The sudden changes forced on global businesses since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic have caused team leaders to reassess leadership styles.
In his book Phenomenal Teams, leadership and teams specialist Garie Dooley talked about ways leaders can build teams that don't require constant supervision to deliver positive results. It's a position that seems even more important when your team is suddenly, completely working remote.
What changes should a leader make when their team goes remote? Surprisingly few, says Dooley. "I do not believe leaders should need to make any changes if, in fact, they have been leading prior to the remote aspect becoming more prevalent. If they are choosing this moment to lead, then it is too late! Rather, it is more about turning up what should already be happening. Turn up the connection, the quality of conversations, the seeking to understand, the alignment to purpose, the ways you can make them feel valued - all things that should have been happening regardless of the circumstances."
The concept of meaningful conversations is one that Dooley returns to often in the book, like having meetings that matter. "How often have you sat in meetings and spent the whole meeting listening to people blaming, complaining, or defending?"
Having a real conversation
Dooley says that a real conversation includes two key factors. What do we need to talk about right now to improve performance and what a leader needs to understand about either an individual or their team's status.
Often we term this a "hard" conversation, but it doesn't need to be. Instead, Dooley says that putting yourself first in that mindset can actually put yourself in a negative mindset that leads to a negative conversation.
A regular check-in with your team can help prevent the need for a "hard conversation." Instead, you're just being honest and open, something that's needed now as much as ever. "This review is even more critical now, and that the input from the team is even more important. The Leader may have to work through this in bit size bits to enable that Survive to Thrive shift."
Returning to work strategies
With a return to normal-looking less likely in the short term, Dooley says that leaders will need to adapt now to make the most of things if and when we return to the office. "The biggest potential challenge will be ensuring your team very quickly move into Thrive mode ( vs Survive ) mode. This will require the Leader reconnecting the team to its Purpose, focusing on what you can genuinely control that has the biggest impact on the Purpose, celebrating small wins, and ensuring team members understand and feel valued in their contribution to the Purpose."
Positioning yourself in the war for talent
The labour market is, putting it delicately, rather difficult right now. Because of economic uncertainty and a skills gap, it's important to build your team internally. How can a leader identify people who may leave and nurture their growth internally?
"Firstly, there is significant research to suggest people leave a workplace because they either do not feel valued, or do not trust their leaders," says Dooley. "So - as a leader ask yourself who around me displays great skills AND are values-driven in a way that is aligned with the agreed values of the team. It is these people that we must ensure are being stretched, challenged and grown."
Supporting struggling employees
Surveys have found mixed reactions to our new normal. Some people love remote work. Others despise it and want to return to the office. A significant number want to see a blend of the two options.
One recurrent challenge has been in supporting the mental health of employees who find themselves with limited human interaction or, in some cases, too much (homeschooling and working a full-time role isn't pleasant). Dooley says strong communication is the key to success. "Connect in a meaningful way and find ways to ensure the person feel values and trusted."