For some, one of the most challenging aspects of this suspended animation we are in is wondering how long this confinement might last. Is this the new normal? We keep shaking and shaking the Magic 8 ball to get the answer but keep getting the highly unsatisfactory “cannot predict now.”
The Individuals On Your Team Need Different Things
While the future is unknowable, one important thing leaders can do to navigate this moment is to bring their teams together. That can be challenging, however, because of the vastly different responses individuals are having to the crisis. As leaders, what is critical is that we connect individually with each member of the team to understand what they are experiencing, how it is affecting them, and what support would be most helpful.
Keeping a regular schedule of one-on-ones is essential. Short, but frequent conversations are fine; supplement them with more informal texts or chat messages. One leader we spoke to recently said that not a single one-on-one he had in the last two weeks was task focused. What the team needed, in order to stay focused and productive, was connection.
Research at the MIT Human Dynamics lab shows that teams with a strong sense of belonging are the highest performing teams. It takes intentional effort to do this when working face-to-face, but creating a sense of collective belonging virtually can feel impossible. Help everyone by doing a personal check in at the beginning of team meetings. Hearing about each person’s experience builds empathy across the team and provides you with insight into individual needs.
Put Your Own Oxygen Mask On First
The best way to make sure that you’re emotionally available to your team is to make sure that you are aware of what your own needs are and that you’re taking steps—even if small ones—to build up your reserves. If you’re feeling isolated, reach out to peers, both inside and outside your organization. They are also likely to be feeling the weight of the additional needs they are being asked to address and need connection too.
Don’t let the workday continually expand just because there is “so much to do.” Set a start and end time and stick with it. Remember that the more you role-model boundary setting in this new world, the more your team will feel authorized to do so as well. One leader we know has the whole family leave through the front door and come back in again to signal that the work day is over and it’s time to focus on one another.
Managing the sense of belonging and safety across the team is one of a leader’s most important duties. In this moment, the collective safety of us all is threatened by this vast uncertainty. Helping each individual manage his / her grief, focus on a collective future, and experience this situation authentically is the best any leader can do when the future is so unknowable.