Many unforeseen changes have occurred in the last 6-8 months, many that are here to stay. One adjustment is the move from a physical office environment to virtual teams. Even with some workplaces reopening, it's clear that virtual teams are here for the long term.
As leaders and employees continue adjusting to this evolving reality, there are ways to work more effectively and gain a momentum people can live with. We may not be in the same room for a while, but we can still stay together on the journey if we can find our footing.
In previous articles and webinars, we've discussed why leadership is essential in a crisis, what employees, clients, and stakeholders need from leaders, and how to use emotional traits and behavioral tendencies to your advantage. As we continue to manage through crises, other strategies, such as best practices for virtual mentoring, utilizing behavioral assessments, and motivating teams from a distance, will help you keep things contained and on track.
Effective leadership creates the infrastructure to help people participate efficiently. Leadership is about harnessing vision, balancing responsibilities, and creating a framework that clarifies how to reach set goals. Effective, and yes courageous, leadership is about creating processes that improve people's understanding of changing circumstances and enhance their ability to swim with the tide.
For over 35 years, Omnia’s vision centers on maximizing people-performance through the power of insight. We understand people power businesses, and through The Omnia Behavioral Assessment, we identify the strengths, challenges, and motivations of the people who make up your companies.
Right now, it's essential to identify who is comfortable with rapid change and who may need more steady guidance. No matter how technical you are, how long you've worked remotely, or how comfortable you are with change, you're now working with people who are new to things like remote work and virtual meeting platforms. We know that changing work routines to accommodate innovative technology and norms is challenging at the best of times. Leaders (of organizations, teams, and projects) have to get everyone rowing in the same direction.
"Now is the time, as you reimagine the post-pandemic organization, to pay careful attention to the effect of your choices on organizational norms and culture," Andrea Alexander, Aaron De Smet, and Mihir Mysore at McKinsey remind us.
Below we've captured some of what we've learned at The Omnia Group about how leaders can make a difference to the team's sustainable success through connection, priorities, and pace.
Leadership connection is about actual, direct time with people. Connecting with your team to understand them individually and as a group will enable you to better diffuse fears, anxiety, disengagement, and pessimism when it appears.
Through every crisis and work challenge, there will be change. For example, with the move to virtual teams, we no longer have the opportunity to walk by the water cooler and engage in spontaneous business conversations. As a result, leaders need to carve out time to attend meetings regularly with other managers, direct reports, and cross-functional teams.
What is regular? Is it every day, every week, once a month? Honestly, that's up to you and the people on the team. Some people will need more direct time with you; some people will need more time to quietly process independently. Those at Omnia who worked virtually before COVID hit say they are actually seeing many more of us now than they were before "everything went virtual."
Recently we shared a webinar about Courageous Leadership featuring Ernest Shackleton and his Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1914 - 1917). During this exploration, his ship, Endurance, became trapped in pack ice and was slowly crushed before the parties could reach land. Shackleton faced a life-or-death crisis. His leadership, connection to his team, and understanding of the human condition resulted in this crisis becoming known as "an epic feat of endurance."
Shackleton insisted on the men eating the evening meal together and socializing afterward. Those connection points can be team meetings, lunch-and-learns, sales huddles, or anything that makes sense in your culture in a virtual office.
There is absolutely nothing more important for any business in terms of effectiveness than working on the right things at the right time. Think about what's suspended, what's changed, and what's urgent.
Our teams review priorities every day. We also have rolling 90-day meetings to discuss shifts and changes to priorities. We identify which projects should continue but at a later date and make a plan to prioritize completing those projects at a time better suited to those needs.
A leader must be clear on what the priorities are for the business so that employees can do some of that filtration themselves. How can we make sure that people know if stuff has been paused, cleared out, and then clarify what's urgent? Be clear about the things that matter most right now, and then make sure everybody has priorities.
If there isn't work for people right now, how are we addressing it? What does that look like? Some organizations are focusing on developing people through cross-training; others are working on creating better internal processes. Still, others are using the time to document existing processes for when hiring resumes.
Pacing is the leaders' job. It's incredibly essential yet sometimes overlooked in conversations.
How fast do we go? What does that look like? Is everyone with us?
Back to Shackleton and his transcontinental march for a moment. He was in charge of a stranded 28-man team and challenged to keep them alive in the Antarctic for months. It was up to Shackleton to decide when the men would depart the relative safety of the sinking Endurance. It was up to him how long they'd huddle in makeshift camps as the ice they were on continued to drift. It was up to him to select and navigate a party in a single lifeboat on an 800-mile open-boat journey to then mount a rescue mission to save the men back at the makeshift camps, which he did, without loss of life!
What we're facing now may not be a doomed Antarctic exploration, but these are uncharted waters. It's up to leadership to determine our direction and our pace. The rest of the team (employees, clients, and stakeholders) are awaiting your call.
Being virtual can cause additional challenges. Paying attention to where people are is even more critical as there are fewer clues in the environment for people to watch and find out what pace they should work. If you're having difficulty identifying an individual's pace, The Omnia Behavioral Assessment can help. Understanding if you are working with an impatient doer or a methodical processer will help you set and manage priorities in a way that resonates with the employee.
Additionally, it's crucial to ask, "if people are behind, what's the reason for it?" Your structured, systematic employees may be feeling overwhelmed and need a more clearly delineated timeline with fixed milestones. Your fast-paced multitaskers may be trying to do too much at once and getting overextended. Each set of employees will need a different approach from you to stay on pace and meet deadlines. An Omnia assessment can provide that roadmap.
As the leader, it takes courage to roll with the punches, change course and keep everyone working towards company goals, but you can do it. Remember, stay connected, set and manage your priorities, and set a pace that keeps people energized and moving forward.