In times of uncertainty people look to their leaders
In times of uncertainty people look to their leaders
As many workplaces begin to close due to Coronavirus (COVID-19), many leaders and managers are starting to ask how they can best manage remote teams and home workers. The answer, in part, lies in the acronym DCCST or Does Corona Create Stronger Teams?
In times of uncertainty people look to their leaders and managers for direction. As our teams start to work from home, for the first time in some cases, and as the impact of COVID-19 changes day by day, we must provide direction in a number of key areas:
Specific Priorities – in an ever-changing world, where should our teams be focusing their efforts day by day and week by week.
Bigger Picture – in what direction is the organisation heading and how is it responding in terms of employees, customers, suppliers and shareholders.
Ways of Working – we must take the lead on establishing some team ground rules for home-working. For example, start and finish times, expected speed of response, daily check-ins, set periods to be off-line and working in a focused manner on key pieces of work, etc.
Simply put, communication must increase as our teams become remote.
However, we must pay particular attention to choosing the right communication channels and ensuring that people have the same information, at the same time. Email is just one of many tools at our disposal, but an over-reliance on it will simply add to the stress and pressure felt by our colleagues and team mates. As well as increasing the frequency of our communication, we must also increase the quality. Sticking with email, our aspiration should be ‘one-shot emails’. Emails that are so explicitly clear that our teams do not need to reply with questions and can deliver what we are asking for, to the right standard, at the right time.
To achieve this, we simply need to pause before hitting send on every email and ask ourselves: “Where and how could this email be misunderstood?” and then make the necessary changes. In my experience, every first draft email can be improved. As leaders we must force ourselves to pick up the phone and use the various video-conferencing tools that are at our disposal, many of which are free. Which leads us to…
We are social animals and connection is vital for our wellbeing and work performance. The visual contact gained from face-to-face communication is also key, which is why we cannot simply rely on email communication. Some that we lead will be happy working from home, by themselves. It is likely to be an easier transition for the introverts within your team; but they too need that social connection. Prolonged periods of homeworking are likely to be more of a challenge for the extroverts within your team, as their energy generally comes from other people.
As leaders guiding our teams through the Coronavirus pandemic, we must apply John Adair’s Functional Approach to leadership. We must constantly be thinking about the needs of the individuals, the team, and the task. In practical terms, this means regularly checking in with our team one-on-one, and creating set times to come together as a team, virtually. And these virtual meetings must focus on the task, as well as allowing people to simply connect.
People within our teams will have very different viewpoints of the COVID-19 out-break that will be driven by their values, beliefs, background, family circumstances etc, etc. Some will be very optimistic. Others will be much more nervous and unsettled.
Now, more than ever, it is critically important that we realise every person we lead is a human being and that they are the most important person in the world to someone else. They themselves may have children or elderly parents for whom they are responsible. They may have family members who are unwell or at risk of contracting Coronavirus. They may have children who cannot go to school, meaning they are desperately trying to juggle work and family commitments. What this means in practice is that we must dial-up our support and empathy. Our teams need us to be leaders, not managers.
Trust is key. A lack of trust, or perceived lack of trust, could be the un-doing of many leaders. Not being sat next to those that we lead could push some leaders to micro-management. Constantly wanting to know what our teams are working on, getting status updates, knowing what time they started work and wondering if they’re at their machine or putting a load of washing on. We must resist the urge to micro-manage our team and we must trust them. And, if we’ve provided clear direction, if we’re communicating frequently and keeping everyone connected, and if we’re providing the right levels of support… we will be able to trust them. We’ll be able to trust them because they will know that we care about them on a human level, and they’ll want to reciprocate the trust that we’ve placed in them.
Does Corona Create Stronger Teams?
This isn’t just a random acronym. Whilst I do believe we have several difficult months ahead; I also believe that many teams will emerge out of the COVID-19 pandemic in a much stronger position. I believe that new and better ways of working and communicating will emerge. And if we, as leaders, focus on reviewing what’s working well, optimising the good stuff and building it into the culture of our teams, these benefits will long out-live Coronavirus. Many great teams, and team practices, are forged in the crucible of a crisis. Take Pixar for example. When the team presented what they thought was the final version of Toy Story to Disney, they were told that it was terrible and that they were pulling the plug on the project. Ed Catmull and John Lassiter begged Disney for a second chance and were given two weeks to effectively re-create the entire movie. During that period, two new ways of working emerged: The Dailies and the Brain Trust.
These were both critical elements that enabled the team to create an entirely new movie, the likes of which the world had never seen before. As far as the film goes, the rest is history, as they say. But the Dailies and Brain Trusts are anything but history. They remain a core part of Pixar’s culture today. With that in mind, hold firm, stay focused and #LeadOn.
Ben Morton is a leadership mentor and performance coach with a unique background. As a former Captain in the British Army, he has led people in life or death situations. Ben’s experience has taught him that leadership is both a great privilege and a great responsibility. Fundamentally, he believes that leadership is less about the tools and models and more about understanding what it truly means to be a leader. For the past 10 years, he has had the privilege of working with senior leaders to help them lead their teams to great success. He has a track record of helping CEO’s turn-around dysfunctional teams that they have inherited and moving executive teams from good to great. The difference between Ben and other leadership mentors is his personal experience. He’s led teams on expeditions around the world and his experience spans from the battlefield to the boardroom. He has had the pleasure of working with some truly outstanding clients such as Samsung, Merlin Entertainment and the Go-Ahead Group. Ben believes that great leaders take care of more than just what happens when they’re at work. He helps them to consider all aspects of life to strike the right balance and achieve peak performance, personally and in work.