5 Critical Insights that Drive Remote Teamwork
A crisis creates space. Opens us to the unknown. Takes us to places within ourselves we never knew.
When the world is in chaos, we need more than hope. We need a way to tap into what we have learned and use this to create the new future, together.
Work is a vector for human connection and mutual meaning-making if we choose. To activate this potential in the best of times is hard enough, with so many elements of work culture inimical to real connection and collaboration. With the COVID-19 pandemic challenging our views of normal work culture and value creation we are primed to discard those elements and embrace the meaningful work of being in function together - but we must remain apart so we do not spread a deadly contagion.
How do we huddle up, apart? How do we distance, together? Every moment of real team connection is built from a combination of energetic movements from person to person and from state to state. Take a moment to connect the team across one or more of these 5 gaps to generate spirit and power within the team as you work.
1 - Connect to the people who need help
Work solves a problem for somebody. Naming this somebody anchors the efforts of the team in the larger social context and connects them to their purpose.
"Win just one for the Gipper" is the Hollywood version of "We have a 45-year-old male in respiratory distress, driving a bus with 10 passengers between the ages of approximately 30 and 70." Every ER team is oriented and aligned when they receive this briefing because the people whose wellbeing requires their services are present in their midst. Bring your remote team into the presence of the people who are depending on their work, by naming them and describing them.
2 - Connect to the real needs of others
Work is alive when it cycles across two planes of abstraction, the more-concrete solution plane and the more-abstract problem plane. These planes align with real connective power only when the problem is expressed and felt as a legitimate need, independent of the solution, and of the next-higher-order abstraction. Bring the team into alignment on the problem: exactly what outcome is in jeopardy? What constraint on the outcome is problematic? What is the standard for that constraint, where is it now, what are the forces acting to keep it below standard?
"We're all gonna die" is the Hollywood version of "Our regulatory compliance reporting system is producing incomplete submissions because it cannot access the data from the systems of our newly-acquired regional bank." The bank will be in trouble if the reports are incomplete, impacting others with legitimate concerns, and the problem will exist whether or not your team takes up the work to solve it. Recognition of these factors - the real needs of others - energizes and connects a team with resolve and insight.
3 - Connect to *exactly* what you will do
Work is a physical construct as well as an emotional and mental construct. Harness the power of kinesthesia by describing the key elements of the play and emphasizing exactly how this particular aspect of the performance will impact the higher-level needs being addressed. You can tell when people are doing this because they use a simile or invoke a memory of a previous performance, and then introduce a twist to capture the attention of the team.
"It's just like we practiced" is the Hollywood version of "How will you make sure we have a ventilator ready for this bus driver?"
4 - Connect to the way you will all know you have succeeded
Work is not a never-ending process because either it will succeed, or it will fail, or it will become moot. Of those three ways that a work effort will end, by far the most energizing for a team is to focus on the measures of success.
"Just think, in a few hours it will all be over and you'll have a beautiful new baby" is the Hollywood version of "Keep the compress on the wound until the bleeding stops" or "We can take a break when all the passengers are tested and the driver is stable."
5 - Connect to what's in it for your comrade
Work is a shared burden which we lighten for one another. Sometimes a particular outcome is very important personally to a member of your team, for reasons completely out of scope of the "big picture" - and that is just fine. If the shift has to end by 6 so your teammate can get back home in time for his kid's birthday party, then you do your damnedest to get done by 6, right? Connecting to each other, even without specific reference to the problem space, can give the team the jolt of energy they need to get moving.
All five of these energy-flow boosters are equally accessible by Zoom, by Slack, by email, when the murder virus decides to keep you from huddling up in person. Please use your newfound powers for good in this weird little world we're in.
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