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Lockdown – Performing in Captivity

The ‘new normal’ has forced people to realise that the best solution to bridge the lockdown abyss is effective teamwork, it’s the most cost effective way to organise work, and nothing works better. Teams armed with a clear understanding of the forces at work can take steps to guard against – and compensate for – the toxic effects of escalating performance pressures and continue to do their best work when it matters most. When people speak of working under pressure, it’s natural to think of deadlines, of time pressures, of quality issues AND working remotely from home. But that doesn’t turn out to be the real problem.

    The Real Problem  High stakes commonly breed anxiety among team members, their bosses, and their clients, internally and externally. As the pressures build, individuals tend to become risk averse. Thinking of the project/task as something that cannot be allowed to fail, teams opt for approaches they can easily defend with narrowly defined performance metrics. The mind-fullness of a lot of people tends to evaporate and before you know it, you are part of the problem – remember, it wasn’t fish that discovered water. The signs are there to see – if you’re paying attention. The two most common signs are;

  • As teams push for successful completion of tasks, they drive toward consensus in a way that shuts down paths to critical new information & communication In the current high-pressure situations, fewer people participate at the usual meetings, and when they do, they support their responses with hard, usually quantitative, evidence instead of thinking ‘out of the box’. Teams feeling the heat of performance rarely take the opportunity for introspection. Rather than continuing to build on innovative new/different ideas, team members seek reassurance that others’ suggestions are valid, asking questions like “Where else has it worked?”, “Why change the process, it’s never been done before?”etc. Enthusiasm for innovative thinking and improvisation gives way to concern for following the rules strictly, being professional and covering all the bases. People become isolated, loose their team consciousness, being prejudiced and teamwork brakes down completely.
  • Everyone unwittingly begins to defer to authority As pressures mount, teams stop making the effort to sound everyone out and instead default to traditional hierarchical roles. Team leaders stop engaging people effectively, ‘assuming’ that they do, and end up taking on more of the work themselves – even micro-managing some and getting involved with inappropriate tasks. Proves the fact that people ‘see’ what they want to see, and perception IS reality! A few very easy and practical solutions are;
  1. Make The Whole Visible to Everyone – One of the most difficult challenges for a distributed team is maintaining an image of itself as a whole. This is critical so that the team becomes more than just a loose collection of related parts. Having a sense of working as a whole is what makes a team powerful. The goal is to have the whole team present in all the individual members of the team. Working in the same office creates a shared image of themselves through in-contact experiences – meetings, chats around the water cooler, informal conversations in the corridor, having lunch together etc. Brainstorm ideas for creating a sense of the whole so the team doesn’t feel fragmented.
  2. Provide a “Line of Sight” – One of the most difficult things for distributed teams is for members to “see” and feel what is happening above and around them. When they don’t have a “line of sight” to key parts of their system they would feel disconnected which reduces their effectiveness. The Intégro Internet Operating Support system enables members to “see” how members contribute; notice the progress with deliverables and improvement of effectiveness. Just logon and have a line of sight.
  3. Catalyse Rich Conversations – In order to realize the benefits of working as an aligned, interdependent system, teams need to have ongoing conversations and discussions. These can be diverse, complex, and deal with everything from key routines to deliverables, to strategies, to effectiveness and relationships. Collaboration can be thought of as a network of different conversations between meetings.
  4. Amplify Energy – The best team experiences are those where you can really feel the energy of the team. It feels synergistic. It’s exciting. When a team meets in a physical space, the room itself serves as a “container” which amplifies the energy. Distributed teams however experience a kind of entropy where energy dissipates and drains out of the system because there is no container for it. Find ways to “spotlight” individuals or parts of the team where something interesting is happening. (Zoom, Skype or video meetings). Develop a team norm for sending “hot news” bulletins to the team and responding to it to provide reinforcement and support. Celebrate accomplishments as a whole team deliberately.

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