Let’s face it. The last few months have been anything but normal. Leaders have made a rushed conversion to remote working teams and managed the complexities of overseeing newly distanced employees. And just as the routines of remote work started to stabilize, executives must now consider the plans required to systematically and safely re-open their workspaces. As organizations begin to strategically re-tool for success in the “new normal,” leaders and their teams can quickly become disconnected and lose focus among the many distractions.
More than ever, we need to engage in the fundamental best practices of management as the circumstances in which we are operating continually and unpredictably evolve.
Here are five fundamentals for keeping your team engaged and productive that I’ve been discussing with my clients over the past few weeks.
1. Strengthen trust by providing your team with perspective and clarity as circumstances change.
A crisis tests the strength of trust between a leader and their team. As Simon Sinek says, “Trust is built on telling people the truth, not telling them what they want to hear.” As organizational conditions rapidly evolve, it is essential to proactively communicate what’s happening, why, and how your team will be impacted (even if it is not good news). Unexpected change, coupled with a lack of clear communication, will quickly lead to an erosion of trust. Because trust is the foundation for high-performing teams, this is the most important fundamental.
2. Create opportunities to connect in meaningful ways.
Whether virtually or in-person, genuinely connecting requires us to slow down, ask thoughtful questions, and sincerely listen. Here are several to consider when engaging with your team:
What are you grateful for today?
What’s most challenging for you now?
What has kept you anchored during this tumultuous time?
In what ways can I best support you (or, can we best support each other)?
How has this experience made you (or, us) stronger?
When you ask these questions, stay curious, and open to the perspectives you hear. Acknowledge and normalize the emotions that are present. Be compassionate and demonstrate care and genuine concern. The most valuable gift we can offer others is the gift of our full attention.
3 . Focus on outcomes, not activity.
Remote work can blur the lines between personal and professional life. Longer workdays over an extended period can create workaholic behaviors that lead to burnout, a clouded perspective, and a vicious cycle of inefficiency. As you are managing your organization to both navigate the short-term and plan for what’s next, consistently communicate the outcomes that matter most (including what no longer matters), how those outcomes are measured, and who is accountable to those outcomes. Reinforce the results you want by continuously reporting progress and acknowledging the team members who contributed to that progress, all while proactively encouraging your team members to deliver value by working smarter, not harder.
4. Continue to provide opportunities for professional development.
Your greatest asset is your people, and their ability to perform at their best is your ultimate competitive advantage. The organizations that will emerge from this crisis stronger will be the ones that continue to invest in developing people. The job of leading and effectively managing will only become more complex, and the new skills that will be required to succeed are shifting faster than ever. Directing development resources (like cross-training, mentoring, executive coaching, management training) toward your talent is an investment that will produce a return in the form of improved performance, productivity, and employee retention.
5. Encourage teamwork and collaboration.
Collaboration keeps team members connected and engaged – and when done well, it sparks innovative and creative ideas. While collaborating in a remote working environment can be more logistically challenging, that link is more vital than ever. Working together is beneficial to your team members’ psychological health and the continued success of your organization as you adapt to new ways of operating and serving your customers. Routinely creating the expectation and climate for productive dialogue among team members will foster a collaborative culture.
In times of disruption, your teams crave clear and consistent leadership. Going back to the fundamentals of leadership by focusing on communication, collaboration, and most importantly – compassion, will strengthen trust and build a foundation for your organization’s long-term success.
Grow with purpose.