All leaders I have spoken to recently have expressed concern about the energy in their teams. They are referring to their immediate leadership teams as well as teams within their organizations. When I remind leaders “you are as good as it gets: the issues, stress and dynamics you are experiencing in your team are compounded below you” it reminds them how critical it is to get it right at the top.
Companies are grappling with the reentry protocols they are establishing. According to one CEO who surveyed his employees:
- One-third are desperately wanting to return (“get me out of my house!”)
- One-third only want to return when there is a vaccine (“I don’t feel safe and don’t want to jeopardize vulnerable family members”)
- One-third are somewhere in between.
Leaders are realizing that while things are starting to change, this version of normal, and ensuing versions, are taking a toll on their associates and how their teams are operating.
Under normal circumstances, teams have key areas where they need to focus to get or stay on track. One difference between high performing teams (HPT’s) and regular teams is that HPT’s focus on not only “what” they do, but also “how” they are working together.
To assess how your team is functioning, use the conditions that impact performance as a starting point, depicted in the graphic above.
From the teams we are working with, there are key themes they are grappling with:
- Vision, Strategy, Goals & Priorities: During the height of the crisis, priorities shrunk to a daily, weekly focus. As they are pivoting back to longer-term focus, most teams are getting clear about their general direction and key strategies, knowing they can change at any time.
– However, most feel priorities have multiplied – there are previous priorities plus new ones that have been elevated or created as a result of the business environment.
– To most team members, priorities feel like they are all urgent and important, thereby making it difficult to differentiate between the true areas of focus.
- Roles & Responsibilities: Roles are largely unclear, particularly in teams that have been onboarding new members, a new leader, working with a newly formed team due to loss of team members, or fully launching a new team, in many cases without ever meeting everyone in person.
– Therefore, members have been largely focusing on their own roles and responsibilities. As a result, they haven’t gotten as clear about overlap and negotiation with peers, which is often exacerbated by multiple urgent priorities. Therefore, there is much “who’s on first” mentality, and there is constant rework happening.
– In many cases this confusion is creating friction, feeling a lack of time to stop, regroup and align. Some are feeling stretched and, at the same time, aren’t willing to “give up” what’s theirs or ask for help.
- Ways of Working: There are multiple ways of working – the two most commonly mentioned now are difficulties with meetings and conflict.
– Meetings: Teams were meeting on a “crisis cadence” and within the last few weeks, realizing people were burning out from too many meetings. They have started renegotiating their meeting cadence as leadership teams, though they are spending more time on the “what” than the “how” to reduce time spent in back to back meetings. Almost everyone is reporting non-stop, back-to-back meetings that don’t end on time, with rare to no breaks, for much longer days than ever before. The majority of them are on video, which we all know burns people out even more quickly and the burnout is starting to rise.
– Conflict: The toll of urgent priorities, unclear roles and responsibilities and too many meetings is resulting in mostly avoided conflict among team members because they don’t have the skills or think they have the time to resolve it on their own. It’s obvious in some teams, while in others, people are so head down focused on their own deliverables they either don’t see it or learn to operate around it, with the (false) hope that it will not have much impact or will naturally abate.
- Business Relationships: This is the heart of what ultimately makes the difference about the team’s level of success.
– Relationships do not presume members liking each other (though that’s a bonus), it is based on the level of trust and collaboration between team members. (If you want to know why Trust is critical to the success of your team, click here.)
– The reason most relationships are negatively impacted is because priorities, roles and responsibilities, and ways of working are broken or at least unclear. The other biggest negative impact on relationships are the mindset, behaviors and actions team members take with each other. Right now, under stressful circumstances, the quality of team member relationships is being significantly negatively impacted.
Is there any wonder teams are not performing at their best?
What You as the Leader Can Practically Do
The key to shifting a team dynamic starts with you, the leader, determining the payoff is worthwhile to focus on the team. In our experience, teams that do this significantly accelerate their ability to perform. There are three things you can focus on right now to start using our 3 H’s tool that focuses on the “how” we are working together.
The 3 H’s Tool:
In a nutshell…LISTEN. The majority of the time, managers want to fix and solve when someone has an issue. Leaders today have been asking me how to solve the team dynamics. The first step is to ask them how they are doing, what is working well and what is not working well. If you ask the right, simple questions, it facilitates an open discussion (without solving in the moment). Summarizing what you hear will start to help you align on what’s needed. This first step is often the most wanted by team members and the least offered by leaders. When we work with teams we always start with some version of data gathering, either in a team conversation, an electronic survey or, most effective, one-on-one interviews.
Often leaders’ comfort zone…FIX, SOLVE. This is where you prioritize the issues. You can ask “Of these multiple challenges, what is the most important one to address first?” The conditions for alignment above are intricately connected and it can be helpful to create a roadmap with the team for what they want to solve first, knowing they’re all ultimately important. Creating a plan with the team will help them feel part of the solution and will give them hope that things will not stay as is.
This is code for helping them think through the options…COACHING. You are helping them to think through the options to solve for the challenges. If priorities are all urgent and important, then starting with scheduling a priority clarification conversation and ensuring alignment could be a first step. If roles are unclear, then asking what members see as the fastest way to clarify accountabilities with peers (hint – don’t take a team meeting to work through the issues – this is a good topic for members to take offline and report back to the team on what they agreed to). There are some team members who are struggling with overwhelm and low energy. Leaning in to those team members and coaching them to effectively manage the chaos is much needed right now (and the subject of my next blog on how to manage your own energy).
You can use this tool with both the team and individuals if you want to evolve from an effective manager (telling and directing) to an inspiring leader.
When you pause to inquire, listen and work with the team to take action on what matters most, you will find that the weight you have been carrying on your shoulders alone becomes a shared one that can connect, engage and align the team.
Yes, you can lead this conversation on your own. When you engage an outside resource, you also get to participate fully, clearly observe the dynamics and have a partner to create the most efficient and effective strategy to re-energize and refocus the team. Knowing when you need to share the burden and get support is also critical.
- How clear am I on what the biggest needs are in the team?
- To what extent do I have a clear plan on how to address what the team needs?
- What support do I need to ensure the team is operating effectively?
Please feel free to reach out if you’d like to connect about the energy in your team, your own energy or, to discuss the biggest current challenge you are facing today.
Wishing you good mental, physical, emotional and social health.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Yours in practice,
If you are interested in exploring whether we are a good fit to help you and your organization, contact us for a complimentary discovery conversation.
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