There IS a "me" in team. The best teams work together and independently.
Updated: Nov 23, 2020
Well, as lockdown 2.0 approaches, I thought I'd return to the start of Lockdown 1:
Sunday April 12th 2020 10am
“Stupid Idea – you in!?” is what the WhatsApp group was called. All 10 people I’d invited responded almost immediately with a “thumbs up”…
Sunday April 12th 10.10am
“I want us to do a version of “One Day More” – but I’ll re-write the lyrics, you guys all record your bits with video (I’ll explain in the lyrics what I’d like), and, please can you get your videos to us by Friday April 17th?
Sunday April 12th 10.30am
“Here are the lyrics, there are some directions included, oh and we’d like the videos by Thursday 16th please – as that’s when they’re most likely going to announce the lockdown extension, and it’ll be funny to get this out soon after.”
The remainder of Sunday included a WhatsApp Q&A on “…how to use We Transfer”, whether video and sound could be recorded and sent separately, 3 revisions of minor bits of the lyrics, and a poorly performed tutorial so “…you can get the timing and the Les Mis walk.” AND, ALL recordings arrived by Wednesday – one day before deadline!
Editing occurred from Thursday April 16th until the second before upload and the video was released on YouTube on Saturday April 18th, and here it is in its full glory (in case you missed the thousands of posts I wrote cheerleading these incredible guys and gals):
I was really pleased with the final product – our friends and family enjoyed it, and it made people smile – hopefully you too. We had lovely comments from people who didn’t know us, and those who did also added “That must have been so much fun to do!”
Teamwork ISN'T always "fun"
I don’t want to shatter the illusion, but “fun” isn’t necessarily the word we would use. Oh, we love the outcome, and we are all, without exception, delighted and glad we did it (now) - and all video editing skills learned in April have served me especially well now we're in November…but this wasn’t necessarily a “fun rehearsal period”.
It wasn’t a “weekly choir meeting turned into performance on zoom”; it wasn’t really even a “you know what could be a laugh…” discussion - it was “OK, fab - right then, here you go – you’re doing that – you’ll be awesome, go for it…” (Yes, I try to remain very motivating even when I’m demanding the “impossible”.)
So, “challenging”, yes; “stressful”, yes; “worth it”…also yes. Would you do it again?…only under different circumstances!
...but attitude is everything
Netflix leaders cite a piece of research on team dynamics where a "plant" who was in once (set up) research condition "lazy", in another a "jerk" and in the third "a pessimist" had an effect on the team. In all three conditions, the effect was negative, but it was the "pessimist" that imposed the greatest drain on productivity. This is why Netflix now will identify those who do not fit the "team mentality" they wish to create, and send them off with a generous severance to make room for someone who will contribute to the growth of the company.
Every single person I enjoy working with is a “Why not?” instead of “Why”. They are an “I’ll ask and find out” instead of “Fret about it”. They believe in “When I’ve said yes, I’ve said yes.” It's not always easy to find or establish this, but when I have the liberty to invite, I am privileged I can do so wisely.
Delivering “Moments of inspiration” needs planned execution – have faith in your team’s ability and trust they will come through
“Spur of the moment” is not my usual modus operandi – previous productions have seen easily 6 months of rehearsals, but sometimes it’s not the bigger fish that’s successful, it’s the faster one, and if you want to field a faster fish, you need to consider the following:
- Is the time suitable?
Asking people to do something potentially challenging needs to be mounted at an appropriate time if you want who you want. It was the Easter holidays – I was relatively confident that my call out would be entertained by the people I knew would be right for the roles.
- Are you familiar with the capabilities (and the available tools) of the people you are asking to perform?
When you are challenged by time, finance or other boundaries (in this case – social distancing) – you need to be so familiar with the skills of those you are expecting to deliver, and to some extent the tools they have to work with. There is no point asking the most skilled person to do something if they have absolutely no time to fit it in, or no physical way of achieving it when you want it.
- IS what you’re asking doable?
Despite my being very much of the “I’ll find a way” persuasion, I do ask myself seriously, is what I am expecting possible…ie. given the constraints, can they do this already and/or do I have time to teach them?
- Have I given as much appropriate guidance as possible?
This is where it can be useful to have pre-prepared templates or instructions for those coming to a task fresh, or be able to find ways of teaching eg. a video call or recording, or examples.
- Do they have innovation, initiative and self belief?
This is the big one. Does the team have the moxy to investigate and work it out or get around it if they get stuck? Will they simply ask when they need help – and can they help each other rather than wait for me? Are they able to voice any exceptions they may need? If they can – let that fast fish loose!
And, in the longer term, part of responsiveness is ensuring the team retains Faith and Trust in YOU too.
I have had my share of failed attempts; times I have rallied the troops only to find that, with the best will in the world (and sometimes when it was my fault), circumstances turned against me and I have had to both sheepishly apologise and back down. So why trust me? Well, on the whole I try to always follow through, and when I do I work to ensure that every person gains as much as they can from being involved in one of my projects...and that the outcome is something to be proud of.
There is a commonly used 16-point awareness audit developed by BSI identifying the areas organisations needed to invest in for greatest survival potential. They fell within four key categories:
- Leadership: including visibility of the senior team and their work to establish high quality finance, resource and reputational risk management
- People: Awareness of and engagement with the organisational culture as well as the level of trust in the organisations
- Procedures: The level and quality of accountability, health and safety, network and overall governance
- Customer/Client/Network need: Customer or client need as it falls within governance, but also with a view to the future. This includes the ability to adapt to changes in demand as well as to innovate
In short, your people need to trust you to lead and you need to trust them to follow. Trust begins firstly with your team because they will be the people who will perform to generate the loyalty of clients and customers!
- Develop Leaders by:
Providing opportunities for teams to be mentored or supported as they learn new skills. This can take the fear out of trying something new. Some people choose not to venture outside their comfort zone because of a fear of failure. By providing appropriate support – or “Scaffolding” (Vygotsky, 1978) in the form of a skilled tutor or mentor – not only with the process of learning become more enjoyable (and more likely to be repeated), but confidence grows as skill does (Inc.com, 2017). When people can trust themselves enough to lead without guidance, they become even greater assets to a responsive team.
- Develop People by:
Being aware of your team’s strengths, and prompting them to keep developing - role modelling this yourself. Maybe keep a matrix which may cover the following key skills of the job, as well as skills (which do not need to be work-related, although they can be) of areas that the team member would like to developed (ideally at least one of those listed must be chosen by the team member themselves). And remember to celebrate and recognize their accomplishments – not just the ones that show up on targets, but the ones which may be more personal…and if you don’t know what they are, look for them, listen for them, even ask about them.
- Be accountable as part of your procedures:
I think this needs little explanation – one only has to watch Donald Trump to see how deflection, denial and misdirection will eventually start to unravel errors in leadership. There may be some who remain on your side, but if you are not accountable, the “good ones” leave…and they’ll also be the ones who will easily get new jobs.
- Be aware of the pulse of your network:
- Never be too proud to reconnect with organisations (or people) you may have lost touch with over time, being sensitive to where they are in terms of their re/growth.
- Also, nurture the new partnerships that formed, especially if they look mutually beneficial.
- And remain mindful of your own team, especially when they have gone through challenging times. Challenge means many may have gone through their own process of change. For some they will welcome the chance to “return to normal”, others may have taken a new path that they find suits them, others may have been very overwhelmed and are simply struggling to stand again. Be sensitive to the changing needs – even if you are not able to meet them all.
Most importantly of all – Always recognise efforts – even just to remind people of their value.
In this case, although working the project itself “wasn’t necessarily fun”, also in this case, a great outcome fuelled feelings of positivity. However, even if it didn’t there is always room to appreciate what happened, no matter what. Feeling a little ashamed of how much I’d pushed them I sent them the link once I’d uploaded the song and closed down the WhatsApp group so I wouldn’t be tempted to message them unnecessarily. I re-created it again the next day with an apology because I’d forgotten the most important part – telling them they were absolutely awesome for simply having the courage, confidence and fundamental security in their ability to say “Oh go on then”. Sometimes it’s not actually people’s skills or talents that need a boost – it’s their memory that they have them - and there's always time to give them a reminder.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience For quick tips and tools: click for SKILL PILL and Q&A videos and here for Media appearances. Twitter/IG @draudreyt