Leading Teams Virtually: Creating Possibility

      Pre-covid challenges are now turning into opportunities for many businesses to master efficiencies, shift practices and engage their front-line employees in creative thinking and problem solving at a level they have not engaged in before.

      As much as the last few weeks have been challenging for many and in some cases tragic, we have also been hearing amazing stories from businesses who have shifted quickly, scrambled a lot and sought unique ways to contribute and thrive.

      Initially we saw leaders trying to be 'over-responsible' for their teams.

      "I need to look after them." said one leader, "I don't want to add more stress to their already stressful lives," said another.

      "I'm afraid to ask them to do more or to take on a new challenge for fear I'll burn them out," said yet another. 

      The intention of these leaders was really positive, to look after their people, however when we turned that around and challenged them to think about the opportunities that now existed for their teams, we started to have different conversations.  

      Leaders worries about overburdening their teams led to the question, "Have you asked that person if they are too stressed or over-burdened or feeling burnt out?"

      In most cases the answer was "No, I just assume they must be." 


      Engage your team to drive for results 

      When you make assumptions on behalf of your employees without engaging them you are actually taking away opportunities for them to really shine, to contribute, to be part of creating value to the organization.

      The saying 'two heads are better than one' has never been more true. 

      As scientists from all over the world are working day and night, collaborating with each other on unprecedented levels to try to come up with solutions to the current pandemic, most people in organizations also want to be part of the solution, an active player in creating possibilities for doing things different and perhaps better. 

      “Great things in business are never done by one person”
      - Steve Jobs

      This is what happened at AstraZeneca when they turned to their employees for innovation and support..."Over the course of three weeks, 23,000 ideas (yep, you read that right!), comments and likes were contributed from employees in 70 countries, many of which will go on to influence what AstraZeneca looks like in years to come.  

      Collaboration and crowdsourcing are now very much part of AstraZeneca’s DNA, with sustainable crowdsourcing campaigns remaining an ongoing focus." 

      Here's what some of our clients generated when they let their teams in on the struggle and asked for their employees help...

      One small manufacturing firm (of live product) had front line employees segregated into specific areas and roles and was struggling to get their supervisors to focus on cross training.

      Now with the mandate for people who are not feeling well to stay home, they were struggling with how to get the work done when sections of the plant had only 1 person show up in an area that usually had 3 or 4 people.

      The leaders put this challenge out to the front-line employees. The employees came up with the idea to have an ‘physical distance’ huddle each morning with whoever shows up for work that day.

      At this point they identify priorities and divvy up people to ensure all areas of the plant get the attention it needs.

      A bonus result of this is not only is the work getting done but there is also increased engagement and camaraderie and decreased blame and finger-pointing among the teams.

      Another business that delivers product has been working for years get its customer service team to be proactive with customers to create delivery efficiencies which impacts production efficiencies which impacts many other parts of the business.

      The idea was, let’s visit the business less often with more product each time, if the customer has the storage space.

      What the supervisor used to hear from her team was, “...but the customer has always done it like this so I don’t want to ask them to change.”

      Suddenly, what seemed impossible to achieve yesterday, is an exciting challenge to conquer today. 

      The customer service team is now focused on the well-being of the customer and as a result is arranging shipments to minimize contact for the customer.

      Their same passionate desire to serve their customers has not changed, how they offer the service has.


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      5 Ways to Engage and Challenge Your Team

      1.  Encourage your team innovate

      Let them know what needs to be done, why and by when and then get them involved in brainstorming as many solutions as possible, the crazier the better. Here's a couple of fun brainstorm methods to try...

      •  6-3-5 method:  Six people sit around a table (virtually of course) and write down three ideas. They pass (send) their stack of ideas to the person on their right, who builds on them. This passing is done five times, until everyone has had the chance to build on each of the ideas. Afterward, the group gets to review the ideas generated to see what might be doable

      • Fast and Furious brainstorm – Challenge each person to generate 50 ideas in 15 minutes. Go!

      Another great exercise, ask everyone to do some research and come to the next team meeting and share what others are doing in your industry, or another totally different industry, that are innovative or outside the box.  This may generate some new opportunities for your team or business.

      There are lots more ideas here.

      2. Let Relationship lead the Task, not be 'instead of' the task

      • Strong leaders show the team they care AND are clear about what successful performance looks like. People do not want to be 'let off the hook', that just devalues them.
      • Some may already be feeling guilty about their ability to function at their highest level right now. (I'm home with my small children trying to make like I am putting in my 8 hours a day just the same as before!)
      • Everyone has different challenges that are impacting their ability to be productive, have the 1:1 conversations and gain commitment on 'what's possible' for that person and what additional support they might need from you or other team members to accomplish their goals. 

      3. Model Transparency

      • Invite conversation about what is out of our control vs. what is in our control.
      • Letting people vent can clear them for what is possible. We call it the 'Vent AND THEN' method...vent, and then help people focus on what they can control. This increases their sense of safety and security and can put them in a 'growth mindset'. 

      There are some great activities in this article to try individually and with your team, have some fun with them. 

      4. Create some team-based goals

      • With so many people working from home there can be productivity challenges, social challenges, loneliness and a feeling of being disconnected.
      • Team-based goals ramps up the collective and individual accountability and connection to each other and the team/org goals.  "I don't want to let my team down." and "I'm struggling and am afraid to ask for help." are common phrases right now.
      • By focusing on sharing the workload as a team you are taking away the 'your job vs. my job' or 'I'm doing more work than him' and uniting people in a common purpose.

      Here's an exercise to try:

      • Have everyone share the top 3 things they are really good at and can help others with and the 1 thing they suck at and can use help from others.
      • As a collective then people can lean on each other, learn from each other and help each other.
      • Optional: Have a prize for the person who collaborates with the most people over a 1, 2, or 3 week period.

      5. Celebrate the wins and recognize people's contribution

      People need to have fun, there needs to be some levity in life no matter what is going on. Fun and happiness are good for the immune system and for people's mental health. Learn more here

      Here are examples of what leaders are currently doing and telling us about:

      • One leader had a pizza delivered to everyone's home at the same time and had an online pizza party to celebrate a team win.
      • One leader is sending out a weekly personal email to share what they appreciate about that person's skills, contribution, etc. 
      • Another leader is having late afternoon Friday 'virtual pub crawls' (the pub crawl is hanging out in different spaces in his house and on his property) where the rule is that people can only share their 'wins of the week', personally and professionally.

      What are the possibilities that you are generating with your team? How are you challenging yourself and them to get creative, blow out the box you were in and increase engagement in winning as a team?

      Download our full Creating Possibility Guide here: