Many people working from home right now are finding it hard to collaborate. OneAccord principal Joseph Flahiff created this video to examine what makes for the ideal team conditions and how to achieve those conditions during this time of remote work.
Ideal teams have three components:
- A common goal
- Psychological safety
Even if your team has two of these but not all three, its ability to work as a team will be compromised.
- Without a common goal, you will have a very nice workplace where nothing much is accomplished
- Without psychological safety (trust that you can try new things and make mistakes without fear of retribution or sabotage), you'll have a terrible environment where politics and other nasty things are the norm
- Without interdependence, you'll get silos of people who see no need to collaborate
When all three foundational elements are present, however, you'll have the perfect conditions for collaboration. The good news is you can strengthen all three of these vital components in your team right now, even as your team members are working from separate locations.
Four ways to optimize collaboration in a remote situation
- Always use video
- Establish norms
- Leverage pairing
- Increase transparency
Always use video
It’s tempting to join a video call with you camera turned off, but video increases psychological safety, promotes a sense of community and improves relationships. When you consider 85 to 90 percent of our communication is visual, expressed through body language or small movements of the face, the importance of a visual connection is clear.
Model this as the leader by always having your camera on when you join a video meeting — and dress the part. No sweats, no meeting in your pajamas. Be in professional attire, dress like you would if you were going into the office. This helps you get into the right mindset ("get up, dress up, show up"). Also have a professional background, something clear and simple like a plain wall or drawn curtains/shades.
Norms are the way we agree to act with each other in a given situation. These are values, beliefs, behaviors and attitudes we agree to.
Establishing your norms improves interdependence and collaboration, and mitigates office politics. It builds that psychological safety and can establish equity of voice — not everybody wants to talk a lot, but if you establish the norm for how you're going to share, whether by speaking in a set order or calling on people, you give quieter voices a chance to speak and louder voices a boundary.
To establish your norms, talk about them right out of the gate when starting a meeting, and ask for buy-in. For example, imagine starting a meeting with this: “I want to make sure everybody gets a chance to speak, so I’ll be calling on each of you throughout this meeting. Does everybody agree with that?” By asking for agreement, you’re not forcing anyone to do anything. This is important. Dictating norms will not get buy-in and will therefore ultimately fail.
Pairing is a concept taken from the world of software development. In pairing, two programmers work together on one computer. One types, the other watches the screen. Statistically, a pair of programmers will develop code 44 percent faster and at higher quality than an individual.
In an ordinary office environment outside the coding world, people may not work at the same computer, but we still sit near each other. This simple fact builds psychological safety, interdependence, enforces our common goal, creates opportunities for collaboration and improves quality.
So how do we build this remotely? Keep a video call window open and leave it open all day. Even if you’re not working on the same thing as the person or people on that video call, this builds the sense of a common experience, and makes work less lonely and more engaging. Messaging tools like Slack, Teams or Google Hangouts are also option, though less engaging.
People feel disconnected right now. As leaders, we need to respond by communicating clearly. Increase communication of what’s going on in the organization, the good and the bad, positive and negative. Share the social, emotional, fiscal and business progress. Make all your metrics visible so everyone can see for themselves what's going on. Otherwise people will make things up in their imaginations, which leads to a bleak outlook that's disconnected from, and usually worse than, reality.
Transparency builds psychological safety, reinforces your shared goals and emphasizes each individual's impact. It breaks down silos and aligns your organization behind your goals.
So how do we become more transparent? Communicate. Communicate a lot. Communicate constantly. If you get tired of communicating, you might be getting close to doing it enough. A great tool for this is the daily touch-base meeting. This is a quick, 15-minute meeting in small teams where everyone touches base. It will make your teams feel connected and individuals will understand what’s going on throughout the organization. When multiple teams of teams do this, it allows information to spread quickly up to your executive team and back down, which allows you to resolve issues speedily and increase visibility throughout the entire company.
Finally, as the leader, send individual messages through emails, instant messaging or video calls so people feel connected and know you’re thinking about them. Leaders are critical to helping their people retain their sense of being part of a team right now.
About the Author
Joseph Flahiff is a seasoned business leader with more than 25 years’ experience in key leadership positions in the healthcare and high-tech industries, with an emphasis on creating efficiencies in business processes and creating 21st century leaders. His thought leadership in Lean processes and Agile software development were developed through practical application in mission-critical, high-profile projects and organizational transformations. Learn more about Joseph's experience here.
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