Preparing yourself and your team in an unknown future
How can leaders successfully navigate themselves and their teams through the world beyond the pandemic?
Drawing on her conversations with clients Phyllida talks about the challenges they’ve highlighted and her thoughts on how they can successfully lead going forward:
What are clients finding challenging?
So many people are finding themselves in back-to-back online meetings all day, but what they are really missing is the organic, unplanned interactions that take place within the office environment. The ‘how are you?’s, the chats in the corridor, the after-meeting reflections, the thought triggers when you bump into someone unexpectedly. These social interactions are all part of our work, they aren’t measured or planned but still essential to a successful workplace culture; how can leaders successfully create these informal spaces online?
Nurturing side of leadership
Some leaders have expressed their concern at being unable to tune into how their team members are doing. Zoom does not allow us to read signals and pick up on how people are feeling, allowing us to notice if something is wrong or equally if something is great.
There are also new starters or people working with a team for the first time, but who have never met in person. They haven’t had that chance to build meaningful relationships or create rapport with their colleagues, and some people are finding that difficult.
Surprisingly, a lot of people are actually missing not the journey to work itself, but the time of the commute, where they get to leave home behind and get mentally ready for the working day ahead. Equally the returning home journey, the chance to decompress and make sense of the day. We may not have realised it before, but the gearing up and gearing down of the day plays an important role in our working life.
Finding the difference between work and home
Working from home has been a mixed blessing for many. Those with families are able to spend more time with them, but very often that has meant juggling work and home needs. Equally others are lonely and really missing office life. There is also the need to create clear demarcation between work and home, otherwise it can be hard to switch off. Many people are working longer hours and are finding it hard to close off from work which can result in burnout, and often people are being called upon for meetings that they don’t really need to attend, simply because it is now
There have, however, been positive points in all of this. We have realised that in many organisations it is possible for people to work successfully from home, despite decades of scepticism and mistrust.
There has been a democratising process: when everyone is on Zoom everyone is the same size and hierarchies are challenged as everyone is at the same level. The leader’s role is to manage this well, to agree zoom etiquette, to call on different people to speak, and to be mindful of those for whom this is difficult – the chat function is useful here, for example.
I have heard many stories about how people are being more creative, more willing to take risks and try things out that may not work, and recognising some of the unnecessary bureaucracy that slows things down.
What leadership qualities are needed to lead through the chaos?
There is a greater need than ever for clarity and transparency within communication. This is not the same as increase volume of communication; rather understanding what it is that people need to know. As well as providing information there is also a listening piece. Asking the right questions that will elicit what colleagues need from their leaders can lead to an open culture where they will feel comfortable providing honest answers and feedback.
Everybody should have a voice and should feel listened to.
Leaders have a responsibility to their employees and check in regularly to ensure people on their team have everything they need to do their work well and are not at risk of burnout.
Open minded and encourage creativity
Throughout the pandemic we have had to adapt and explore new ways of working. There has been an explosion of innovation and leaders need to actively encourage this as we work through the pandemic.
Balance and reflection
There is a difficult balance to be maintained between the natural urgency of moving on and getting things done, finding the positives and opportunities, but also making time to take stock and learn from what has happened. Do we know what we want? Are we able to create new ways of doing things that incorporate the best of the old, but bring in some of the new improved ways?
Flattening hierarchies where appropriate
Thinking about Shakespeare’s work, we can look at the Henry V example where the key person in power calls his followers ‘dear friends’. Here, as in several of his plays written at this time, Shakespeare looks at what life would be like if the leader was closer to their people, was one of them, felt what they felt, saw what they saw, wanted what they wanted.
As a leader there are times where you absolutely have to own the sovereign archetype by taking ownership, radiating purpose and leading the charge. But in other times, people need to see your human self, reduced in size and helping them through a crisis that you are also experiencing.
Phyllida is one of our Senior Programme Directors and leads Mythodrama programmes for organisations across the private and public sectors. She was born into a theatrical family and even grew up in Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford-Upon-Avon. A self-confessed Shakespeare nerd, Phyllida acted for around 15 years including appearing in many Shakespeare plays.
She later made the decision to move away from acting and became a facilitator at the Department for Trade and Industry (now BEIS), where she was part of a team helping policy makers with futures thinking and scenario planning.
While she was working there, Richard, Founder of Olivier Mythodrama, came to host the Henry V programme for some of the Senior Civil Servants. It was a real moment of fate as Phyllida and Richard were actually at school together and had not seen each other for over 20 years. Richard invited her to come along and audition for Olivier Mythodrama and the rest is history!
I met with Phyllida recently to get her direct insights into how leaders can prepare themselves and their teams for the uncertain future that lies ahead, post pandemic.