How is your digital transformation going? How is your remote team doing? Have you connected with any great online communities? A few months ago these questions would have been the exclusive domain of highly innovative organisations, those who had lifted their heads out of the mire to see how they could better the way they work. Now these are the questions we are all asking ourselves and all the people we work with. What has become most apparent to me is the shift almost universally to a focus on the collective. We are talking about teams, groups, networks, communities and most importantly - how we can get through this together.
In the world of team development and team coaching we have long been talking about the need to move beyond the focus on the heroic leader or even on the individual. We need to move on to working with teams, teams of teams and the systems we all operate within. Patrick Lencioni, one of the modern godfathers of teamwork, says, “Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage both because it is so powerful and so rare.”
This moment in history is one of those which will create a lasting shift in our pattern of work and being. Industrial revolution, war, the technology age have all changed the ways in which we work for better or worse and now CoVid 19 will drive us towards technology and teams. The key work characteristic of this pandemic, as we all now know, has been to send us home. On the face of it this looked like we were being separated, sent scurrying back to our rabbit holes only to come back together at some undetermined time in the future (maybe).
But the opposite has happened. First, leaders of teams and team members instantly reacted by finding ways to connect and ways to connect meaningfully and as a group. Where a team leader may have walked across the office (we hope) to have a conversation with an individual but not with a team member in another office, technology and flexibility allows them to draw those people together much more easily. It runs deeper than that though. The need to bring the team or sub teams together, see those people together online, get a feel for how they are and how their work is going, visualise the team is stronger when you don’t have day to day physical access to them.
Maybe offices make us lazy. Let’s be honest, in my work I have come across countless teams and their leaders who tell me, slightly frustrated and embarrassed, that their team meetings are regularly cancelled or postponed or postponed so much they might as well have been cancelled. The work with these teams is not to reinstate team meetings but to find out why the system didn’t suit the team and the work and completely rethink the way they come together. This endless postponement is less likely to happen now. It’s too important to have those touch points with people when you can’t rely on the task focused devil on your shoulder saying, “It’s ok, I can grab them later on in the kitchen.” When your world of connection is digital only, it gives us a laser focus on making sure those connections happen.
This is a good thing. We saw a flood, quite literally, of advice on social media when lockdown initially occurred and through all of that the strongest theme I saw was bring your people together regularly and create human moments for your team collectively. Significantly, the whole message was about teams. Not 1:1s or performance management virtually (that’s a whole other story) but how the most important thing was to create a strong foundation for your group of humans to work together in the digital environment, while working from home, whilst experiencing the shock waves of a pandemic. On talking to people and reading the intelligence online, the top themes for leaders and HR were guaranteeing physical safety, ensuring the tech was in place for remote working and ensuring teams remain engaged. Not individuals, teams. CoVid has brought us all to the same point of needing to make sure not just individuals do their part, but that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Greater and larger in scale and scope than this though, are the networks and communities springing up all over the world. Again, in many cases technology is enabling these and we are seeing the power of digital to bring people together locally, nationally and globally. Countless networks have been launched virtually bringing people together globally to empathise, share and innovate in new ways. This is one of the great partly untapped potentials of the digital environment, to create communities and working groups of people from any location to collaborate and make change we cannot achieve when we are constrained by physical location.
Social media and news have allowed us to see as one the great, beautiful body of people putting their lives on the line for us in every country in the world. Local neighbourhoods (mine included) have come together on WhatsApp to make connections we were all too busy somehow to make previously. I have been guilty of rushing from place to place and not engaging with the people in the place I live and am now forming connections and awareness in my street which I so hope will sustain in the world beyond CoVid. A street barbecue is being planned, I’ll definitely be there! I’m hoping that this focus on humanity as a collective, as a team, will be one of the lasting legacies of 2020.