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My team needs to gain new skills quickly because of changes in corporate strategy or departures

You have a great team – loyal employees, strong work ethic and they enjoy being part of the team. But when someone leaves the team, it might take a while to replace them… or it might not happen at all and the remaining people might have to cover their responsibilities. Or maybe some changes in corporate strategy have been announced that will require new skills needed by your people. Learning those skills will take time and they’re already working at capacity.  

No matter how committed they are, your team members will be evaluating what these new expectations for skill-building will mean for their already-tight bandwidth. It’s your job as the manager to lead them through their thoughts and emotions, so consider these perspectives:  

Announce the changes as soon as possible. Don’t let rumours start; pull your team together (including virtual members) and make the announcement yourself. 

Be honest about the new challenges but be fair to the organisation. Don’t sugar-coat the situation and be realistic about what it might look like. Present the details concisely, representing the organisation’s position but recognising your team’s concerns. Acknowledge that the training will take time, which might feel frustrating but it’s a temporary process. Once they have the new skills, the training will end and they’ll be able to use those skills in their positions. 

Let the team brainstorm for ways to work the skill-building into their schedules. Encourage creative, out-of-the-box suggestions that consider the needs of both onsite and remote colleagues.  

Look for ways to eliminate current work during the transition. If they’ve been working on a project that’s not essential for now, put it on hold or end it entirely. Hire a contractor to handle routine tasks to free up your people. Work together to decide the ‘critical few’ things that need to happen during the transition and eliminate the rest. If needed, ask your supervisor to help prioritise the projects your team is working on from their perspective, getting buy-in for the decisions you’re considering. 

Run interference for your people: 

  • In 1-to-1s, move away from status reports and focus on these new goals. Let them identify what skills they think they’ll need, then find ways to make that happen. 
  • If you sign your people up for onsite (or virtual) training sessions, count it as a day that they’re not working. Don’t pull them out for a perceived emergency; it tells them you don’t consider the training to be that valuable. If they’re in class for half a day, consider giving them the rest of the day off. 
  • Check regularly and individually on their work-life balance. If you see any red flags, intervene. 
  • Demonstrate your own work-life balance; they’ll learn more by watching your example than what you say.   

Building work-related skills takes time, but it makes the employee more valuable in their current and future roles. When it’s unexpected, it can be challenging, but a fair, empathic, caring approach can make it a positive for both you and your employees.