First Aid for Burned-Out Teams

By Kate Zabriskie

Kate Zabriskie-burned-out

The team’s exhausted. They’re burned-out, and I am too. I don’t know if we can recover. We’ve been working at 150 percent for over a year—at least most of us have.

More change? Really? We’ve been through three major transitions in as many months. Everyone is really on edge. I am pretty sure Susan is going to quit.

Team? We work in the same building, but that’s about where it starts and stops. I’m hoping to get out of here soon.

Even in the best of times, creating and maintaining a high-functioning team is work. When the team is burned-out, the task is infinitely harder, but it can be done.

Step One

The first step is accepting a list of truths.

When the team is burned-out, the task is infinitely harder, but it can be done. Click To Tweet

Truth One: People have different levels of buy-in, a range of professional goals, and varying home/work demands.

Truth Two: Not everyone experiences burnout in the same way nor is work always distributed evenly in most organizations. Some people probably are more burned-out than others.

Truth Three: Great teamwork will compensate for a lack of resources in the short term. However, teams that are stretched too thin for too long begin to show signs of wear and tear after a while.

Truth Four: If the leader isn’t a believer in what the team needs to accomplish or isn’t working as hard as he or she can to bring the team over the finish line each day, team members will know it and react in a range of ways—most of which are neutral at best.

Truth Five: Transparency matters. People don’t like being left in the dark, or worse still, lied to.

Truth Six: Too many changes at once usually don’t go over well unless there’s a logical flow to them, a sense of fairness about what’s being changed, and the absence of unnecessary chaos or drama.

Truth Seven: Elephants in a room stay there if they’re allowed to do so. If a team is not prepared to operate with candor and address any unspoken issues, there’s only so much that can be done to save the group.  

Truth Eight: Team members’ perceptions of the team’s condition are their truth. You may have plenty of data to argue to the contrary, but until people are ready to listen and believe what you show them, what they currently think is what is.

Step Two

Once you’ve got a firm understanding of the basic truths, the next step is taking a long and hard look at what’s working, what isn’t, and why. Does everyone understand and buy into the team’s mission? Is work distributed fairly? Are some people doing more than they should have to do and others doing less than they should? Are people resentful of each other? Is there drama, and do you know the source? Is the team’s burnout a recent phenomenon or has its decay been long in the making? Is the burnout caused by internal factors, external factors, or a combination of both? Have people been misled or lied to in the past by those in positions of authority?

Those questions are just the tip of the iceberg and some ideas to get started. In fixing burnout, asking the right questions is as important, if not more, so than taking action. A good list of questions will help you reduce the likelihood that you are treating symptoms or curing the wrong disease altogether.

Step Three

When you think you have a good grasp of the current situation and have verified your findings with others, it’s time to start thinking about what could be. A fast way to imagine a different state is to work through some more questions.

  • Why does our team matter to the organization and what value do we offer?
  • How do we want to feel about our work?
  • What gets us excited about our work or what do we enjoy?
  • What changes do we need to our work product, our work processes, or our people interactions?
  • What needs to stay the same?
  • What level of performance do we need from each team member?
  • What are we going to do if those levels aren’t met?
  • What additional resources do we need?
  • What would success look like?
  • What can we do to encourage transparency and communication?
  • How will we celebrate improvements?

Step Four

With a clear view of the present and a possible future, the next step is prioritizing. In most cases, burned-out teams don’t burn out overnight. Often the process is long and marked by a series of declines, bad luck, and unfortunate circumstances. Consequently, the recovery process is often long. In fact, the team may never realize some of the elements identified in step three for a long time, or maybe ever. Most recoveries don’t happen overnight. The trick is to keep the truths discussed in step one in mind as you prioritize a plan of action to get from the reality you uncovered in step two and the future you envisioned in step three.

Step Five

The final step in the recovery planning process is creating a deliberate communication plan. Recognize that you need to over-explain and repeatedly share information. Once is not enough. Also, not all recoveries are linear. Your team will have some good days and bad. What’s important is making progress in the right direction over time. After a series of successes, everyone who is still with the group should be feeling a little less burned-out and a lot more excited about the work at hand.

With these five steps well in hand, you’re positioned to provide some immediate triage to your team members that are battling burnout. Burnout can be pervasive throughout an entire company, so get your first-aid kit out as soon as you pick up on the problem, and mitigate the issue before it negatively impacts your operation.

Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised. For more information, visit

Yes, You Can! DIY Tips for Planning a Successful Professional Event

By Elena Langdon

Elena Langdon

So, you’ve been tasked with organizing a company event or educational meeting, or you’re looking into starting one for your professional circle, and now you’re wondering whether you have what it takes. While professional event organizers are probably necessary for meetings with attendance in the several hundred, you’d be surprised what a small group of dedicated volunteers can do for smaller gatherings, not to mention the free and user-friendly resources available to support you. And while there is such a thing as organizational engineering, it doesn’t take a graduate degree to plan and host a successful event, as long as you follow these six basic guidelines.


Whatever you do, don’t try this alone. You’ll need at least two other people to keep you on task and off the therapist’s couch. Depending on the size of the event, five to six people is plenty for the main planning, and then another dozen or so on-site for the actual gathering. You also must know (or learn) how to delegate. If your strengths don’t include drafting and sending out email blasts to 100 potential sponsors, delegate that to another team member who thrives on executing concrete tasks on a timely basis.

The more you organize the same event or similar ones for the same type of audience, the easier it gets. Click To Tweet


If you’re planning an event for the first time (or for the first time in a new location), this is the first thing you need to secure—especially if you or most of your team are not local. For example: a very qualified team based in Brazil and Canada organized what looked to be an amazing professional event in Boston, with top speakers and killer pre-conference social media buzz, only to end up canceling because they hadn’t secured a venue and didn’t check hotel prices. If you host an annual conference at the same location every year, nine months of preparation should suffice. The same holds true for events in new locations, as long as there are under fifty attendees. However, for large, multi-day events held in different cities every year, you’ll need more time for planning. Picking a venue can be quite fun. Don’t discard the possibility of universities, boutique hotels, or other creative solutions. Very successful annual meetings can be held in unique locations like state history museums, for example.

Speakers and sponsors

Selecting who will present at your event is also key. You can put out a call for proposals, personally invite presenters, or do a combination of the two. Some organizations have a budget to pay speakers, while others don’t, and yet there never seems to be a short supply of willing presenters. And speaking of budget, make sure you consider requesting financial support from sponsors and/or exhibitors. If you are offering food and paying speakers at your event, chances are you won’t break even without either this type of external support or charging high registration prices. Another distinguishing element that can add value to your conference is international experts; you’ll need to plan ahead so you can hire top-notch interpreters to bridge any language barrier, but with enough time and by choosing professionals who specialize in your field, communication will be flawless.


Other details to consider, which can vary widely from event to event, include the length of sessions and breaks, whether you want concurrent sessions or not, what parallel or extra-curricular gatherings to include, and the type of food you will offer. All of these will affect your budget and interest in the event—great marketing will only get you so far, and attendees are often motivated by small details like hot meals instead of boxed lunches.

Time and time-saving apps

Planning an event takes time, of course. As mentioned above, a one-day event will take about nine months to plan, once you’ve locked down the venue and lodging. After securing a venue and date, outline a basic schedule of larger tasks, and break them down into monthly and weekly sub-tasks. Then take advantage of technology to manage your tasks and communicate with your team. There are numerous organizational apps out there, often available for free, ranging from cloud-based collaboration tools to simple but powerful online to-do list applications and scheduling tools.


One of the advantages of planning an event internally is that no one knows your audience better than you. You know whether they would be interested in an evening of board games or sing-alongs, for example, or prefer visiting a local tourist attraction versus a local brewery. Because you are part of their tribe, you can experiment with ideas and customize the event to meet their preferences. An external organizer might insist on cookie-cutter solutions that you instinctively know won’t work. If, for example, you know you have an above average number of vegetarians in your group, don’t let even the most experienced caterer convince you to offer only a small percentage of vegetarian meals. Finally, if you anticipate any Deaf or Hard of Hearing audience members, you’ll need to hire a few American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters and/or Certified Deaf Interpreters (CDI).

Finally, remember that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. At every event you attend, large or small, take notes on what you see from an organizational standpoint, and then discuss with your team to see which features might make sense for your group. Another common saying applies as well: practice makes perfect. The more you organize the same event, or similar ones for the same type of audience, the easier it gets. And before you know it, you too will be hooked.

Elena Langdon is a Portuguese-English conference interpreter, interpreter trainer and certified Portuguese-to-English translator and an active member of the American Translators Association. The American Translators Association represents over 10,000 translators and interpreters across 103 countries. For more information on ATA and to hire a translation or interpreting professional, please visit

Reactions: The Superpower You Didn’t Know You Had

By Jennifer Powers

Jennifer Power-Take Control of your Career

You are not in control of everything. That’s right. As much as you’d like to try, you cannot control all that goes on around you. Unlikeable policies will be made, people will say and do things that upset you, clients will come and go, your business will ebb and flow. And there’s not much you can do about it. Or is there?

One way to gain back a bit of control of your career is to understand that things don’t happen to you, or against you. Things just happen. You are not here to control what happens. Your job is to control how you react to what happens. And the way you react determines how your work-life unfolds from that point on.  Hence, utilizing the power over what is actually within your control.

So, people and circumstances can show up (or throw up) in your life however they may, but you get to choose how you react to those things. And what you may not realize is that REACTIONS = REALITY. Think about it. How you react in one moment will have a direct impact on your reality the very next moment.

If you want to take more control of your REALITY you need to take more control of your REACTIONS. Click To Tweet

It works like this:

R = R
(Reactions = Reality)
(Crappy Reactions = Crappy Reality)
(Positive Reactions = Positive Reality)

A simple illustration. The stock market takes a dive. Mark, Kelly, and Jim all lose their shorts. Mark panics, feels vulnerable and sells all his shares. Kelly, experiencing the same loss, chooses to see this as an opportunity and buys more while the price is low. Jim is a scaredy-cat and is afraid to do anything, so he doesn’t.

Later, when the market shifts, Kelly makes out the best, Jim does okay, and Mark is too busy kicking himself to do the math.

The reality was the same for all three people: the stock market took a tumble and they all lost money. There was nothing any of them could do to control or prevent that from happening. But each of them had control over how they reacted to it. They each reacted in a different way, so they each ended up with a different reality.

So it stands to reason then that if you want to take more control of your REALITY you need to take more control of your REACTIONS. But how do you do that when reactions are like wild horses? They often run amuck and sometimes you feel like you have no control of them at all. 

Start with this simple three-step formula:

1. Observe And Resist Your “Knee-Jerk” Reaction

Observe how you would tend to react when things don’t go your way and resist going there. You’ve got better plans for your career. Give yourself time and space to allow any negative reactions to flow through you. By pausing, you are allowing your “fight or flight” mechanism time to calm down and giving yourself a second to regain your composure. Consider taking deep belly breaths, counting to ten or humming a tune. This will occupy the space that a crappy reaction would normally take up.

2. Ask Yourself A Question

To redirect your focus, ask yourself a question. Not just any question, but one that will help you shift into a more positive mindset from which you can react. Here are a few examples to get you started:

 What about this situation can I be grateful for? What belief or opinion would serve me better? How do I deserve to feel? Who would love to switch places with me? 

Feel free to come up with your own powerful questions that will shift you into a positive mindset.

3. Answer The Question

You can’t skip this step. If you only ask yourself the question you are only halfway there. The shift in perspective and your ability to react from a more positive outlook occurs when you answer the question. This part may be challenging at first but push through it because the payoff is big.

Imagine the scene. Some unrealistically tight deadlines are handed down to you at work.

  • You Observe And Resist the knee-JERK reaction to complain, moan and gossip.
  • You Ask Yourself: “What can I turn this into?”
  • You Answer: “A chance to highlight my ability to perform well under pressure.”
  • Your Reality: You calmly and coolly respond with an “I’ll handle that!” and your boss sees you as a shining star. 

Remember, seemingly bad things happen to everyone. You’re not alone in that.  But you have way more power over your day, your week and your life than you may recognize.  The moment you begin to take control of your reactions you begin to take control of your reality. 

Jennifer Powers, MCC is an international speaker, executive coach, author of the best-selling book “Oh, shift!” and host of the fun and binge-worthy “Oh, shift!” podcast. Since founding her speaking practice, Jennifer has worked with hundreds of professionals and delivered powerful keynote addresses to over 250,000 people around the globe. For more information on bringing Jennifer Powers to your next event, please visit

Peter’s Law of Reciprocity

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan-receive information

Too many people have a self-centered, protective attitude about knowledge. They want to receive information but are guarded, paranoid, or even disingenuous about sharing it. This is shortsighted; it is truly better to give than to receive. In this regard, I’ve developed a principle to guide me. I called it, Peter’s Law of Reciprocity, which states: “Everyone you meet knows something you don’t, so politely and tactfully learn what it is. Conversely, everyone you meet doesn’t know everything you do, so be willing to graciously share whatever you can when asked.”

Over the years, this principle has served me well. When I have chosen only to receive information, my closed mental attitude effectively limited what I could receive. On the other extreme, when I opted to only share information, I grew to believe that people wanted and needed what I had to offer. This was a patronizing attitude that I hope to never repeat.

When I freely share information that I unexpectedly receive the most benefit. Both instances lead to greater understanding. Click To Tweet


When seeking information, exercise discretion in what you ask. Certainly, some things are off-limits. Personal information (compensation comes to mind), trade secrets, and strategic plans are prime examples. Also, it’s critical to be genuinely interested in what you ask. Insincere and devious queries serve to short-circuit the uninhibited exchange of information. Quite simply, if you don’t care about the answer, don’t ask the question.

When you ask others for their opinions and ideas, it’s acceptable to take notes; don’t rely on your memory. If you’re like me, you already have too much to remember. Some people assume that taking notes is rude to the person you are talking to; this is not so. Making notes affirms the speaker and their message. Note-taking conveys that their message is noteworthy; you demonstrate respect by writing it down.


Likewise, there are guiding principles when sharing information. First, be careful not to betray a confidence or divulge a secret. It’s critical to use discretion and common sense to protect and respect the privacy of others—if you don’t, people will stop talking to you. It’s also important to not offer unsolicited advice. The only outcomes of giving unwanted counsel are people ignoring you or viewing you as arrogant. Lastly, it’s critical to not talk down to your inquirer but instead, treat him or her as an equal.


It’s human nature to talk to those we know. This implies we will seek information from and share knowledge with our friends. There is nothing wrong with this, except that after a time, ideas—even bad ideas—are recycled and then affirmed. When repeated often enough, people eventually accept it as fact, even if there’s no reason to do so. I call this intellectual incest, provocative, yet apt description of what happens with continually recirculated information among a small group of closely connected people. Certainly, we should talk with our friends, but we need to be aware of blindly accepting what they say without carefully considering its merits.

More valuable than interacting with our friends and acquaintances is interacting with those we don’t know. These are the people most likely to share something fresh or innovative. This, however, is also much easier to suggest than do. Nevertheless, most of my “aha!” moments have happened when talking with someone I just met.

If the goal is to learn and grow, then even more limiting than focusing our interactions on our friends is to restrict our attention to those we are with it, family or coworkers. Although this is safe and natural, it prevents us from being exposed to new thoughts and diverging viewpoints.


When I have traveled with coworkers, I often set prearranged limits on how much time we spent together in order to make it easier to interact with others outside our company. Yes, we plan strategic times to reconvene and share what we learned, as well as to just relax in each other’s company, but for the most part, we intentionally split up, sitting with, eating with, and meeting with others in order to maximize our exposure to new ideas and different perspectives. As it is much easier to connect with someone by him or herself versus when they’re part of a group, this makes me more available and approachable when someone wants to talk.

The Goal

Though it’s often uncomfortable to talk to a stranger or ask a question, that’s when I receive the greatest reward. Similarly, it’s when I freely share information that I unexpectedly receive the most benefit. Both instances lead to greater understanding and enhanced perspectives, which is what interacting with others is all about—a mutual exchange of ideas and insights.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is a published author and commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services.

Identifying and Mitigating Unconscious Bias in Yourself and in Your Workplace

By Dr. Steve Yacovelli

Steve Yacovelli- Unconscious Bias in your workplace

Three fun facts: First, studies show that resumes with “white” sounding names (like “Greg”) were 50 percent more likely to get a callback for an interview by potential employers than a more stereotypically African-American sounding names (like “Jamal”), even when the resumes were identical aside from the name. Second, brunette and redhead women’s salaries are approximately 7 percent less than their blonde counterparts. And third, most 60 percent of corporate CEOs are over six-foot-tall; a large disproportion compared to the fact that less than 15 percent of American men are over this height.  In a popular political television show, one character says, “Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln. Tall men make great presidents.”

What do these three factoids have in common? They are examples of what is called “unconscious bias,” and actions are taken because of those unconscious or hidden biases. But what specifically are these hidden or unconscious biases, and more importantly how can you start to manage them so you’re making the right decisions in your workplace and our world? Let’s explore… 

What is “Unconscious Bias”?

Hidden or unconscious bias is the preference for or against a person, thing, or group held at an unconscious level. This means you don’t even realize your mind is holding onto this bias of, say, that person on the phone who is speaking English as a second language, or that effeminate man in front of you at the restaurant who isn’t what you were taught as “masculine.” In contrast, an overt—or explicit—bias is an attitude or prejudice that one endorses at a conscious level; it’s obvious and blatant.

Research on hidden bias shows that, regardless of the best intentions, most people hold deep-seated resistance to the “difference” of others, whether that difference is defined by evident factors as race, gender, ethnicity, age, or physical characteristics, or more subtle ones such as background, personality type, experiences, or even sexual orientation. But bias can also exist in a positive sense: you may favor your family, your community, and people with whom you feel a connection based on shared characteristics or experiences (like people who work for the same company or went to the same university as you).

These hidden biases aren’t purposely or consciously created; they are products of your brain’s self-generated definition of normal, acceptable or positive, and they are shaped by many factors: from past experiences to your local or cultural environment, to the influence of social community and the impressions from media. You don’t consciously create these definitions of “normal” versus “different,” “good” versus “bad,” or “acceptable” versus “unacceptable.” In fact, conscious and unconscious biases are often divergent; your hidden biases may exist in spite of our sincere desire to be bias-free and in direct contradiction of the attitudes you believe you have.

Why Do We Have These Biases?

Well, we can blame having an unconscious bias on our cave-ancestors. Back in the day, a cave-person had to quickly decide if the big-furry-sharp-toothed-animal at the cave-door was friend or foe; and those quick ascertains of safety were processed in their cave-brains. Science has shown that we receive 11 million bits of information every moment, but we can only consciously process forty bits of data at any time. How do we manage that 99.9999996 percent gap? Through our unconscious brains. So, as humans, it is perfectly natural for us to create these “cognitive shortcuts” to help us be safe and survive and manage all this data input.

But in 2019 we aren’t cave-folk, and that wiring sometimes goes against what we want our “auto systems” to work for the most part. Think about you at work: do you want your cave-wiring impulsively taking over who you should work with, the feelings you have toward hiring someone, or defining how you act towards a new co-worker or customer? No, you don’t. You want to have your conscious brains be prevalent, and that’s not always easy to do. But it’s something you should do.

Working on your unconscious base won’t just make your workplace more inclusive and successful, but it will go far to personally build trust between you and others, and that makes the world just a little bit better. Click To Tweet

“Micro inequities” & Why They Matter in our Workplace

OK: you’re at work and someone says to you, “For a woman, I’m really surprised how well you accomplished that task. Nice job.” Some would call this a back-handed compliment: a compliment that’s really an insult. The better term for this is a “micro inequity.” These are unconscious biases that come to life where people act or say things that “tip the hand” on their respective (most likely unconscious) biases. 

Why does it matter for you to identify and mitigate these microinequities in your workplace? For several reasons actually:

  • Micro inequities are a form of punishment for being different and occur in the context of work without regard to performance or merit.
  • Micro inequities undermine the effectiveness of the recipient.
  • Micro inequities take up workplace time and energy and undermine interpersonal trust and relationships.

Studies have found that over 71 percent of the workforce has experienced some form of workplace incivility or microinequity in the last five years. Incivility is evidenced by disrespectful behavior (Zauderer, 2002). What happened to these folks? According to this study:

  • 28 percent lost work time avoiding the instigator of the incivility/microinequity
  • 53 percent lost time worrying about the incident/future interactions
  • 37 percent believed their commitment at work declined
  • 22 percent have decreased their effort at work
  • 10 percent decreased the amount of time that they spent at work
  • 12 percent actually changed jobs to avoid the instigator

How Can We Start to Mitigate our Hidden Biases and Limit our “Micro inequities”? 

So, what do you do about this managing this unconscious, cave-selves? The first step is accepting that you DO have unconscious bias and become aware of the ones you specifically hold. One of the best ways you can start to explore what unconscious biases you have is through Project Implicit, or the Implicit-Association Test (IAT). The IAT is a free online assessment that will measure the strength of your hidden bias between various groups. Check it out—in a safe and judgment-free way—see what hidden biases you may have.

Second, share and discuss the concept of “unconscious bias” with others in your workplace. Share the Project Implicit website with them. Talk (if you’re comfortable) what the results you had on the site. Encourage co-workers to hold each other accountable when those unconscious biases turn into microinequities.

Third, look at the bigger picture within your workplace. What are the biases that exist within your organization, and how can you start to challenge them. For example, look at your organization’s hiring practices. Does it tend to hire the same types of people or recruit from the same places? Are your marketing messages pretty non-inclusive? Are your customers or clients similar in demographic make-up? Think about your typically business practices and think as a team to ensure your collective unconscious biases aren’t impacting your business success.


So, we all harbor and exhibit an unconscious bias to some extent. And that’s OK; that simply means we’re human. But it’s taking that step to identify which biases we have, take steps to “debias” ourselves, share that action with others, and really look at how we do business that is the key to change. Doing this won’t just make your workplace more inclusive and successful, but it will go far to personally build trust between you and others, and that makes the world just a little bit better.

(source: Zauderer, D. (2002). “Workplace Incivility and the Management of Human Capital.” Public Manager, Vol. 31, p.36-43.)

Dr. Steve Yacovelli (“The Gay Leadership Dude”) is the Owner & Principal of TopDog Learning Group, LLC, a learning and development, leadership, change management, and diversity and consulting firm based in Orlando, FL, USA, with affiliates across the globe. With over twenty-five years’ experience, Steve is a rare breed that understands the power of using academic theory and applying it to the “real” world for better results. His latest book, Pride Leadership: Strategies for the LGBTQ+ Leader to be the King or Queen of their Jungle came out June 2019. .