How people leaders can shape team culture during remote work
November 23, 2020Change Leadership, Culture Change
Part two of a three-part blog series on ‘Leading Culture in the 2020s’. Click here to read Part One.
The early stages of the COVID-19 restrictions involved getting your people accustomed to remote work and being tolerant of hiccups. Now remote work is here to stay (or at least a hybrid approach), regardless of where the virus takes us, it is time to shift from simply adapting to the volatile environment, to leading team culture to align to your business purpose, strategy and goals as well as the team’s human needs.
For people-leaders, this means shifting your mindset from reacting to the disruptive force to being ultra-proactive in shaping the culture and ways of working.
Doing so should not be seen as an extra thing for your to-do list, that you’ll get to, time-permitting, after ticking off every other tactical task. It should be seen as an enabler of everything that needs to be done. Put it off and you’ll be dealing with disengaged, unproductive, mentally unhealthy team members, in conflict, stuck in survival mode, with no prioritisation of your strategic priorities.
To help you right now, below are five tips for people leaders, to proactively lead your team or whole organisation’s culture, as we lead our people through this health crisis, economic crisis and remote working phenomenon:
1. Regularly discuss how you are working together, not just what you’re working on
You probably have regular status meetings with your team, to stay across ‘what’ each other is working on. But are you discussing how you are working?
- how you are collaborating?
- how you are managing yourself day-to-day?
- how are you feeling about work at the moment?
- how could we be doing better?
- how could we be serving each other’s needs better?
How things are done, is implicit to team culture. If it is not discussed, how can you be sure your culture is what you need it to be?
2. Share personal insights and learning experiences
As with any significant disruption and change, this global transformation we’re experiencing, as a result of COVID-19, necessitates learning: learning to cope, to accept loss, to think and act differently and to succeed in the new world.
As we experiment and try new approaches to managing ourselves and our team interactions, make time to share what is working and what is not.
Our team recently talked about the new daily habits we’ve been trialling in order to optimise ourselves while working from home for the long-term. Some found putting on work clothes and make-up helped their mental prep for working at home. We discussed how to amplify our time-management discipline to create boundaries between work and family, so they support rather than conflict with one another. We agreed on expectations of each other during the challenging home-schooling periods. A colleague cleverly highlighted both the benefits and challenges by saying, “They should call it living at work, not working from home,” identifying both the personal and work challenges as the two integrate through the day.
The conversation opened new possibilities and challenges to be overcome. No one was too keen to adopt my morning cold shower habit though…
3. Identify and agree current, relevant culture priorities
Once you’ve discussed how you are working together and shared insights and learnings, you should agree on a manageable set of three to five culture priorities.
Unlike your organisation’s values which tend to be static and consistently necessary over time, your culture priorities should regularly evolve in line with strategic and tactical turns.
Culture priorities must be less abstract than values, calling out observable behaviours as well as beliefs. Your cultural priorities should be derived from a needed change. They define the gap between how you are working now and how you need to be.
For example – A team I partnered with agreed that communication was not as rapid, or effective, as when they used to sit together in the same pod. They wanted to address this, so they agreed to the following team culture priority, defining the belief and then listing the corresponding observable behaviours they would need to bring the belief to life. They came up with the following:
Our belief: “Our communication lines are open, honest and drive action”
Our supporting observable behaviours:
- We drive accountability and performance but empathise and forgive when needed
- Our preferred communication method is a video call.
- Second preference is phone. Third, is MS Teams chat. Fourth is email.
- We return calls and messages within 90 minutes (even if it just says “I’ll be free at 4pm”)
- We return emails within 48 hours. If it’s urgent, call or message.
- We respect others’ deep work and personal time, asking “is now a good time?”
- We speak up if something’s not working. We ask, ‘how can we do this better?’
- We schedule a time for virtual coffees and kitchen chats, within work hours to freely express ideas, problem solve and peer-coach.
By clearly articulating the target observable behaviour it made it easy to align everyone to the shared belief and enforce the supporting (or inhibiting) behaviours.
4. Schedule time to reflect as a team
Reflect as a team regularly, at least quarterly, perhaps as part of a regular strategic offsite agenda. Allow time for members of your team to reflect on how well they are practising the culture priorities and what stops them doing so. Are they still relevant? Are they realistic? Are they working?
Upon this reflection, you may decide to revise and evolve your culture priorities, so they better align with operational needs or your current quarter’s context and goals.
5. Provide extra support for new starters
Starting a new job during remote work is very different. No more checking into a new office, walking the floor meeting dozens of people on your first day. Inductions are being reinvented everywhere, but that is just the formal part (this may be mitigated somewhat where the virus is controlled and we partially return to workplaces).
It is everyone’s job to ensure new starters, particularly at the junior level are given sufficient mentoring, guidance and access to leaders, to induct them into the culture as well as the company. Fail to do so and they could struggle to learn and stay engaged. Also, if not supported to adapt, your existing culture may inadvertently reject them.
While these actions may seem time-consuming, they involve just a few minutes a month to have an open conversation about how the team behaves and interacts. Investing this small amount of time can drive productivity, quality, team engagement and sustainable performance for months and years to come.
The is the second of a three-part blog series. Read parts one and three here:
- Part-one: Harnessing culture to drive strategy and change in the 2020s
- Part-three: How senior executives can shape enterprise culture during remote work
By Huw Thomas – Principal Consultant, Head of Thought Leadership & Innovation