Tough times call for tough measures. In a recession or economic downturn government and businesses are continually looking for ways to strengthen consumer confidence. While ever customers are confident that there is light at the end of the tunnel, or merely have confidence in government and business that they can get through the tough times, there is an economy with a pulse. It may be faint, but there is a pulse.
Typical business measures implemented to bolster consumer confidence involve cost and waste minimisation. Stripping away the fat that was put on during the good years is a common first step, with many measures geared around cost, for example, streamlining, optimising processes and unfortunately, laying off employees.
In these times, what can be forgotten is that consumer confidence is not only bolstered by the perception of smart cost management, or being seen to be agile and responsive. Consumer confidence is also driven by the result of what they observe and how they “feel” when they engage with your business. This means that despite the circumstances, employee engagement needs to be healthy. This is because your employees have the power to exponentially increase the effectiveness, and perception, of cost management strategies in the way they embrace internal changes, engage with the customer and talk to their friends and families about the business.
The cost of not trusting your people
Employees are smart. They know when things are going well and when things are not so good. So when an organisation is having to make tough, cost related decisions, but keeping this information to the senior inner circle of managers, it's also a given that the employee group by this time suspects something is up. But they don't know what; and at the same time no one is telling them anything. So what's the natural thing to do? Speculate. Pretty soon gossip and rumour overcome facts and employee confidence in management and the company starts to diminish. This can cause organisational blow back for three reasons.
So how do you avoid any of these situations?
Trusting and caring for your people in these times is the same as saying we trust and value our customers. You can't have one without the other.
Companies that weather economic storms are those brave enough to combine trust and communication with their cost management strategies. There will be information that is too sensitive to share, so what is communicated at each level of the business may vary slightly. Going on the front foot and communicating the real situation to all employees from the outset can minimise paranoia and avoid going down the path of employee disenchantment.
There is no doubt that some employees will be upset or angry at the news. You will also have pockets of paranoia and cynicism. However this is outweighed by the fact that the organisation trusted their people enough to be open and honest. The benefits of communicating the 'what's', 'why's' and 'how's' of a situation can have some important benefits, in particular, brand protection, employee and customer confidence.
Brand protection comes about when your remaining employees, and the ones that are made redundant, continue to talk highly of the company. They can do this because they understand 'why' the company took its course action. They may not like it, but they understand. If you demonstrate empathy and caring in this painful process, there is a very good chance it will be returned.
Communication breeds confidence. When employees know what is happening to their business, and why, they feel involved. They offer ideas as to how things can be done smarter because they know management will listen. Additionally, when those remaining have to do more with less they know why. It doesn't make the job easier, but it helps provide a healthier mindset with which to do the job. Interestingly, it also helps the employees, especially those dealing with customers, have empathy with what their customers may be going through which is a vital strength during any economic period.
When the brand is being protected, and employees are confident in what is happening and why, it is easier to inspire consumer confidence - naturally. It doesn't remove the fact that it is a difficult period, however it can ease the way somewhat for all involved.
For some organisations implementing these ideas are 'tough measures' in and of themselves because it's not something that comes naturally. However of all the 'tough measures' that could be implemented it's one of the easiest and most effective and stands the best chance of yielding positive outcomes in both the short and long terms.
In short...your cost optimisation strategy needs to be equally matched by a strong, and genuine, employee engagement strategy that holds trust, transparency and communication at its core.
Author: David Morley
David is a developer of global-minded teams, leaders and organisations.
Your skeletal system is not your nervous system. Anyone who has worked with me, especially in the last couple of years will know that this is my favourite expression when starting the discussion around how to optimise the way we approach change.
The skeletal system is of course important. It’s the tangible, structural and probably most visual aspect of change, represented by things like a change plan, the organisation charts in a restructure or documented work flows for a new system. We need the skeletal system because people need structure throughout change. We know that people like structure at the best of times, and when the ground is moving underneath us, structure is needed more than ever.
However we also know that the skeletal system is only as effective as the nervous system that powers it. If the skeletal system is about the solid and structural elements of change, then the nervous system can be considered as the way we approach the change and work with the intangibles.
Consider stakeholder management throughout change. This is often thought of as sharp end of engagement throughout change, and the process is usually one of asking: who are our stakeholders, and why are they our stakeholders? What if we reframed this to ask a different question that combines the approaches of the skeletal and nervous systems? It would sound something like this:
Who do we think:
We are then armed with a powerful piece of information that is ready to be validated through informal conversations and checking in with each team member or group to get a sense of where they are at. Once the validation has occurred you can then structure your leadership around what those in each category need to hear or experience to help them engage with the change.
And then of course, there is the more recent COVID-19 situation. The rapid change experienced by everyone as we transitioned to virtual working didn't give anyone a chance to manage the transition as well as we would normally like. But we are now talking about what the near future looks like, including talk of returning to the workplace. In this situation, you can use the above analysis to gather a picture of where your team is at in terms of the next transition; in fact I would suggest it's a non-negotiable if you are looking to lead in an engaging manner, and build engagement between your team and what's next.
The final word?
Both the skeletal and the nervous system are required for the human body to function effectively and the same goes for ensuring there is engagement throughout change. If we focus only on the tangibles, we miss the opportunity to get people involved and engaged with what’s going on. If we focus only on the intangibles, such as who we need to engage and what they need to hear or know, we risk losing them because they can’t see or sense how the whole thing hangs together and more importantly what there is for them to hold onto throughout the change.
Author: David Morley
David is developer of global-minded leaders, teams and businesses.
There is no denying the fact that life is quite different for all of us right now. In the face of uncertain future economic conditions, fear for the health and wellbeing of loved ones, and management of the daily challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is easy to fixate on today’s problems.
But one thing IS certain. The future of work, the next ‘new normal’ will be quite different from the world we knew pre-COVID. As was the case following previous global recessions, we can predict that businesses are going to face increasing pressure to deliver more with less resources.
And businesses must look to the future now in order to prepare and respond to this.
Success is all about how we motivate our teams during and post crisis.
Already businesses, teams and individuals are learning to adapt, through necessity, to remote working and different uses of technology. Advancements in technology in recent years are providing us the ability to work remotely with great efficiency. Business operations can transcend sites, cities and even national borders, with virtual teams seamlessly delivering products and services across time zones to their global customers.
But technology alone does not enable a business to have a competitive advantage. It is their people who do this. It is the team members who hold the unique skills and abilities to design, deliver and support solutions which their competitors cannot easily replicate. And it is the motivation of these same people to continue to innovate, and continue to deliver, even in times of duress, that will enable success post COVID-19.
But now more than ever your critical resources must be developed and nurtured. The employees needed and relied upon right now to sustain and drive your economic success are also individuals with family members who are in many ways impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. They are worried about their health. They are worried about how they will continue to pay their bills. They are juggling the stresses of home schooling their children. Many are for the first time in their careers learning how to be effective working from home without regular contact with their manager and/or team members. They are wondering if they will still have a job in three, six or 12-months’ time. And all this is playing out in parallel with the pressure on businesses to do more with less.
So what can you be doing now?
At this time and over the subsequent months, it is timely for leaders to reflect upon the research conducted by the Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross who discovered that people must go through five distinct stages in order to overcome grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. We now know that that these are the same stages every single person must go through in order to accept change in their lives – be it relating to a small personal issue or indeed a huge life or work event. We all go through this. We also progress through the stages at different rates and in different ways to reach ultimate acceptance of change.
What this highlights for leaders right now is that rarely before has there been a greater need for strong and empathetic leadership to ensure that team members are supported through this ‘change curve’, emerging on the other side of this pandemic ready to embrace the ‘new normal’ and engaged to drive business sustainability.
As we navigate this time of change and transition, below are some key focus areas for leaders to be mindful of in building and maintaining team motivation:
1. The importance of communication: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
In times of change, more than ever, people need to be kept informed of what is and is not happening. The evidence proves that the primary determinant of successful organisational change is the level and effectiveness of the communication delivered to those who will be impacted. Even if nothing has significantly shifted since a previous announcement, regular updates to your team members are a must. When working remotely it is obviously not as simple as ducking into the next office to speak to a colleague or team member, but the importance of collaboration and communication cannot be stressed highly enough as a driver of individual and team motivation and an enabler of change acceptance. Schedule regular team meetings to keep the group connected and utilise this opportunity to build greater understanding of collaboration tools and technologies at the same time.
2. Recognise employee efforts
It has been well proven than in almost every culture the most important drivers of motivation and performance are feeling valued at work, being developed in role and for the future, and believing that there is purpose in what you do. With people working in increasingly remote operations currently and likely into the foreseeable future, the remote leader must ensure that team members do not lose their sense of value, their purpose and team connection as a biproduct of isolation. Paradoxically, remote working operations can create an invaluable opportunity for leaders to reach out to individual team members in more intimate ways as they will be spending less time in the office and in physical meetings. Take the initiative to schedule moments for one to one connection to provide feedback to your people, check in on their well-being and discuss their development. This time of uncertainty can be utilised to strengthen relationships with your team.
3. Offer coaching and mentoring
This is an ideal time to invest in coaching and mentoring for key people to help them navigate the change curve, learn how to work remotely or in new ways, prepare for a future working landscape which may look different in terms of its technological or strategic challenges and simple prepare for the future more broadly. This is the time to develop talent and build resilient leaders who will future proof your business.
4. Ensure your culture is fit for purpose
Just as organisations must regularly review and redirect their strategy to ensure relevance in line with external influences, so they must also review their extant culture. While there is no perfect or ‘ideal’ culture, there is an ideal culture to suit each organisation’s strategy at a point in time. What does this mean? It means that the way people work together and their collective understanding of what is important and what is not important, must support what your business needs to achieve. And with the world of work and business now changing around us, it stands to reason that this is a great time to assess the way people are working together – and realign activities as and where needed to ensure your long term viability post pandemic.
For more information about how we can help you to build collaboration and communication skills, effectively engage your teams, help you assess your actual and desired culture, and for information about our coaching offering please click here.
We’re in this together.
Author: Suzanne Wall
Based in St Petersburg, Florida, Suzanne is an accomplished leader and Executive Coach with global experience working for several large multinationals including IBM, HP and Thales. Suzanne facilitates Ponte Valle programs and coaches in the US and virtually for global clients.
The ability to lead and manage across borders is an indispensable leadership quality. The way business and business growth is trending, combined with new ways of thinking about how we work driven by Covid-19, it’s highly likely that a majority of tomorrows leaders will experience leading teams, functions or businesses largely comprised of virtual and globally dispersed teams. This isn’t restricted to the more well developed industrial nations either; many large manufacturers, IT and services organisations are busy investing in emerging economies, which represents a whole new way of organisational thinking and in turn leadership behaviours to ensure success. In fact the organisational approach and the leadership behaviours that underpin success in a global context are very much the same and evolve around three key criteria:
Organisational. As an organisation, the ability to create a culture and practice of genuine collaboration is critical. Many M&A’s and expansions into new countries stumble or fail because more effort is invested into protecting and defending territorial patches and ‘old’ ways of thinking, rather than relaxing the mostly psychological boundaries and allowing energy to flow between teams, functions and countries. But collaboration doesn’t just happen. If time is invested up front to create strategic alignment between the impacted leadership groups, followed by a short process of creating a shared vision of what successful collaboration looks like, along with a framework or supporting leadership charter, then you have done more than most companies in enabling organisational collaboration. Beyond that think about how you embed collaboration into your systems; do you reward, recognise or incentivise collaboration? Is collaboration a performance measure of the executive team? Is there an expectation of visible collaboration between the board and the executive team?
Leadership. Fostering collaboration is difficult if it doesn’t feel supported or safe to do so. If there isn’t an organisational approach to enabling collaboration, then it falls to the leader to make it happen; and this is more about mindset than skill.
The actual ‘doing’ of collaboration isn’t so difficult; it’s the thought process that precedes the behaviour that makes or breaks collaboration at a leadership level. If a leader is able to relax the boundaries that separate them from their team, and their team or function from the rest of the organisation, they open up the gates for energy to flow and the exploration of different ideas held around how the work can get done. As we know, this comes back to the level of self-confidence and awareness of the leader to see the benefits of letting go; so what are your organisational development opportunities for leaders in this area?
Organisational. We tend to think of communication on an individual level, and there is no doubting the role that leadership communication plays in reinforcing the trust required for cross-border success. But like collaboration at an organisational level, there is an organisational responsibility to create an environment where conversations are encouraged, feedback is highly regarded and distance is no barrier. The last one should be the easiest from a technological perspective, but it is the supporting organisational capability plan that will ensure people know how to use and optimise communication technologies. The intersection of the organisational capability strategy with the internal communications and broader strategic plan will also help highlight the types, intensity and frequency of communication required to ensure the broader goal of successful global working is achieved. As we are seeing today with the sudden introduction of mass remote working, it's not enough to have ad-hoc measures and then learn on the run, which is the experience right now for many companies. Think ahead, think company-wide, and think systemically about how you create communication strategies that enable, and encourage, meaningful conversations in a safe ad supportive environment.
Leadership. In a multi-national environment, a leaders ability to use communication as a key leadership tool is critical, especially if they are leading people in another city or country. Unlike the leader who sees their team everyday, the ability to ‘walk the talk’ takes on a whole new meaning. Whilst ever a leader is thinking in mono then there isn’t the likelihood of inspired thinking or discretionary behaviour from their people. When we are thinking in mono, our behaviour is quite lineal and we miss the opportunity to connect with people beyond the transactional. Once leaders think in stereo or even in surround sound, their words and actions have the ability to be everywhere and live on in the minds of their people. And this is what the global leader needs to perfect – to be able to paint pictures with their words in such a way that if their team can’t see what they mean in person, they can clearly imagine it and be motivated by the possibilities of what the picture represents. Language training is certainly important, but this goes beyond being bi-lingual. There is a deeper aspect related to the self-esteem and confidence of the leader that does more to undermine effective global-minded thinking and connection than almost anything else. So what is the plan for providing coaching and development in this area that allows for those leaders who need it to grow in a safe and face-saving fashion?
Organisational. Global leadership at its best is supported by an organisation that clearly understands and internally articulates the fact that it is global. This articulation can be seen in the following ways:
In other words, if the organisation were a person, it would know who it is (a global creature) and be very comfortable with who they are. It’s not always easy to reach this stage, especially for those companies in the early to mid stages of international growth; the teenagers of the global business community. However it is attainable, and necessary, for the organisation to be able to support their leaders in driving the culturally aware organisation. But it also means that the board in these situations need to carry a depth of experience and a willingness to nurture the organisation when needed in supporting it's evolution as a global-thinking organisation.
Leadership. Culturally aware organisations create and communicate strong messages of inclusiveness and speaking with one voice starting with the board and the executive leadership teams. The national make up of these groups is only one factor that can create an immediate impression of organisational cultural awareness. What is more important is the quality of their actions and the way in which they lead. Do they actively promote and encourage collaboration and cultural diversity? For example, speaking a shared language when more than one or two countries are represented in a meeting or respecting time zones when setting international meetings. If little things like this aren’t done at the most senior levels of leadership, then it’s not likely it’s being done down throughout the organisation. The potency of leadership at this level is critical to ensuring the right messages are cascaded down through all leadership levels regarding cross-border leadership.
Dropping down into the organisation, the same principles apply, just in a different way. For a business leader, this doesn’t mean being able to speak all of the languages of the people in their team. This is about understanding the ways of working of the people in your team, and what behaviours or rituals are important to observe and incorporate into the team’s way of working. Like collaboration, it’s not something that comes naturally to all leaders, especially those who are leading for the first time in a global capacity. This is where the strength of message from senior leaders and the supporting organisational frameworks are critical in helping leaders in more complex situations. It also means that teaming and the way teaming occurs is a little bit different, and works more with understanding and creating shared values and ways of working rather than the more traditional behavioural teaming approaches.
Think Holistic. Think Integrated. Think Long Term
When going global, leadership development is only one part of the equation. To really set our organisations up for global success it is about seeking full integration between:
1. What we want our leaders to do, and
2. The organisational measures we have in place to enable our leaders to do it well.
It's also about playing for the long game. It's about knowing that you are developing the next generation of leaders who will be adapting to the volatility of business on a more frequent basis than we are today.
In an everyday leadership environment this is important. In a global leadership context - it is critical.
Author: David Morley
David is developer of global-minded leaders, teams and businesses.
Leading and managing in complex organisations, such a matrix or a large global organisation, can be frustrating at the best of times. And now we throw in a new dimension, Covid-19. As if working in a matrix didn’t have its challenges before, the addition of forced isolation and remote working does not make things easier.
We know that in a matrix teams are typically spread out in any case; managers leading teams in different countries or sites, single teams dispersed over multiple sites or countries and teams that need to be collaborating despite distance. So there is already a measure of tolerance that exists for life in a remote working environment. But here’s the thing. Life pre-Covid-19 meant that we could still come together when we needed to discuss, explore and expedite decisions. Much of what we achieve in a matrix is done through personal interactions, influencing and optimising our connections and network.
But in our new reality, we can’t do that as easily. Nor in the foreseeable future.
So, what can you do to be an effective contributor or leader in a matrix organisation during these time? Well, the truth is, you should be doing what you were doing all along!
The elements that help us be successful in a matrix organisation are mostly the same for everyone who is now required to work remotely. A couple of years back we published the top five things that go into being a successful leader in a matrix. Today we've revisited these points and added a Covid-19 footnote, because whilst each element is still relevant, for all of them there is heightened sense of relevance and importance for making the matrix work in today's circumstances, and we believe, in the post-Covid-19 era.
Adapt to the Structure
What we said then: Traditional hierarchical structure thinking and behaviours (command and control) just don’t work in a matrix, and successful matrix leaders get this. They may not fully grasp the structure that surrounds them, especially if they are new to the business. However they still find a way of building an informal network that will support them and their team in achieving their goals until they get their head around the formal structure.
C-19: Apply the same principles in how you transition to remote working. And do not underestimate the necessity and comfort that a network can bring in these times. Also know that your team will be leaning a little more on you to know how they should be adapting and working in a remote structure. So even if you are finding it a bit challenging possibly one of the best things you can do is create an open dialogue in the team about how you adapt together.
Create a Support Network
What we said then: Leading on from the previous point, those who achieve success don’t do it alone! They identify very early the value of an informal network of internal coaches, mentors and friends from different parts of the organisation. It’s not unusual for these people to be recognised when they walk through the shop floor or when they head to the finance department. Their relationships are reciprocal and based on more than just, ‘can you tell me’. You may think that it looks like a benign coffee that the ‘connected leader’ is taking with that guy who works in the accounts payable department; but you can be assured that she now knows more about what it takes to get one of her suppliers invoices paid quickly, as well as having a colleague who is more than just another stranger in the elevator each morning.
C-19: Do the same…except it’s a virtual coffee/connection. You can’t physically walk to another department, but you can reach out virtually – touch base – and in these times bring a human touch to reducing the psychological distance, whilst building or maintaining a valuable connection.
Ask Questions and Seek to Understand (Not to be understood)
What we said then: Successful matrix leaders and employees remove as much ambiguity as they can by seeking to understand why things are the way they are, and aim to remove the shroud of mystery. They know that the first step towards success is not to try and force your way of thinking on to others, rather, they listen, and seek to create a shared solution. Chances are that if you listen well, you’ll be asked to share your thoughts in return. Role model the type of interaction you would like to receive. A great bi-product of this is that a strong rapport is built that reduces the impact or presence of silo’s.
C-19: This is of equal importance in a forced remote working situation. In fact, your ability to listen, and listen well, is critical right now. You need to be honing your skills that help you read between the lines, and to hear the things that aren’t said to get the full message.
Don’t Assume that Your Dual Reporting Lines are Aligned
What we said then: If you have two or more upward reporting lines, don’t be afraid to organise a regular catch up on the topic of alignment. Successful matrix leaders make the issue of alignment explicit and get the objectives of each reporting line on the table. Every time I’ve facilitated this occurrence, either for myself or others, it is a real value creator. Importantly though, a 30 minute conversation on the topic of alignment can prevent the many hours of frustration that comes with trying to balance competing interests. Simply put; you are one person. Where and how you invest your energy is critical and if those above you aren’t aligned in what they want from you, then it makes sense that your performance will be diluted accordingly.
C-19: If you weren’t doing the above point before then perhaps you should start now. The tyranny of distance can make it easy for mis-alignment to grow unnecessarily, and you can’t be relying on your two upline managers to be talking and ensuring your priorities are aligned (it would be nice to think this was happening – but it probably isn’t). Ensuring this alignment is in place is as important for you as it is for your direct reports – it’s hard for you to give a clear direction with confidence if you don’t possess either for yourself.
They Don’t Become a Politician…But they are Aware of the Politics
What we said then: By taking care of the above point, you can reduce the impact of politics; however the larger and more complex the organisation, the more prevalent the politics. Those who have genuine success in complex environments don’t necessarily buy into the politics. That’s not to say they will completely avoid getting stuck in a political game every now and then, the reality is that this is likely to occur from time to time. But they are able to see the politics for what it is, and ‘work the sideline’. This means that they are almost like the political journalist who can see what’s happening, try to make sense of why it’s happening and is able to report on it from the sideline. In an organisational context you can also work the sideline. Observe the politicking; remembering you don’t have to choose sides. If you observe closely what is being played out you can make a more informed decision around how you choose to connect with those stuck in the games rather than feel as though you are being helplessly sucked into the political vortex!
C-19: There’s not too much to add here, except to remember that this continues whether you are in a face to face or remote environment. Don’t assume that because there is distance there are no politics. Groups will still split. People will still have agendas. They are just played out a little bit differently.
This closing paragraph was written in the original article, and it is truer today, than it was when it was written:
There’s one other thing about successful matrix leaders; and that’s their level of resilience. I’ve discussed this previously, and can’t highlight enough the importance of being flexible in your approach whilst at the same time being continually mindful of your situation and being prepared to adapt at short notice.
David is developer of global-minded leaders, teams and businesses.
...the ideal of the ‘authentic’ relationship that we hear so much about in the Anglo leadership space is always relative to the willingness and ability of the people involved to be vulnerable.
Trust gained through being vulnerable is not a natural preference for those of us in the Anglo world, but it is probably the door through which we can stand to gain the most in our business and personal relationships.
Based on the national culture research of Prof Geert Hofstede, we know that close to three quarters of the world is Collectivist. In other words…it’s about ‘we’ instead of ‘me’. Group harmony is a central theme, and trust is built based on ‘who’ you are as much (if not more than) ‘what’ you do. There is a level of implicit vulnerability in this way of being as it means sharing who you are, spending time ‘being’ with others, listening, and putting your own wants, needs and desires to one side whilst you consider and value the wants, needs and desires of the group. Based on this description, you can probably guess that Asia, the Middle East and pockets of Eastern Europe and South America fall into this dimension of culture. It is also said that how you are introduced to a work group in Asia or the Middle East, is critical, because the work group is seen as an extension of the family group. You aren’t just being introduced to any other team, you are being introduced to ‘my’ team; my ‘family’.
This is not a natural way of being for Individualist cultures such as Australia, New Zealand, the US, Canada or the UK. In an Individualist culture ‘it’s about me not we’! It’s about me being acknowledged for my needs, wants and desires. Alongside this is the focus we have on the task and achieving the task, often at the expense (or in spite of) the relationship. It’s little wonder that most money made in team building is probably made in Individualist countries!
However, it’s also important to note that neither the Collectivist or Individualist way is better than the other. They are what they are and work still gets done; but when the cultures come together in a highly multi-cultural society or in global teams, understanding this concept, and knowing how to adapt your approach, can be a career-saver!
Beyond this though, in the Anglo business world we also know that vulnerability is a concept, and practice, that can help bind a team and lift performance in a mono-culture environment. How do we know this? Look at the focus on helping leaders learn how to engage with their people through development programs and executive/leadership coaching. Consider the metrics we see in engagement surveys that focus on trust and the way leaders create environments conducive to trust and engagement. Are we in effect asking our leaders to consider some Collectivist practices and create the feeling of family? A place where we may not always like each other, but we have a relationship built over time that allows us to relax our individual boundaries, share what we really think, what really motivates us or scares us?
The heart of genuine engagement is about being able to move beyond being on task with each other. It’s about being able to relax our boundaries, and to experience connection and true collaboration based on a platform of professional intimacy.
And therein lies both the dilemma and the opportunity...the ideal of the ‘authentic’ relationship that we hear so much about in the Anglo leadership space is always relative to the willingness and ability of the people involved to be vulnerable.
We’ve been supporting the development of geographically spread teams for years; global project teams, functional teams spread throughout a region, and teams located in one office whilst the manager is in a different city. All sorts of variations. And in that time we have seen some really successful virtual teams, so we’ve put together our top five factors that we think makes a really good virtual team.
1. Get aligned on your new operating principles - create a team charter
How your team works together remotely is different to face to face. So how we collaborate, communicate and resolve conflict will all need to be done differently. The risk is that we each have our own ways of perceiving how those elements should happen, so the role of the charter is to do the one single thing that can set your team up for success the most. Make sure the team is aligned in a very clear and explicit way on how they think they should be working together in this ‘new normal’. All teams should go through this process – from the C-suite down.
2. Optimise how you work between teams
Work still needs to get done between teams – and this is one of the forgotten aspects of converting a face to face business to a virtual business as the focus tends to be more on how ‘a’ team works. So there is a piece of work that successful virtual teams do that simply mirrors the principles of the above point, and provides a means for the leaders of teams to connect, share and be clear on expectations regarding priorities, eg; what business objectives are more important or how shared resources should be deployed. It also allows the team leads to create some rules of engagement for how collaboration, communication and conflict resolution happens between teams. This is underpinned by the team charter, and allows guesswork to be replaced by real work!
3. Train and be coached for working in a virtual team
Working and leading in a virtual team requires a different set of skills and mindset. The ability to understand and work with uncertainty and ambiguity, manage stakeholders remotely, build and maintain relationships and collaborate all require different development to that in face to face structures. There's no point training to ride a bicycle when you will be riding a motorbike! Good remote working training combines behavioural skills with a focus on connection at a values and relational level. But we also know that on a deeper level, there are other factors that enhance or reduce our ability to be effective in a remote team; our confidence, need for recognition, cultural background and personality (eg; rigid vs flexible). Consider coaching if you know that working remotely doesn't fit who you are...but you like what you do and don't want to, or can’t afford to leave.
4. Things Change - so keep the team charter alive
This point comes into its own in these times of rapid change. The really good virtual teams look for opportunities to reinforce a culture of collaboration by reviewing the extent to which their team charter is still a constructive means of supporting them. They use this as an opportunity to come together and to work on the team, and continually update their preferred ways of working. And when things are changing so quickly, you can’t afford not to be reviewing the way you work together.
5. Culture Matters.
Recalibrate your team culture to reflect the remote working environment. The really effective remote teams that I’ve seen acknowledge that the culture that got them here, may not get them there. A simple example of this is the shared thinking around how open and approachable we should be. In a face to face environment it may be ok that a new team member needs to work a little harder show how they fit in and being slightly more closed between teams may be acceptable. But in a remote setting that unspoken way of thinking won’t fly. You need to make your culture more explicit, and perhaps it can be reflected in the first point when the team charter is designed. We know that culture is needed to drive the execution of strategy. Right now though, plenty of strategies and plans are being upended, revised and in some cases completely re-written. So, it makes sense that even at the level of the virtual team, a conversation be had around how the culture may need to be shifted to help them execute a little differently on their team objectives.
Business Partners exist right throughout an organisation. Some roles are explicitly named a Business Partner, whilst other roles carry the implicit expectation that they are partners. HR, Talent Acquisition, Procurement, Finance, IT and many more; the larger and more complex an organisation the more partners exist. And the demand for Business Partners to add value and enable their internal clients to succeed has never been higher. Under normal circumstances, we know that as margins reduce, and operating costs are squeezed, Business Partners are required to deliver more and demonstrate outstanding value for the business.
But what about today, in the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world of Covid-19? Where teams are dispersed and managers are leading in new ways and ways that they may not even want to be leading. Where dealing with your supply chain has just become a little harder due to no access to raw materials or small suppliers closing down. When the requirements of your existing labour agreements don't quite fit the 'new normal'.
This is when the true value of a Business Partner is seen. And this can only be realised if the Business Partner understands that high value delivery is built on more than just their technical expertise.
Genuine Business Partnering success is defined by a number of factors, and in the fast moving pace that we are in today, there are two that stand out and play a vital role:
1. Developing high quality relationships
2. Moving from ‘subject matter expert’ to ‘expert collaborator’
Your technical expertise as a Business Partner is your safety net. That's what you are there for. What's more important though is how you deliver that expertise in a fast moving, uncertain and ambiguous setting. Below we explore the idea of quality relationships and being an expert collaborator in more detail.
Develop high quality relationships
This goes without saying, and unfortunately we know there are relationships that remain transactional at best allowing only a fraction of the potential value to be realised by both parties. You could say that a quality relationship is one where there is discretionary thinking and behaviour seen from both the Business Partner and the groups that they support. For example, a tendering team ‘wanting’ the Procurement Partner being involved at the very start of discussions regarding a possible bid to allow early planning, exploration and anticipation of possible solutions, rather than waiting until the tendering process actually commences.
In today's environment you will need to work smarter to build a quality relationship. That's a fact. It doesn't need to be harder, as there are many tools available for collaborating online and plenty of development opportunities available to help you pick up those skills if you don't have them. But you will need to be more disciplined and structured than previously, and not just rely on your technical expertise to get you through. Remember, you aren't meeting in an office environment free of distraction. You are working with colleagues who may be home-schooling their kids, dealing with reduced family income, fighting for space in a small home environment. Now more than ever, you are having to take the 'whole' person into account when developing a relationship that can deliver value.
There is one more factor that impacts on the quality of your relationships. Trust.
As mentioned above, in most cases there is no question about the technical expertise of a Business Partner. However if trust doesn’t exist, then the credibility of the technical message is diluted from the outset, which in turn erodes the quality of the relationship.
Trust in business partnering can be considered a bundle of many items. What and how you communicate, the intent of your relationship (see the next point), how you respect and build the relationship, your presence (looks, demeanour) and your track record for delivery. So think about all of these factors through a virtual trust-building lens. Your physical presence is limited, so should you increase the frequency of small touch points? And if you weren't a strong communicator before, then you will need find ways to work with this now. Explore the different mediums available to you. Be in touch with your own feelings and mindset to ensure you are communicating in the most effective way possible. If you are feeling down or frustrated, be aware of this and know that this will impact your communication. If you are not a morning person then don't schedule things for the morning unless you have to. Play to your strengths...and go out of your way to learn more about the 'whole' person you are partnering with to ensure you are aligning as much as possible.
Moving from ‘Subject Matter Expert’ to ‘Expert Collaborator’
In a VUCA environment like today, collaboration needs to be a central pillar to our way of operating. It is the most optimal way of getting things done when resources are as spread out as our perceptions on how things need to happen. Key capabilities that support this are:
This is also about how you approach your role as a Business Partner. Do you come from the ‘one up’ expert position, or are you ‘on the level’ with your internal stakeholders? A key question here is ‘why’ are you business partnering? Are you doing it to prove your worth (or show how much you know), or to add value to your client? Once you get that it is about adding value to your client (from an ‘on the level’ position), you will quickly see that your worth is being felt - whether it is remotely, or beyond today, in whatever form the future of work takes.
The most successful Business Partners are those who draw on the above factors and are able to transition from being a ‘subject matter expert' to 'expert collaborator'. This is about being confident in your technical knowledge to the extent that you can relax with your clients and build a genuine connection that allows you to identify real needs. Part of this relaxation also extends to being comfortable with who you are as a partner, and therefore being comfortable with the fact that you may not always get it right the first time. If we are completely hung up on those times when we make mistakes we fail to to the most important thing...learn from them. Really good collaborators are as tolerant of others as they are of themselves. If you aren't good at this, start learning how to do this sooner rather than later!
Now is the Time for Business Partners to Stand Up and Shine
Irrespective of whether you are a Procurement, HR, Legal, Talent or Audit partner, the role of the Business Partner (and its many variations), isn’t always easy and at times it can be frustrating for both the partner and the business. At the same time, the value offered by Business Partners who can build quality relationships is remarkable, and considered highly productive by both the Business Partner and their internal clients. And that was under 'normal' circumstances.
Today that value is needed even more. The Business Partner in a VUCA environment is a key contributor to decisions that are being made for the first time. And whilst they too are experiencing these conditions for the first time at speed, Business Partners are expected to be one step ahead and shaping the path for their client and bringing advice that makes a difference. Now is the time that Business Partners will shine. Now is the time of the VUCA Business Partner.
Click here to learn more about our VUCA Business Partner course.
Over the past couple of weeks, despite the Covid-19 impact on our world, many organisations are still going ahead with plans to build engaged and winning teams using virtual means rather than face to face.
And that is great news! What this means is that there is still a mindset in organisations and amongst leaders that getting your team on the same page, connected and engaged is still a priority.
In fact, I’d go one step further and suggest that these activities are more important today for the most obvious reason that we are forced to be physically distant. But just because you can’t be physically in the same space doesn’t mean you can’t go a good way down the track to building an engaged team. The quality of online sharing technology is such that there is almost no excuse for not being able to check-in on each other or share and create rituals that are good for you and the team.
However if you are looking for something that operates at a deeper level, that you would normally get from an in-person event where there is the ability to be in the same place to workshop your rules of engagement and shared values over a couple of days, you may come up a little short. The reality is that part of our decision making when it comes to building trust and closeness is driven by our ability to see, hear and experience each other in a group context. We only get part of that picture when we are seeking to do this virtually; we get it in snapshots from the waist up and in individual contexts without being able to see and experience the interplay and dynamic between people. As we know it’s the dynamic that we are working with to create the foundation for resilient and sustainable relationships.
So, what can we do to build engaging teams in this era of remote working?
The good news is that we can still build fantastic rapport in the team. We can still lay the groundwork for resilient relationships and an engaged team. And if your team has been together for a while before having to work remotely, then there’s a pretty good chance with the right guidance that you can maintain the momentum and levels of engagement that exist in your team.
Below are three principles to apply when thinking about your next virtual teaming event. They are principles I apply and that I’ve seen others apply to good effect:
Accept that it’s just going to look and feel different.
-This may be more targeted towards facilitators and those who lean towards being perfectionists, who love an event that looks and feels a certain way and delivers a known outcome. Accepting that it will be virtual and still yield good outcomes is a perceptual hurdle to get over, but once you do you will be glad you continued down this path.
Put time into your planning and communications for the event.
-You will need to plan more than you do for a face to face event. Contrary to popular belief, virtual does not mean less effort. Put the time aside to thoroughly plan your event and to rethink your event through a virtual lens. Once you have your agenda and the activities, a great idea is to visualise how you see the event playing out. Run through the agenda and activities with a colleague – test them out – do they work in a virtual sense? Do they deliver what they are designed to achieve?
-You will also need to communicate more than usual. For many people, teaming events can be uncomfortable under normal circumstances, coupled with the fact that you are doing this in a different way which represents change. Think through how you communicate this event, how you engage your participants before, during and after the event. You may even need to apply some of the principles of change communication given that we are not only asking people to do something they may not be comfortable with, but they may also be resistant towards as well.
Apply the Formula: 2 Days F2F = 2 Months PTT
-As mentioned above, we don’t expect that a virtual activity will deliver the depth of connection that a day or two in person will. But it can if you reframe it and apply the following formula:
1 day F2F = 1 months PTT (Planned Teaming Touchpoints).
For every day you would spend in a face to face teaming event, plan one month of team touch points beyond your virtual teaming activity. Design them so they link back to the initial teaming event, and so they build on from each other.
I hope this has been a useful piece of guidance for those who are designing or facilitating virtual teaming events for the first time. I will also leave you with a personal mantra of my own that I find very useful in these circumstances:
In January I wrote about the importance of taking the time to engage with your people. And that was just before our world was tipped upside down by Covid-19!
Upon reflection, the suggestions for taking the time to engage with your people are probably more relevant today, even though it feels as though one hand is tied behind your back in terms of freedom to connect. But it is still very possible to maintain the quality of your relationships despite the enforced distance; in fact ask any leader who has successfully led a high performing virtual team and they will gladly tell you it's possible.
Now, we know that not everyone signed up for being a remote leader, and I'm sure there are some who find it difficult enough being a leader of people when you are in the same place! We've all been there at some point, so you aren't alone. But the reality is you're not alone now either, because we are here, only a phone call or email away for a chat and the opportunity to pick our brains. You have the experience of the Ponte Valle team at your fingertips to help guide you through this interesting leadership time.
But there are some things you can be doing right now that are reflective of that article I wrote back in January. They are:
Value your 1:1’s with your team and what they represent. You can still have meaningful 1:1's with your team even though there is distance. In fact right now, your ability to maintain your 1:1's and to have meaningful conversations may be a lifesaver for your team members as much as it is for you.
Be interested in your team members. Not everyone will be coping well with social-isolation, and we know that for some people the ability to connect with others is critical; not just because they may be a 'people-person' and more extroverted, but because they may also be prone to depression when they are cut off from social connection. At our very core all of us like to be acknowledged for for 'who' we are and not just 'what' we are doing. So make your 1:1's or team member touch points frequent, and really do check in on them - ask how they are doing - don't just ask what they are doing.
Create opportunities for connection in the team. This point remains the same. Create those opportunities that allow the team to come together and share on a values level. Most people are comfortable sharing about the things that give them enjoyment; and this is the level of sharing that removes the superficial layers and boundaries and opens the door to genuine connection.
If you’d like to know more about the ways in which you can build a more engaging 'remote' leadership style, view our Engaging Leadership Resources, or join our next Lead 2 'Remotely' Engage leadership course.