Bad News: You lost some senses;
Good News: You can learn to use them again
When you look at the organizations and teams as living organism (see Reinventing Organizations), COVID-19 forced majority of the organizations around the world to lose some of their “senses” recently. When a living organism loses a sense or a body part, other senses or body parts become more advanced, sharper and stronger to make up for this loss and keep the organism alive and functional. Sometimes, with perserverance and intentional practicing, these senses or body parts can become functional again. These are not just “miracles” that happen from outside forces. These require a lot of awareness, attention, empathy, will power and dedicated hard work, all of which are skills that we want to see fostered by leaders at all levels of our organizations.
I was talking yesterday with some friends and professional coaches about this metaphor and we started listing some of these “organizational senses” that we can identify being in danger right now.
“The gut feeling” or “Smelling”
Have you ever been in a situation when you walk in the room and you can tell that a conflict is in the air, and it is so thick you can’t breathe. What about just walking beside an open space and sensing that something is not right and that group of people is not collaborating. Same is true for happy situations when a team is celebrating something that is usually not reported as an achievement like a “thank you” note from a partner or a gathering data from an experiment.
Working remotely, we “numb”this sense.
The negative side of this is the possibility of a conflict growing larger and deeper and as result dividing teams or areas of the organization, in a time when collaboration and the need to work closer together is higher than ever. By not sensing a conflict early, we don’t have the chance to address it early. This has the potential to hurt the trust we work so hard to build as a foundation for a successful organization/team.
As leaders, we have a reduced opportunity to help our team or certain individuals with what they might need at that moment, offer an ear to listen, or ask a question to change perspectives, or even offer an advice from personal experience.
By not knowing the positive events happening within the team, we miss opportunities to celebrate and promote those behaviours we want to see more. We miss the chance to recognize a team that has provided value to customers or to other employees.
Osmosis is a big part of a system / organization. There is so much information shared, learned and communicated just by over-hearing a conversation. I bet we have all been in situations where we hear people around discussing certain topic/issue/news and we either become aware of it, or we have more data to bring in this discussion and clarify what the context could be in reality. Often this affects where people put their effort and energy. With the right data in hand, people will focus to the most important thing/task.
The negative side of this is missing the opportunity to be at the right place at the right time, either for you or for other members of the team. Either you or others are not aware of something that could be useful information to make the right decision. Either you or others miss the chance to clarify the uncertainty around a challenge/problem in which you have more visibility and data to provide. Like this, we, as an organization or team, miss the opportunity to respond quicker and better to a challenging situation. We miss the opportunity to make the right decision faster. We miss the opportunity to prioritize the right work and direct the effort/time/energy toward the most important thing for the organization.
And above all, we miss the chance to learn, share knowledge and raise the level of knowledge within the organization.
As leaders, we miss the opportunity to stop rumours and bring clarity, transparency and alignment. We miss the opportunity to understand what might be creating anxiety and discomfort within our organization and teams. We miss the opportunity to hear what people are really worried about and address that. In a time when there is so much depressing news in the media, the need for clarity and reduce anxiety is one of the skills leaders need to strengthen more and more.
I remember something a CTO from a startup told me once. He said “I can tell when people are happy and enjoying what they are working on. They take care of themselves. They do their hair, they dress up nicely, they walk with confidence. When I notice that I compliment them and I reinforce that feeling”. We all do that. We compliment each-other on a nice pair of shoes, a nice suit or tie, fancy nails even fancy Starbucks drinks we notice a colleague ordering. We also notice when someone is not doing these and we become aware of the fact that person might be suffering, sometimes in silence but still visible when we observe certain things or behaviours.
Seeing is also on How we work. We promote “team working agreements” that help a team be explicit on how they will work together, what do they expect from each-other, how to ask/offer help, how to give/receive feedback and so on. When we see someone not following these agreements, we make a point to refer to them and either bring awareness that the agreements are broken or decide to change those agreements to allow for better behaviours and growth of the team culture.
Working remotely, this sense is “blurry” to say the least. If we only use phones or do not turn on cameras when we connect online, we might be totally blind to these observations. Even if we use video, we might still be miss-informed by what we see. People are most of the times dressed in their comfy clothes when working from home and that doesn’t tell us exactly if they are taking care of themselves or not.
This might be one of the most restricting senses for a leader. The negative side of this is that some leaders can revert to command and control style as a mean to increase their visibility and awareness. More mature leaders are rather using this time to grow and practice leadership by accepting less control, more trust on people and allow for people and teams to “show” what needs to be seen, to compliment what is positive and to help on what is challenging. Leaders are more in tune with resources that organizations have to support employees and as such, this puts them to a place where they can offer these resources to everyone, open communication channels and grow trust. Leaders are growing the believe that people are doing their best under the circumstances and the role of the leader is to enable better support and reduce road blocks.
“Being in touch”
We hear so often people saying “Let’s stay in touch” as a genuine desire to stay connected on professional or personal level with someone. It is the invisible glue that connects people within an organization or a team together and brings the sense of “work family”. Often we do this at the beginning of a meeting when we go around and do a check-in. Sometimes can be in the form of an icebreaker.
With social distancing and working from home, this has become sometimes impossible. To be in touch with someone means to have a deep, open hearted conversation. And some of these conversations can’t happen when children are at home and require your attention all the time, when spouse is on the other room on a meeting with their team and probably facing some challenges that they have shared with you, or just because it is not the same to have such conversations when you can’t totally read someone’s body language.
This sense requires dedicated time and attention to keep it functional and alive. As a leader, you might have challenges and struggles you are going through, however, if you have opened your door for a one-on-one, make sure to do that right. Be fully present, do your best to avoid distraction and listen to understand, not to respond. Being in touch can be the most valuable thing you can offer to someone that during this time is grieving, someone suffering from an addiction that now has lost the support system to overcome it, someone that needs to support others dependents and so on.
Also, remember the good opportunities to keep the team in touch with each-other. Things like celebrating birthdays even remotely, sharing exercises to do at home to stay in shape, recipes of healthy food to cook, resources to financial tips and knowledge, etc.
So what can be done?
I looked at this from different point of views and I landed at one thing: Being Intentional
As leaders we need to learn how to look at our organizations like living organisms and notice what are they missing right now to function properly. We need to be intentional with our observations, listening and use our experiences to notice what is lacking, what is being done to compensate for what is lacking and think creatively on how to bring these senses or missing parts to function again. It doesn’t mean that things will need to be done the same way as before. It means that the organization learns to provide the same functionality by sharpening other senses or re-building broken parts in new ways. It is in the hands of leaders at all levels to grow their leadership senses and skills at this time. This will make the difference between the organizations that will die, survive or grow stronger.
What else do you sense is missing?