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Why supporting your team after lockdown matters

As the national Covid-19 lockdown starts to lift, businesses are starting to come back to life and get their bearings. Every business, team and individual has had their own experience.

Colleagues in some businesses know each other better than ever before. They have been on Zoom calls and through that entered each other’s homes, met family members and pets. For them work and life have connected in ways that have helped humanise each other.

Others have spent weeks away from their families because they have been on the front line of the national response to Covid-19. They have been supported by Thursday night claps, the generosity of hotels, restaurants, and members of the public. Many have become exhausted and isolated through their experience and exposure to the risks and impacts of Covid-19. Over 300 have died.

Some people have felt their contribution to society recognised for the first time. The respect shown them deserves to be given long into the future. Some of the millions of people on furlough have been completely disconnected from colleagues. Many people feel more anxious about the future than ever.

Now that lockdown is lifting, some people in your team will want the future to be different. Others will want to return to what they know. Some will want to escape being locked down with others, while others will want to escape being isolated and alone. There are those that loved and thrived through lockdown. They will be sad to see it go.

The people in your team may look the same but know that like the rest of the world, the business they work for and the communities and customers they serve, they have been changed by their own experience.

That is why we suggest you make space to reconnect and realign as a team. New economic and social challenges are emerging and your teams will appreciate you supporting them after lockdown.

 

1. Provide structure and clarity (and avoid Groupthink!)

Structure and clarity are essential. Google’s own research on team effectiveness (Guide: Understand team effectiveness, 2020) found that ‘structure and clarity’ were core characteristics of high-performing teams.  They found that “An individual’s understanding of job expectations, the process for fulfilling these expectations, and the consequences of one’s performance are important for team effectiveness.”

Expectations, processes and setting clear performance standards all help teams perform effectively. Providing these is an important part of supporting your team after lockdown. And, there is more to consider. Structure and clarity need to address how the team will be together, as well as what the team will do.

Consider that, as people emerge from their own unique lockdown experiences, it is only natural that they will want to reclaim their sense of agency and take more control over life. At the same time, they will be carrying uncertainty about things that matter to them. People have a lot going on. They are carrying a range of emotions, attitudes, and energy levels that have the potential to shape how they show-up for a long time to come. Aligning the team energetically, emotionally, and operationally is an ongoing process. Build this expectation into the structure and clarity you provide to support your team after lockdown.

Next, watch out for structure and clarity leading your team into Groupthink after lockdown. Beware of providing excessive structure, and clarity where there is none. This can result in a form of team alignment that narrows the range of what is welcome and what is not welcome. An atmosphere where important information, feedback, influence, and suggestions are marginalised.

Other factors may raise the chance of Groupthink setting in. People are aware of the risk and uncertainty around them. They are more likely to want to be team players and to ‘do their bit’ because for the moment team members absolutely need each other. Now more than usual, organisations and team leaders will be motivated to encourage people to work together and get behind organisational and team goals. But watch out for the Groupthink shaped risk in this well-intentioned behaviour!

In an article called ‘A brief history of Groupthink’ (Lassila, 2008) explores why Groupthink matters.  And, how it has contributed to failures throughout recent history. The article also touches on the kind of structures used by military, government organisations and businesses to mitigate against it. One of the most salient lines is that Groupthink becomes worse when the leader creates the concept that everybody has to be a team player”. Interestingly, the article is published in the Yale Alumni Magazine which published the first essay about Groupthink by Irving Janis over 40 years ago. It is worth reading. 

Groupthink becomes worse when the leader creates the concept that everybody has to be a team player.”

Here is what to look for to spot groupthink and the problems it causes. (CFI, 2020) explains that: “Groupthink…creates a group where individual members of the group are unable to express their own thoughts and concerns, and unquestioningly follow the word of the leader…Therefore, the impact of groupthink includes the following: – Bad decisions due to lack of opposition – Lack of creativity – Overconfidence. And, Groupthink negatively impacts the profitability of an organization – Optimal solutions to problems may be overlooked – Lack of feedback on decisions and hence poor decision-making”. This is the opposite of what needs to happen as organisations and leaders support their teams after lockdown. But better the devil you know. 

Knowing what Groupthink is, the patterns and behaviours it leads to, and what it looks like on a team is helpful. It means that you can consider the kinds of structure and clarity needed to support your team after lockdown by nudging your team away from the perils of Groupthink.

Next in our 10 ways to support your team after lockdown we explore psychological safety. And, how it is an essential ingredient in the antidote to groupthink.

2. Build psychological safety to support your team after lockdown

Organisations will rely on their teams to help them get through the uncertainty, complexity and challenges they will experience after lockdown. Sharing information, perspectives and potential solutions will be helpful given the circumstances. This is supported by research (Resick, Murase, Randall and DeChurch, 2014) who found that Elaboration processes aided team success in turbulent but not stable environments”. Psychological Safety creates the conditions for people to share ideas. Developing it will be essential to supporting your team and organisation after lockdown.

Google’s own research into team effectiveness (Guide: Understand team effectiveness, 2020) found that the most important factor for team effectiveness was Psychological Safety. They explain that Psychological Safety refers to an individual’s perception of the consequences of taking an interpersonal risk or a belief that a team is safe for risk taking in the face of being seen as ignorant, incompetent, negative, or disruptive. In a team with high psychological safety, teammates feel safe to take risks around their team members. They feel confident that no one on the team will embarrass or punish anyone else for admitting a mistake, asking a question, or offering a new idea.

 

“The most important factor for team effectiveness is Psychological Safety.”

 

Psychological Safety means that individual team members believe they can speak up. That they can present alternative perspectives. Float ideas without being punished, put down or belittled just because their idea is different from the prevailing consensus or established wisdom. Psychological Safety is fostered by trust in top management, it is the opposite of fear. And, everyone in a team shares responsibility for maintaining its presence. That is why it is an important antidote to Groupthink. And, research has repeatedly shown how it benefits team and organisational performance.

(Edmondson, 2018) summarises the organisational benefits of Psychological Safety. And, why it is important when learning, knowledge sharing, error reporting or innovation are crucial for a company’s success:

  • Studies report that people frequently hold back – even when they believe what they have to say could be important for the organisation, the customer, or themselves.
  • Psychological safety promotes engagement, mental health, and lower turnover. The benefits of psychological safety are greater for people who feel more vulnerable.
  • There is a positive correlation between psychological safety and error reporting, quality improvement and high performance.
  • Because psychological safety replaces silence and fear with candour and openness it is conducive to setting ambitious goals.

So, Psychological Safety is a good thing for the organisation, team, and individuals. It makes it possible for people to make suggestions and explore ideas and approaches to help move organisations and teams through turbulent times.

It is also understandable that some managers may be concerned that a culture built around psychological safety will threaten performance standards. But research suggests that the opposite is true. Organisations thrive when they have high performance standards and high psychological safety.

But it would be wrong to take the benefits for granted. There can be downsides to team performance if the information elaboration processes that psychological safety encourage, are not well-managed.

 

 “Information elaboration can be detrimental when attributions of competence are inaccurate…”

 

In their study, (van Dijk, Meyer and van Engen, 2018) found that “Information elaboration can be detrimental when attributions of competence are inaccurate… when information elaboration negatively affects performance, this is due to an increased influence of team members who are inaccurately perceived as competent”.

There are ways for teams to hedge against these negative impacts. Charismatic individuals can self-manage input and be above board about their level of competence. Teams can embrace critical analysis. And, everyone in a team can improve their understanding of how competencies are distributed across the team.

 

3. Learn how to make good decisions as a team

The easing of lockdown is inviting us to start taking more control over what happens next. That is good news because three months at home is a long time, and people are anxious to get their lives back on track. But that is going to be hard. Because the world was already complex, and now levels of complexity and uncertainty have grown considerably. Making it harder to realise team potential and overcome team challenges. The way organisations and teams made decisions before; may not be how they want to make decisions now.

 

“Success depends on knowing as closely as possible, what is really happening.”

 

What does some of the emerging thinking about supporting teams after lockdown to make good decisions say?

This is not a typical crisis event. It is anticipated that multiple waves of infections may occur which might require an organization to flex back and forth between React, Respond, Recover and Reshape. All the while, the interconnectedness of the world is amplifying, rather than smoothing, the impacts and ripple effects as the pandemic continues to unfold.

Those with the best opportunity for success recognize that uncertainty will continue to exist and that they must go into a situation with eyes wide open — that way, they can look for what’s really happening, not what they expect to see. Executives must seek to consistently assess and adapt to the threat. This shift will also involve building a crisis team with representation from across the enterprise to ensure a complete view of decision-making.” (AON, 2020)

The take home messages are that:

  • Because of the nature of the crisis, emergence will not be linear.
  • Your organisation may go through phases of reacting, responding, recovering, and reshaping for some time to come.
  • Success depends on knowing as closely as possible, what is really happening.
  • Build a team with representation from across your business to ensure a complete view of decision making.

There is also good reason to consider which frameworks might best support you to make better team decisions. Here’s a link to some resources that will support teams after lockdown www.aon.com/event-response/coronavirus.aspx.

4. Create a positive atmosphere to support your team after lockdown

Everyone knows that teamwork is more efficient and creative when the atmosphere is right. And by ‘right’ I do not mean ‘happy’. I mean appropriate for the work that needs to be done. I mean an atmosphere that maintains a healthy balance between positivity and productivity. If the atmosphere on a team is stopping the team from realising its potential or successfully overcoming team challenges, there are things that can be done.

But consider the diversity of thoughts, opinions and feelings team members may have about what has happened and what the future holds. How might they interact to shape the atmosphere across the team? Creating an atmosphere that supports team members to re connect, bring their best, and do the work they need to do may be a real challenge after lockdown.

 

“Raise and maintain awareness of who you are in relationship, and what your impact is.”

 

How can you support your team after lockdown to be consciously and intentionally accountable for the atmosphere they create together?

Having sufficient psychological safety to talk openly about it as a team is important. Making agreements can be useful. Trusting people to notice what the moment or task needs, and empowering them to bring ‘that’ helps. So does team members raising and maintaining their awareness of who they are in relationship, and what their impact is.

Ultimately, it is about all team members taking collective responsibility for managing the atmosphere that exists between them. It is self-management beyond organising ‘who does what’.

 

5. Align team goals with organisational goals

How aligned are your pre Covid-19 team and organisational goals with what needs to happen now?

If they are aligned, a great way to help your team after lockdown is to spend time re connecting your team members with those goals. If they are not aligned, recognise a large part of supporting your team after lockdown is making their work meaningful by demonstrating its connection to organisational success. Leadership and communication will be key in making this a reality.

 

29% increase in financial return when a team has clear purpose and line of sight to company goals”

 

In his article “Bringing work to life” Sky Space Team Development Specialist Martyn Lowesmith spoke about the power of providing “clarity and transparency of how… teams, with their attendant goals or purpose nest together to deliver the goal or purpose of the whole organisation. Thus, leaving the individual with an ‘accessible’ goal or purpose to align with, safe in the knowledge that this also creates alignment with the bigger picture held by the organisation” (Lowesmith, 2020).

Martyn’s comments are supported by research that found a “29% increase in financial return when a team has clear purpose and line of sight to company goals” (Price and Toye, 2017).

There is nothing to suggest that vertical goal alignment has stopped being a driver of improved team performance. At a time of increasing social and economic uncertainty it makes sense to support your team after lockdown by creating an environment where teams understand why their work matters and how it will help the organisation succeed. 

6. Support team members to contribute to the enrichment of life

In her blog post about reuniting work and life that many people experience, Sky Space Team and Organisational Development Specialist Jen Parkin asked us to imagine “communities where work was in collective service to the needs of those who carried it out…[where] everybody was able to contribute to the enrichment of life for everyone through participating in work” (Parkin, 2020).

For me, this means building ‘the enrichment of life’ into the nuance of organisational and team culture. In practice, this means work builds you up as a person and does not diminish you. It means that team members support each other in ways that genuinely enrich their lives. It means people benefiting directly from their labour and being connected to the impact it has on others.

 

“Build the enrichment of life into organisational and team culture.”

 

While aspirational, bringing this to the way you support teams after lockdown is possible. And one of the easiest ways to start is to support team members to align around a shared interest in everyone in the team being aware enough of what is happening in the room to intentionally co create and hold a supportive, healthy atmosphere that serves the work.

Doing this is consistent with the things Jen described because it is a deeply interconnected and co-creative act that all team members can join in with. It is done in collective service to those carrying it out, and by doing it people are contributing to the enrichment of life.

It also gives people the opportunity to carry that sense of mutual care – that was so present in the way many people responded to the challenge of lockdown – with them back into the workplace, as a way to actively support their team.

7. Enhance job satisfaction and team performance with prosocial rewards

Covid-19 has reignited our appreciation for community spirit, being part of something bigger and looking out for others. And, I think people want some of that to continue. There is something about the respect we have for those who supported others, that makes us and the organisations we work for want to be respected in that way too. Prosocial rewards are a way to harness this energy and support your team after lockdown.

The concept behind a ‘prosocial reward’ is that good team performance is rewarded by money.  And, that the money must be spent on ‘prosocial’ actions. For example, buying gifts for colleagues or giving money to a charity. In fact, any act of kindness that matters and has meaning to team members or the communities and customers they serve can be considered pro-social.

 

“Prosocial rewards improve happiness, job satisfaction and team performance.”

 

Researchers (Anik et al., 2013) found that rewarding team performance with prosocial rewards improves happiness, job satisfaction and team performance in a significant and sustainable way. In practice, the financial reward per person needed to make a difference was modest, under £50 per person. The exciting part of the process is the level of discretion given to the team and the way prosocial rewards put kindness front and centre.

And, it is worth noting that there are not many reward strategies that have been shown to improve job satisfaction and team performance at the same time. That makes a prosocial approach to rewarding high performance in teams special. So special that (Anik et al., 2013) suggest that “prosocial bonuses can be used to create a more altruistic, satisfying, and productive workplace”.

8. Set team level learning goals to support your team after lockdown

Covid-19 has been a case-study in adaptability, navigating change and managing disruption. But as the situation unfolds, it is becoming clear that the future is going to be infused with increased complexity and possibly a little more chaos. Because the lack of alignment and certainty makes it harder to establish clear performance goals, consider setting learning goals for teams as an alternative way to improve team cohesion and motivate people to perform.

 

“Team level learning goals foster cooperation between team members.”

 (Grant, 2012) says that “individual performance can be enhanced in highly complex or challenging situations when team goals are primarily framed as being learning goals…[and that] using team level learning goals fosters cooperation between team members”. One of the reasons for this is that setting learning goals tends to be associated with “higher levels of intrinsic motivation”. 

The experiences that organisations, teams, and individuals have had throughout the initial challenges of Covid-19 are rich with learning. A great way to support your team after lockdown is to explore and leverage the value of that learning.

So, if you are keen to set your teams useful goals, keen to improve individual performance and want to foster cooperation, set your teams learning goals. Especially around what they have learnt about working effectively as a team through the lockdown experience, and how this might be applied going forward.

 

9. Encourage effective information sharing to support your team after lockdown

Sharing information effectively is essential to any team. Coming back from Covid-19 its easy to imagine that people will want to share stories, feelings, hopes, concerns, and ideas with each other.  Not just to help process and make meaning of their experiences over the last few months, but also to try and influence and make sense of what might happen next. Not all the information sharing and sense making that goes on will be aligned with what the organisation needs its teams to focus on.

It is also possible that the team is in, or will enter, a state of negative psychological momentum – as pre covid personal, team and organisational aspirations move further out of reach as post Covid-19 lockdown uncertainties take hold. This matters when it comes to effective information sharing. Because, as explained in a previous article in our Team Development Blog called “Team Performance and Psychological Momentum“, negative psychological momentum can negatively impact task cohesion and effective information sharing in teams.

 

“Set genuine team goals and emphasise the need for people to work together.”

 

Team members may also be concerned that organisational information may not be being shared with them by those with rank. Which may undermine teamwork across the organisational hierarchy. Given the level of uncertainty, it is only natural that people do not and will not have as much reassurance as they might like. It is also true that they will need to work together to pull through.

One thing you can do to encourage effective information sharing is to set genuine team or group goals and emphasise the need for people to work together. In their research, (Scholl, Landkammer and Sassenberg, 2019) found that setting team goals encouraged more effective information sharing. They also found it encouraged more effective information sharing between people with different levels of rank if they were part of the team responsible for achieving the goal. 

Setting group goals is a genuine way to support teams after lockdown. It may also support team leaders and managers to sustain a more positive and productive relationship with the team.

 

10. Consider self-managing teams to improve team performance

Covid-19 has shone a light on our ability to adapt and work differently. It has proven the right time to put things into practice that have been on organisational leaders’ ‘to-do’ lists for a long time.

Team members have also experienced the impacts of these changes and have already started to make meaning out of them. Perceptions of what might be possible around work-life balance and how work can be organised, have shifted.

 

“Self-management plays a bigger role than goal setting in improving team performance.”

 

As organisations review their goals and realign with employees, society, customers, and stakeholders it may not be possible for them to provide strategic and operational clarity. The picture is fuzzy and its harder than normal to resolve what the future will bring. That is why its sensible to compensate for the lack of clear goals with other things that can support teams after lockdown and drive team performance.

Research by (van der Hoek, Groeneveld and Kuipers, 2016) found that while having clear team goals is important for team performance, letting the team self-manage plays a bigger role in terms of improving team performance.

That is right, self-management plays a bigger role than goal setting in improving team performance.

Just remember that if you manage or lead a team that is being encouraged to self-manage, your role will need to shift to dovetail with the change. Be aware of what those changes will mean for you and how you relate to the team – be ready to grow.

 

How will you choose to support your team after lockdown?

So, there you have it, 10 suggestions on how to support your team after lockdown (or any kind of uncertainty).

You are welcome to play with them all. And of course, develop your own unique blend to meet the specific culture and context of your own organisation and teams.

If you have enjoyed the article, have suggestions or any questions, please leave a comment below.

 

 

Team Development Coaching and Consultancy Devon Cornwall Somerset

Thoughts and reflections by Stephane Kolinsky, Team and Organisational Development Specialist at Sky Space.

Stephane is a certified Executive and systemic Organisational coach and is accredited by the International Coach Federation. He takes clients to a place where they can take full ownership of their feelings, relationships, triumphs, and challenges.

He lives by the sea in Plymouth, Devon and over the last 10 years has worked in the voluntary, social enterprise, education, public, creative, and professional service sectors across Cornwall, Devon and Somerset.

If you enjoyed this article, let us know in the comments below and be sure to check out other articles from our team development blog

 

References

Anik, L., Aknin, L., Norton, M., Dunn, E. and Quoidbach, J., 2013. Prosocial Bonuses Increase Employee Satisfaction and Team Performance. PLoS ONE, 8(9), p.e75509.

Decision Making In Complex And Volatile Times Keys To Managing COVID 19. [online] AON. Available at: <https://www.aon.com/getmedia/86577ac3-1ce2-43eb-8323-1a1191488355/Decision-Making-in-Complex-and-Volatile-Times-Keys-to-Managing-COVID-19-2020-05-06.aspx> [Accessed 30 June 2020].

CFI, 2020. Groupthink – Learn About The Negative Impact Of Groupthink. [online] Corporate Finance Institute. Available at: <https://corporatefinanceinstitute.com/resources/careers/soft-skills/groupthink-decisions/> [Accessed 2 June 2020].

Edmondson, A., 2018. The Importance Of Psychological Safety. [online] Hrmagazine.co.uk. Available at: <https://www.hrmagazine.co.uk/article-details/the-importance-of-psychological-safety> [Accessed 2 July 2020].

Grant, A., 2012. An integrated model of goal-focused coaching: An evidence-based framework for teaching and practice. International Coaching Psychology Review, Vol. 7 No. 2. 

Lassila, K., 2008. A brief history of groupthink. [Blog] Yale Alumni Magazine, Available at: <https://yalealumnimagazine.com/articles/1947-a-brief-history-of-groupthink> [Accessed 2 July 2020].

Lowesmith, M., 2020. Bringing Work To Life. [Blog] Sky Space, Available at: <https://sky-space.co.uk/bringing-work-to-life/> [Accessed 23 June 2020].

Parkin, J., 2020. Life and work: a tragic love story with a twist. [Blog] Sky Space, Available at: <https://sky-space.co.uk/life-and-work-a-tragic-love-story-with-a-twist/> [Accessed 23 June 2020].

Price, C. and Toye, S., 2017. Accelerating Performance. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.

Resick, C., Murase, T., Randall, K. and DeChurch, L., 2014. Information elaboration and team performance: Examining the psychological origins and environmental contingencies. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 124(2), pp.165-176.

Rework.withgoogle.com. 2020. Guide: Understand Team Effectiveness. [online] Available at: <https://rework.withgoogle.com/print/guides/5721312655835136/> [Accessed 27 May 2020].

Scholl, A., Landkammer, F. and Sassenberg, K., 2019. When those who know do share: Group goals facilitate information sharing, but social power does not undermine it. PLOS ONE, 14(3), p.e0213795.

van Dijk, H., Meyer, B. and van Engen, M., 2018. If it doesn’t help, it doesn’t hurt? Information elaboration harms the performance of gender-diverse teams when attributions of competence are inaccurate. PLOS ONE, 13(7), p.e0201180.

van der Hoek, M., Groeneveld, S. and Kuipers, B., 2016. Goal Setting in Teams: Goal Clarity and Team Performance in the Public Sector. Review of Public Personnel Administration, 38(4), pp.472-493.

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