By Niel Steinmann, Founder of Peoples Dynamic Development
It is unprecedented times; the rapid global spread of Covid-19 has eclipsed previous epidemics and other global leadership challenges. Millions of people’s lives have been severely disrupted, the economic damage is already substantial and far-reaching. Another wave is sweeping across most countries and business leaders are rightly concerned about how their companies will be affected and what they have to do next. For leaders, survival will be top of mind for quite some time. Then there are leaders who are people centred, who grasp that people and teams will be mission critical to their business to thrive again in the future.
According to Gallup, 84% of the work done in organisations happen in teams, yet leaders are not taught how to lead teams or how to build them- and now the challenge is VIRTUAL. Leaders should be mindful of the fact that “the way we work” has fundamentally changed. The demand for remote collaboration will only increase – remote meetings and a need for virtual collaboration has been amplified as face-to-face meetings are fast becoming exceptions rather than the rule.
But take heart … It is one of the most defining qualities of the human species. We have the potential to do more together than what we do by ourselves. Tom Peters proclaimed many years ago that “great individuals do not equal great teams”. Clearly leaders will be challenged to build and lead teams virtually. Leaders that get it right will have a few things in common: good communication skills, high emotional intelligence, an ability to encourage their team to work independently, and the resilience to stay focused on the mission despite the snafus that inevitably arise from the pandemic.
So here are six fundamental principles for leaders as they guide and lead their teams, virtually, through the Covid-19 crisis and beyond.
Principle 1: Lead the conversation on the changing territory
Well before the crisis, many businesses pursued digital transformation initiatives to support their growth. Some started to migrate to hybrid clouds while others modernized their financial software or employed digital technologies to improve the customer experience. But what was a discretionary, self-paced transformation has now become an urgent priority. Teams have essentially been given a very small window of opportunity to try out and get accustomed to operating virtually, for staff to work from home and still create value for the customer all at once. It is this human side of digital transformation that could well be underestimated by leaders. There is now more than ever a compelling case to do things differently! Leaders should seize the narrative about the challenges and be transparent about current realities—including what they don’t know—while also painting a compelling picture of the future that inspires others to persevere and stay in it.
Principle 2: Keep your team engaged by allowing members to focus on their strengths
In times of stress, change or crisis, people fall back on what is comfortable to them. The COVID crisis has taken away what was comfortable and known to teams, the in-person office conversations with co-workers, the informal chats after the Ops meeting or just the connect opportunities after work.
Leaders must understand that for people; their natural way of thinking and what they are passionate about doing, i.e., their strengths, are still present, even when they work remotely. Remember that strengths are those tendencies that come natural, or activities that make people feel strong, where work is easier, more enjoyable and more rewarding.
Team members will react differently in times of disruption and their strengths will influence those reactions. When leaders understand that their team members are beautifully and annoyingly different they can engage them in activities that “make them feel strong” and more engaged. Given the business impact of engagement, it stands to reason how important engagement is during difficult times.
Principle 3 Invest in rituals to strengthen your team
When leaders exhibit their authentic selves and share their own vulnerabilities they confirm that it is OK for team members to share their own fears and concerns. They should also demonstrate an empathetic heart and sincere interest in the stories of those they lead, walking compassionately in the shoes of their team. Leaders should create opportunities to connect, to create a sense of “We-ness” – a sense of belonging-virtually, find innovate ways to have fun and even build skills and capacity to deal with the challenging landscape their team members find themselves in.
Principle 4 Build trusting relationships -virtually
Leaders of virtual teams need to work harder at building trust than leaders of co-located teams. While employees who were in the same office commonly discussed issues about their lives, virtual teammates do so much more rarely. Leaders should build in some extra time in their virtual meetings to encourage everyone to share some personal news. This is probably the easiest way to overcome the isolation that can creep in when people don’t work together physically.
Principle 5 Create a sense of purpose
To keep their team focused, strong leaders should start every decision-making process with a spotlight on their organisation’s mission or purpose (why their organization exists) and its culture and values (how work gets done).
During these challenging times leaders have an ideal opportunity to reflect on values and “why we do what we do” with their teams. Closing an office because it is the right thing to do or utilising some core skill or product to assist those in the community during the pandemic creates a greater sense of purpose. It is most definitely not only about doing well but doing good.
Principle 6 Devote intentional time for team maintenance
Leaders should create opportunities to assess how well their team is doing, adapting and delivering during these challenging times. Although we have encouraged leaders to be soft on people, they must simultaneously take a hard, rational line on the performance and deliverables of their teams from the invariable lack of focus that accompanies these massive disruptions.
In conclusion: Fact is there will be an enormous demand for synergy within teams and even more so for virtual teams. Through careful planning, thoughtful actions, it is possible to enable meaningful collaboration that gets work done – even when you can’t get everyone in the same room.
Within the framework of these broad principles, leaders can take specific tactical steps to elevate these during the current crisis, blunting its impact and helping their teams to emerge stronger with resilient individuals. With the right approach, this crisis can become an opportunity to build greater synergy within your team and move forward and create even more value and impact as a business.