Every business goes through periods when the workload increases significantly without a commensurate increase in staffing. Your role as leader is to keep your team members motivated and on task while providing them with outlets so that they don’t lose their perspective (and their sanity) under the pressure.
- Set priorities to keep your engineering team on an even keel. If you can’t realistically accomplish everything that management has thrown at you, evaluate the projects your team is working on and focus your efforts on those that align most closely with your organization’s and your department’s long-term strategies.
- Communicate regularly. Engineers are known for their technical skills rather than their communication skills. Get them talking by scheduling (brief) weekly team meetings and one-on-ones with every team member. Make sure everyone understands the team’s priorities and where their own efforts should be focused. These meetings are also a good time to recognize the progress your team has made.
- Encourage a collaborative environment so that your engineering team members benefit from each other’s strengths and experience. It’s much more efficient—and your team will accomplish more—if members pool their knowledge instead of trying to handle every aspect of a project on their own.
- Schedule no-interruption work periods. Engineers need thinking time to concentrate on their tasks, and they don’t get it when their days are packed with meetings or other disruptions. Set aside a few hours each day (or each week) as a no-meeting time. You also might suggest—and try yourself—ignoring your email and letting your phone pick up messages during that time.
- Lead by example. If you spend your time deploring the lack of resources and grumbling about the long hours that you’re putting in, your employees will pick up on it. But if you adopt a positive attitude—we will get through this if we all work together—your team members will reflect that confidence.
- Plan on down time. Engineers immersed in solving some problem may not think to surface for air. But everyone needs breaks when working long hours over several weeks or months. If you make time to get out for lunch or take at least a half day on weekends, your employees will feel comfortable following your lead. You’ll all come back refreshed and better prepared to tackle the next job.