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What to do when your team suddenly shrinks

Being shorthanded is inevitable, so why not plan for it?

4 min read


Family of ducks


Recently, my wife flew to Israel to spend a week with our son who is studying abroad. That left me back at home with our four youngest kids, including three in elementary school. For a father whose typical parenting role involves a few isolated chores and child-rearing duties, this was a seismic shift. Now, I was in charge of everything, including getting everyone up and out each morning, carpool, dinner preparation and bedtime.

Thankfully, with proper planning, help from my kids and a lot of hard work, we made it through. No kids were late for school. All meals were served, and on time. Even the dishes and laundry were cleaned. Not bad, if I may say so.

It is not easy to shift from having limited responsibility to becoming The Boss, whether at home or in the workplace. Even if it’s for only one week, when you have come to rely on someone to achieve certain tasks, it can be challenging to fill in when they are not there.

With proper planning and action, however, it can be done.

Here are some lessons that I learned:

  1. Prepare, prepare, prepare. I had time in advance to rearrange my schedule and my expectations to make sure that things would go smoothly. This made things much easier. Of course, not every parenting, leadership or personnel void comes with advance warning. Plan ahead so you know who will step in in the event of reduced manpower and what will need to happen to provide proper cover.
  2. Empower and lean on your people. When someone of significance is out for an extended period, it often falls on less senior team members to fill the void. At home, I empowered all of my kids to step up and assume more leadership roles, such as food prep and decision making. They relished the responsibility and really stepped up. Find the right people to help out in a pinch, offer added training when needed and communicate your trust in their ability to step up.
  3. Be clear in what needs to happen. The clearer you are in what needs to happen, the likelier that things will get done the right way. I knew in advance what needed to be achieved, which allowed me to marshal the right resources. Leaders who are clear about others’ work as well as their own can better provide clarity when questions arise.
  4. Focus on the big stuff. I pared down my schedule to ensure that the most important things — professional and familial — were attended to. Everything else would simply have to wait for the following week. When in “survival mode,” companies often need to stay focus on the big rocks and relegate all other tasks to the back burner. Those that do will stay focused on the most essential tasks and keep things moving forward.
  5. Get plenty of rest. My normal tendency is to do some late-night work and then get up early to start my day. That week, I cut out on the former so that I could start each day with maximal energy and focus (and, of course, make the kindergartener’s lunch). When every moment is a bit more taxing than usual, you need to be well-rested. Cut out the nonessentials from your time out of the office so that you can do your best work.
  6. Go out and celebrate. We marked the day of my wife’s return with a dinner out. After a harder week, we all earned it. When you get past a challenge unscathed, see it as an opportunity to celebrate with your peers, thanking them for their hard work and perseverance in filling the void.


Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, (@impactfulcoach) is president of Impactful Coaching & Consulting. Check out his leadership book, “Becoming the New Boss.” Read his blog, and listen to his leadership podcast. Download his free new e-book, “An E.P.I.C. Solution to Understaffing.”

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