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Jungle Tips For Virtual Teams

These are the times that try teams’​ souls

At this time where teams are being dispersed, dislocated and virtualised, even downsized, morale is more important than ever. Times like these bring the importance of leadership, communication and teamwork into sharp relief.

Most of us have never had to plan for working from home further ahead than the weekend. Similarly, most leaders have never had to truly run dispersed teams for an unknown period.

And add to that the impacts of both cabin fever (long periods of isolation) and resilience and culture suddenly takes on a different meaning. Don’t waste this opportunity to build on both, and we can help.

And that is the point, this is likely to be an unknown period. It is my experience in similar situations that for many, the realities of isolation will hit home quite quickly.

Stotan’s Jungle Tips For Virtual Teams

Leaders will have to prioritise health and well-being of their team higher than ever. While those who spend a lot of time at a desk, such as finance and operations, may make the transition relatively easily, leaders and managers with more dynamic jobs may struggle as they are shut down and ‘think’ they are losing control.

The good news for everyone is that this is not the case at all.

Uncertainty and the lack of experiencing it, is often behind the irrational fear of such flexible workplace arrangements. I have heard senior leaders say, “I fear that workers will just take advantage if I let them work from home”.

At Stotan, we suggest you suspend irrational fears and embrace what is obviously a new normal. Of course, like everything, this will require an attitudinal and behavioural shift and we have provided some ‘Stotan Jungle Tips’ below to help you mentally work through this. The main point is that it is all about trust.

These times provide us a salient opportunity to reiterate that trust is reciprocal – if you don’t trust your employees you have no chance of being trusted by them. At Stotan, our position is that trust is not earned, rather it is given. And as Francis of Assisi correctly stated, “it is in giving that we receive.”

So, for those who have resisted a broader work from home mindset, you might find things will have shifted dramatically once the corona-virus fog lifts; that the sky hasn’t fallen in and that in fact you are better for it. Productivity has not dropped, discretionary work has increased, along with buy in and loyalty.

I might suggest, some of you will realise that it is only your personal fears that have stopped you from imagining a work from home culture up to this point. So, start giving trust, embrace the discomfort and take this opportunity to build agility, resilience and team-cohesion in this adversity.

This will require a re-imagining of team as you will need to think of your team in a different way. As a psychological construct rather than a physical one. What is not different are the critical enablers of good teams – coordination, organisation, delegation, prioritisation, and communication.

More than ever you need to ensure clearly defined and understood structures, clarity of roles and responsibilities, and ongoing communication of action tasks. For many, these fundamentals will be the difference between remaining solvent and not, sticking together or not.

Jungle Tips For Virtual Teams

The following are considerations for teams and leaders as we all move into a different way of working and especially as the realities of isolation take hold. If you have any Jungle Tips of your own to add, please let us know.

1. Mindset Agility

Think of your team as sailing a ship, as captain and crew spread out remotely. Everyone’s job is to communicate, co-ordinate, and continually keep the team informed. Trust the captain has the ship on course and trust the team is doing their job to keep it running. Trust is most important when you are not co-located.

2. Communicate, communicate, communicate

Obvious enough but build additional platforms. On top of the traditional channels, consider informal ones such as a WhatsApp group for a bit of fun on the side. 

3. Culture Is King

culture doesn’t disappear under pressure or in a crisis; it rises to meet the moment. It matters more than ever.

4. Planning Is Everything, The Plan Is Nothing

Again, another fantastic opportunity to practice planning as a habit rather than a file on your computer or a list of things to do. In this climate you need to live and breathe the plan, it is live and changing moment by moment.

5. Address Anxiety

Psychological safety remains a key element, this will test many of us. You need each other more than ever. So, make sure you are checking in across on multiple platforms. Regularly conduct a ‘morale check’; e.g., a score of 1 = terrible, 5 = excellent. You can also reach out to external health and well-being experts to chat to and for advice.

6. Don’t Fear FWA

Or those dinosaurs amongst us, it is time to embrace this much maligned acronym; well, you don’t really have a choice anymore.

7. Daily Sync

Set the tone early, host a daily sync for the first couple of weeks, e.g., 0900 every morning. This will help orientate everyone through the early stages and set good behaviours quickly, building confidence. For the senior leaders, like the CEOs, I would recommend a video message once a week, including updates and information, and a reminder that we are all in it together.

8. Clear Direction

Are your position descriptions and roles & responsibilities clear and understood? I know many of you kick this metaphorical can down the road. Make this part of the next one-on-one you have with everyone and include your intent too.

9. Reset Meeting Hygiene

It is the perfect time to brush up your meeting behaviours. Make sure there is a considered agenda prior, think about what you are going to say and be concise, and see if you can’t break the mandatory hour meeting and replace it with 30min meetings. Be mindful, phone calls can be mentally draining because of the additional imagining you need to do so take that into consideration.

10. Meeting Cadence

In those meetings, be disciplined in setting your meeting times and length, and stick to it. Great teams are brilliant at the boring and your meeting cadence should be as boring as you hope your heart rate and blood pressure is.

11. Leaders Speak Last

Mr Sinek missed a trick in borrowing the militarism “leaders eat last”. In virtual and conference meetings, let the team members speak first. If your agenda and direction is good enough your team should cover everything that is required for you, and more. All you should need to do is to allocate actions, tasks and resources at the end.

12. People Skills

This is also a good chance to practice a bunch of skills that too many managers and leaders ignore for the most part such as coaching, mentoring, delegation, prioritisation, performance management and feedback. This stuff is more important in the current environment.

13. After-Action-Review

Now! You should be collecting lessons learned from this situation as things evolve. What didn’t you see coming? What would you have done differently prior to now? What should you start doing in the future, keep doing, and never do again? A donkey never hits it head on the same rock twice. Let this be the catalyst for your team to become that learning organisation that you aspire to be. In the future, quarterly no notice business continuity exercises might be commonplace.

14. Cognitively Connected

Make several times during the week compulsory for everyone to be online at the same time together, e.g., every day from 9 to 12. There is psychological valence and salience in teaming like this, knowing that you are all in sync.

15. Connect Creatively

Be creative and ask for some ideas from the team to connect once a week or fortnight. You might all meet at a park somewhere, keeping your distance of course, and share a picnic? You might all meet once a week for an online PT session together. Or you might engage an outside agency to facilitate something a bit different for you.

16. Manage Expectations

Leaders need to be respectfully assertive early and direct what you need to be done. Team members need to respond to this appropriately. Leave no room for ambiguity. For example, crystal clarity about how often and how you expect people to communicate with you. Team members proactively ask for work as you finish tasks.

17. Blend Tech

I personally like to augment modern technology with some old school technology – at home set up a white board with everyone’s (every teams) name and track their current and projected task status. I recommend taking time to put a picture of each team member against their name too, important psychologically to staying connected and empathetic.

18. Be Anti-Fragile

Resilient businesses will bounce back from these times; anti-fragile businesses will benefit from them.

For information, contact Stotan here.

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