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Three Ways to Lead with Connection During Isolation



Joelle Panisch discusses how to keep connected with colleagues during the pandemic

Three Ways to Lead with Connection During Isolation
Joelle Panisch, an associate director of talent development in R/GA’s New York office, is fascinated by people; their beliefs, behaviours and the tiny everyday occurrences that drive complex systems.

In a matter of weeks, there has been a mammoth global shift in modern life, livelihood, and business. It has created an almost ubiquitous sense of sorrow and revaluation of people's core needs. The human condition is bubbling to the surface; heartbreaking and beautiful. The world is isolated, yet never have its inhabitants needed one another more.

Everywhere, businesses are struggling to cope with a newly remote - and in many cases, reduced - workforce and uncertain economic conditions. Leaders feel the pressure to keep productivity and creativity high, while workers are just trying to hang onto their jobs, and their optimism. What Covid-19 has shown is the true value of human connection in enabling healthy organisations. Communication is the current that links collective intelligence, making it something bigger than its individuals. Strong relationships allow people to work efficiently together, even while they aim to recreate complex or distributed networks virtually.

Connecting as humans hasn’t always been a priority in the workplace. Society has taught people to work long hours, be the loudest voice in the room, and play down the human qualities that make us vulnerable, creative, and thoughtful. Some organisations perpetuate this by their common behaviours, what they reward, and how they promote or elevate leaders, even if it is not good for the company in the long run. As they say, business is business. It’s not personal.

However, there is ample evidence that personal connection with coworkers supports collaboration and trust. Teams that foster a sense of connection help members feel secure, which in turn keeps them focused and driven, encourages them to speak more openly, and creates conditions to find creativity, even in bleak moments. They are also more likely to speak up if a project has challenges or they foresee problems, which is essential for quick course correction. This is foundational to the quality of a team, their output, and how effectively they work within an organisation.

Now more than ever, teams must be pillars of the company so that it may stay nimble and respond to quickly changing conditions. And with workers feeling stressed or insecure about their futures, it's easy for employees to feel isolated, disengaged, or divided. It can feel especially challenging given our new “self-isolation” reality. Without much time to acclimate, companies have had to embrace work-from-home realities and remote working structures.

For leaders, it can seem like the wild west. Maintaining a strong team in uncertain times is no easy feat. However, there are things companies can do to keep people connected:

- Be personal -
Many successful team leaders tend to be task-oriented. In times of crisis, however, it’s important to also focus on being relationship-driven first. Reach out to your people individually and over-communicate your support. Approaching your people as people—sharing with them, inquiring about their families and showing genuine concern for their wellbeing—can be a wanted pressure release, and help you to understand their current states. It goes a long way in keeping your folks feeling safe with you and invested in the team.

- Carve out 'team time' to listen -
As Covid-19 spreads, so do related anxieties and fears. Initially, you may want to set up regular meetings to talk about how they are feeling and share personal updates. As time moves forward, you can work this into your teaming cadence by allocating 10-15 minutes of each weekly team meeting to 'check-ins'. Guided questions help reveal the feelings, concerns or simple status of team members. They create a safe space and invite each team member to speak, be present, seen, and heard. It emphasises focus and group commitment. This is a great guide to choosing check-in questions. You should choose your check-in questions based on context, the purpose of your session, the time available, and the needs of group members.

- Be vulnerable -
Brené Brown is on to something. Research shows that emotional transparency by leaders generates more confidence in them. Being upfront about uncertainty or risk will help all members of the team, including you, show up authentically. Modelling vulnerability, especially during this pandemic, will encourage your team to come together, support one another, and be stronger teammates. The one caveat, of course, is to make sure you are regulating your emotions. While vulnerability is critical it’s important to remember that your mood will impact your team. The art of resonant leadership understands what your team needs and meeting that moment. Being honest is powerful.

In the time of the Coronavirus pandemic, we may need to be reminded of why we work together—to produce great work that taps into human truths and create something bigger than ourselves. That’s human, and in itself, should remind us why we stay connected.

- By Joelle Panisch, associate director of talent development in R/GA’s New York office.
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Categories: Awareness, Corporate, Social and PSAs

R/GA New York, Tue, 28 Apr 2020 14:46:27 GMT