UNBEATEN TOGETHER – BUILDING A TEAM ONLINE
The pandemic made us all re-think everything. Using public transportation, going to the dentist or just shopping for groceries – it all changed almost over-night. We quickly adopted as individuals and as organisations. For some, it was an easy change, for others practically not a change at all.
Tools like Teams and Zoom were already there, but suddenly they made a massive impact on our everyday life. These collaboration tools quickly became the backbone of what we do and how we do it.
Leaving us with no other alternatives we quickly adopted, and now after months of uncertainty – we find ourselves having new perspectives on teamwork and how to interact with our colleagues. The involvement and openness with colleagues are changed.
Even before the pandemic we had learned, the hard way – that being conscious of company cultures is of great importance. Years of working in many different organisations and experienced all sorts of ways of working – we have seen it all.
The pandemic did not change that. We still regard a few critical enablers to have a significant impact on collaboration and teamwork, regardless. Let us dive into four of them before we look at the online team experience.
- Team composition
- Common view and direction
- Rules of engagement
- Transparency and communication
Ensure the right mix of competencies to get a balance of perspectives. The idea is to provide a holistic view when the team face a task or challenge. Teams only with members of similar competences tend to agree with themselves, all the way to failure.
Case: It’s such an advantage to have a mixed team of consultants and client representatives. At least in assignments with consultants. Not only for knowledge sharing but also for a more hands-on approach supporting an execution that goes beyond PowerPoint.
Common view and direction
A clear direction for the team is critical. Have the team agree to a common picture of where the team is going. Possibly add a few carefully defined goals on the way to get there. The goals will help the team to make the right priorities. Naturally, time spent to agree on what makes the team effort a success for both the team and the customer is well spent time.
Case: A goal in a project was to “improve the process for new Service Development”. By breaking down the goal, an acceptance criteria was defined, “we have a process/way of working for capturing demands for larger development of our services and/or new services”.
Rules of engagement
Some fundamental rules of how people interact in the team are also essential. How to behave in digital meetings, how to behave during a conflict, how to overcome cultural difference or just plain disagreements.
Case: In a project with people from various cultural backgrounds (Sweden, India, UK and US), a cultural etiquette matter escalated.
To avoid open conflict due to misunderstandings – rules of engagement was introduced. Team members received a checklist to follow before making any escalation. A few examples from the checklist; 1) contact the person/team where the issue originates 2) clearly express how you experience the issue without blaming or criticising 3) listen to your counterpart to understand the full picture.
Transparency and communication
Find the right communication channels for the team or project and do not be afraid to try out different ways of working. Communicate, change and improve as you go. As teams are now more disperse and digital, being clear on what technology to use and be persistent sticking to tools like Teams, Zoom, Miro, Slack, Sway or any of the collaboration tools that fit the needs of the team – might be success criteria.
Case: In a transformation program with many stakeholders, rumours and anxiety affecting the team was observed. Weekly morning FAQ meetings, onsite and video, was set up. The idea was to have stakeholders ask questions and for the team to share information. Quickly the team openness improved trust and acceptance, which helped to ease the previous anxiety.
Ok, so much for what we already knew about enabling teamwork before the pandemic. The question is, what we can do to enhance the team experience online?
Here are our key takeaways and success factors, enabling a collaborative culture that goes beyond the physical meeting.
- Go beyond booked meetings
- Master technology
- Involve everyone
- Video is fun
- Be there for the team
Go beyond booked meetings
Don’t just have formal, booked calendar appointments! Chat, call, video call your teammates even out of the blue. Imagine you are at the office and want to ask your colleague a quick question. No need for email or meeting. Again, for remote teams, technology is essential. But don’t underestimate that you need to nudge and train to establish a potentially new behaviour within the team. You might need to be the “pain” sometimes.
Master the technology by learning all the functionality necessary for hosting and participating in an online meeting. Before being completely comfortable, preferably set up the appointment before it starts so that you can test the sound and video quality.
Ensure interaction by including all participants, e.g start with a check-in with the participants and get them to rate their mood with emojis. Then ask for feedback and plan the meeting with break-out sessions to ensure you include everyone’s view.
Video is fun
Encourage everyone to turn on the video feed in meetings. It creates engaged and interactive meetings. Pay attention to audio and visuals and simple tricks can do wonders for everyone’s experience. Putting some books or a small box under the laptop to provide a better angle makes a big difference. Use a window with daylight and audio can be improved by just a few minutes of googling.
Be there for the team
Now is the time to reach out to your team members and colleagues to check on them. How are they doing? Listen more, talk less. Be aware and empathetic to other people’s different situations and well-being.
By aiming to maintain a sense of togetherness, we also nurture and provide fuel for the team. We can do this for many reasons. Not only for the sake of delivering and being productive – but for the sake of our sanity during extraordinary times!
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Article by Maria Ekberg in collaboration with Natalie Mellin