to Gallup, disengaged employees can cost an estimated 34% of their salary. In a post-pandemic world, less engaged performers won't leave, but top performers still will have opportunities. That is why it is important to start building a foundation for performance culture now.

There are three steps you can take now to start working with your team to create a strong company culture based on results.

Building Trust

Trust is the foundation of a great workplace. Your team can enjoy their work and be engaged in moving the company forward, but if they don't trust you or their supervisors, they'll doubt the company and have less pride in their accomplishments. Building trust in an organization has many benefits, including positive attitudes, higher levels of cooperation, better communication, job satisfaction, and increased performance quality.

While much of the trust between employers and employees is developed subconsciously, there are steps you can take to build more trusting relationships with your team, which can lead to reduced friction and improved performance.

  • Don't force it - Trust develops in an open and natural environment. You can't force it — let it develop over time.
  • Lead by example - A great way to start trust development is to lead by example. Show your team what trust in others looks like.
  • Communicate openly - Open communication is essential for building trust. Everyone on your team should be talking to one another in an honest, meaningful way.
  • Get to know each other more - Ask questions and encourage your team to see and communicate with their colleagues as people.
  • Avoid blame - Mistakes happen, and it's easy to blame someone who makes them. Placing blame lowers morale, undermines trust, and is ultimately unproductive.
  • Openly discuss trust issues - Pinpoint the source of the problems that arise and develop a strategy to overcome them.
  • Listen more - Simply listening to your team can also develop a deeper level of trust.

A key thing to remember is that building trust takes time. By taking the time to foster that trust in your organization, you’ll see increased retention, increased performance, and camaraderie.

Mastering Conflict

When a group of people works together, conflict is inevitable. When conflict arises, it's often swept under the rug. But conflict doesn't go away, and it can't be avoided forever.

One key to creating an atmosphere that breeds performance (and trust) is by mastering your leadership skills when it comes to addressing conflict both for yourself as a leader and also for your team.

In addition to delivering consistent results, high-performance cultures have a stickiness factor that leads to outstanding employee retention.

The easiest way to handle conflict is learning to resolve it in a healthy way. Healthy conflict requires that you address issues that stand between you and the other person. Do you ever find yourself bringing something up from 6 months ago in a conversation? That's the problem with not having healthy conflict. Knowing how to surface issues and engage in civil and meaningful conflict with others is key to success both in the workplace and in life.

Bringing up conflict so it can be resolved is tricky, but not impossible. Here are four steps to start developing an open-conflict environment:

  • Prepare - Schedule a meeting ahead of time to discuss the conflict for which both parties prepare. By scheduling the time to discuss the conflict, you can help to defuse emotion.
  • Acknowledge - Be proactive in starting the conversation versus. ignoring it. If something is bothering you, say something in a respectable and empathetic manner. People may avoid a situation or gossip instead of constructively talking about it. Look at what was done and why it’s upsetting so you can communicate clearly.
  • Validate - Practice empathy and open dialogue so all people are heard. Be tactful in addressing concerns without being judgmental or condescending.
  • Agree on the next steps - Focus on the behavior, not the individual. The goal here is to diffuse the emotions. Once the emotions are diffused and both parties are heard, only then can you shift to problem-solving.

Allowing conflict to go unresolved can cost a business in many ways. Regular conflict and tension between employees can raise emotions, waste time, decrease morale and productivity, increase absenteeism, and lead to the loss of the brightest and best employees.

Healthy conflict builds a stronger team overall with better retention, higher productivity, and stronger working relationships.

Embracing Accountability

Accountability is about ownership and initiative. Developing a culture in which all employees are responsible for their own actions, performance, and decision making are directly correlated with an increased commitment to their goals leading to a higher performance.

Trust is a key factor. Being accountable builds trust. The trust enables you to delegate more to your team, so your company grows. The biggest thing is alignment to an overall goal to ensure people are focused and clear on their contribution to an overall vision.

As a leader, it is your responsibility to encourage this ownership while holding tension to the goals. It’s about open, proactive communication. An easy way to achieve accountability is through a consistent recurring meeting structure.

First, determine how often you should meet — weekly, biweekly, monthly — and stick to it. Consider how best to structure the meeting in order to achieve the goals you’ve set for it. Participants should prepare ahead of time, coming to the meeting ready to check in on the goals and review progress made toward them. Don’t forget to re-assess and set new goals for the next meeting, walking through the steps to reach each new goal established. Accountability meetings are not meant to micromanage employees, but create an environment where employees feel supported.

All of these elements build on top of one another so you can focus on results. Performance cultures are not built overnight. Like building trust, it takes time.

Whether you're just starting to grow, or you've had a large team for years, it is never too late to start working on your culture. This webinar provides actionable tips on how small businesses can begin to implement this framework so that you stay agile and navigate through the grey.

If you need more help with your leadership and don't know where to start, you don't have to go at it alone. Schedule a free two-hour session to dig into your business and develop a plan.


As a motivated business leader, Casey Clark is a passionate entrepreneur who got his start owning a home service franchise. After nearly a decade, he successfully exited his role with 90+ franchise owners and over 600+ employees. Casey went on to create Cultivate Advisors with his business partner.

As the CEO of Cultivate, his team has helped thousands of owners reach their growth objectives through core business skill development and scalable systemization. In 2019, Cultivate ranked #280 on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies. The mission of Cultivate Advisors is to partner with committed entrepreneurs in propelling their business beyond expectations.

This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, legal or tax advice. If you have any legal or tax questions regarding this content or related issues, then you should consult with your professional legal or tax advisor.