Building A Team In The Middle Of A Crisis

At the beginning of the pandemic, many teams were probably surprised by how seamlessly they were able to transition to working from home while maintaining productivity. In fact, given the success, some companies have probably even considered the possibility of shifting to an entirely remote workforce permanently.

But as time goes on, I think we’re starting to realize that perhaps the reason the initial transition was so “seamless” was because we were building off relationships that were created in person. The question now becomes: If remote working is the new normal, how do we maintain meaningful relationships digitally, and how do we form strong and effective relationships with new team members?

Here are my top five tips for building an all-star team in a remote world.

Be an active and empathetic manager.

A great team emerges from the hard work, intelligence, and determination of employees up and down its ranks. Managers can help guide, but employees are what make an all-star team. The best advice I have for managers to help employees reach their full potential is to be an active manager — be involved and participate in the careers of your employees. Have conversations with your individual reports. Get to know them; understand what they enjoy, where they want to grow and what they perceive as their greatest strengths.

But don’t stop there; do your own exploration, and help them identify unseen strengths and opportunities for growth. You might see a quality or potential that they don’t. From there, help your employees set concrete goals, and set up regular meetings to check in about progress, roadblocks and next steps.

What does active management look like in the middle of a crisis? It looks like focusing on building human relationships. You’re there to help your report grow professionally — but right now, you need to approach your team with empathy and show you care about their well-being, not just their KPIs.

Focus on intangible progress as much as visible outcomes.

In business, we tend to be driven by outputs — product features, analytics reports and sales leads. We work hard and are proud of the tangible outcomes we have to show for it. But one thing I always try to advise my team is that it’s not always about the end result. It’s about the process and progress you made to get to the outcome — how you handled obstacles, what you learned along the way, and the change in your skills and viewpoints. That represents growth and development in a career more than a visible set of outputs does. This advice surprises employees because we assume our value at work is purely derived from our production and frees them because it gives them the space to explore, reflect and experiment without fear that it will be deemed a “waste of time.”

Additionally, it’s important to keep in mind that people are under intense stress given what’s going on in the world, so if you see someone who is remaining positive and encouraging others, celebrate that as an achievement.

Build change as a key skill in your team.

In the last eight months, nearly every business has undergone rapid digital transformation. Companies that used the cloud simply for Google Docs are now “cloud-first” across operations. Businesses that were nervous about handing over tasks to automation now depend on it to work smarter with their leaner IT teams. The jobs of tech professionals today are fast-evolving and highly digital — and I expect that trajectory to continue.

Beyond that, our way of life is changing. It’s imperative for leaders to help develop skills that position your team well to handle not just this moment, but also the next several years. Foster a culture of continuous learning by building time into the team’s schedule for dedicated learning and training. Professional development easily slips on our list of priorities, especially these days. It’s your role as manager to make it a priority and give your employees the time and space to expand their skills and grow.

Trust, trust, trust.

We can offer employees advice, training and support, but I’d argue the best thing we can give an employee is our trust. This is paramount because we no longer see each other every day, so we need to build new avenues to create trust, which also means going back to basics. You might think that close monitoring and micromanaging sends the signal that you’re invested and that you care about their success, but it can actually send the signal that you don’t have faith in them.

Instead, focus your time and energy on being present and available, but take a step back and be unselfish in giving them room to build, grow and lead. Ask what you can do for them, and ensure you follow up. Provide explicit direction on projects and deliverables, but trust them to run with it and see it through. Empowering employees depends on you trusting them to succeed and learn from failure. If this advice makes you nervous, you may not have the right team around you.

Establish a team that nurtures its own culture.

The best teams I’ve ever worked with are the ones that care deeply about each other as humans. You could have the most technically skilled team in the world, but if you don’t support each other, look after each others' needs and reinforce common values in your work, the team will fall apart. In remote work, this is harder, and your company culture may look different than it did before. Successful remote cultures will put aside time for personal connection, acknowledge the human challenges we’re dealing with, thank individuals for their contributions on a regular basis and take time to connect with employees one on one just to see how they’re doing.

Whether in an office or on a Zoom video, the team around you is your biggest asset and deserves a significant investment of your time and energy.

This article was originally published to Forbes Tech Council on December 2, 2020.

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