Much has been written about these being unprecedented times. We’re all adapting from day to day, and for those of us still able to work, we’re having to find new ways to operate. For managers, having the team based remotely brings a whole new raft of challenges. And it’s a priority to focus on making sure that employees have the resilience, adaptability and innovation required to weather this storm.
But how do we maintain team cohesion in the face of a global pandemic? We’re not suggesting that we have all the answers but here’s a few ideas:
As a manager or team leader, ultimate responsibility for completing work remains with you. And as much as it can be tempting to focus on ‘getting it done’, many people are having to juggle responsibilities from supervising learning for children, to organising working from home around other family members. And they may be anxious about loved ones, the new restrictions, shopping, food and perhaps money. So, relaxing the boundaries around keeping work and home separate can pay dividends. Allow a little time at the beginning of calls to acknowledge the unusualness of the situation and give people a chance to talk. Check in with team members more frequently than usual. Consider setting up a vehicle just for chatting/sharing stories and photos of how people are finding workarounds and be mindful of those who are living alone – they may appreciate a little extra contact.
It’s OK to say that you can’t offer clarity or reassurance right now. Just keeping a dialogue going makes people feel included and gives reassurance that the specifics causing uncertainty are on your agenda, even if there aren’t currently any answers. Commit to regular updates using a range of communication methods. This all helps foster trust and reduce anxiety. Don’t assume that if there’s nothing to say then you should say nothing!
Ask for Input
Leaders cannot be expected to have all the answers or all the ideas, but it is their role to identify the best plan, based on all the information available. And asking for input from the team helps ensure that all facts, angles and potential solutions are considered. Plus, giving people the opportunity to contribute to the solution can reduce the sense of powerlessness that uncertainty can bring.
Provide the Rationale
As you take decisions, be prepared to explain your thinking. If people understand the rationale behind action planning, it creates a better foundation for generating support and inviting more constructive input – having the plan interrogated is a useful test of its robustness. Better still, ensure the relevant people are involved in decision making processes – involvement is a key factor in employee engagement and could be the difference between individuals getting onboard or not.
Be Flexible and Adaptive
In these uncertain times, the situation is ever evolving, and this means that any plan is constantly being challenged. It’s understandable that, having formulated a way forward, we might prefer to stick with it to increase certainty, but we should be prepared to keep our minds open to adopting better solutions as they arise.
Not an easy ask but now is not the time for doom and gloom! Much like nervous airline passengers look to cabin crew to check whether they appear calm and in control, your team will watch how you’re reacting to the uncertainty. So, assuming the brace position is not recommended! Confidence is crucial. Much as composure in leadership is important, a reciprocal confidence in your team is also critical – when individuals feel more certain about their own role and how this contributes to future objectives, it promotes greater proactivity and willingness to collaborate with colleagues.
Create Small Wins
Where possible, identify small but meaningful wins that the team can achieve quickly and easily. Then celebrate them – even if it’s with a Zoom group coffee! So review that list of projects that never seem to make it to the top of the priority list and set some running. Being able to work on something to completion helps to boost confidence and creates momentum.
Be realistic and pragmatic
Trust that your people will find ways to make things work but that it might not look like a traditional 9-5. Consider whether things fall into the category of ‘need to be done’ or ‘nice to be done’. Lower expectations a little and make it OK for others to do the same. Focus on kindness. It will be remembered and appreciated.
At WPG we’ve already had a slipper fashion show and hosted a virtual leaving do since we entered lock down. Tell us about your successes around maintaining team cohesion at this challenging time and we’ll share them on our socials.