Teamworking – Sink or Swim!
Teams can be a bit like families. I remember when I was 11 years old and growing up on England’s south coast. My family had a comfortable life: a stable income, comfortable home by the sea, holidays in France – life seemed blissful. But all that changed in an instant when my father lost his income, completely, and we all lost our home.
Swiftly transitioned and squeezed into my grandmother’s small London flat, my three brothers and I – formerly fiercely competitive and independent – suddenly learnt the necessity of working together in a crisis. By sharing the chores and finding our own entertainment, we freed up those family members of working age to go out and seek an income elsewhere. From pampered luxury to self-sufficiency in one easy step. Except this wasn’t just a crisis – it was to be our new way of life.
Nothing unusual in that, except that what I observed was the ease with which we accustomed ourselves to our new lifestyle. Was it the excitement of living in London or the newfound autonomy? Possibly they helped to compensate. Looking back on it, we simply had been handed a common goal that we all believed in – we had no choice. I couldn’t articulate that goal at the time, but later I realised that we needed to pull together not just for financial survival but also to retain some sense of normality and to eventually regain, if not our previous way of life, then at least our dignity.
I wonder if this wasn’t a bit what it felt like for many people when the Covid crisis hit. Take a team in almost any organisation in 2020. They had been working hard as usual, maybe enjoying a fair amount of personal freedom and autonomy, exercising a little bit of competitiveness amongst team members and generally achieving their team’s objectives (and their own) without too much stress. Then along comes a crisis and they all have to relocate (to their separate homes) and learn to use new technology, fast.
“This won’t last long and we’ll be back to where we were, enjoying the office banter”. Except people are talking about a ‘new normal’ and the benefits of this new remote working. They may be rapidly realising that they hate working physically alone; that the online world is making them feel depressed. Realising that their objectives seem harder to achieve like this, suddenly they are missing their old way of working and gradually performance drops. This is the crunch point for many teams and it is probably happening right now.
In order to manage this difficult transition, teams need to engage together, to feel connection, like never before. Research shows that engagement leads to higher retention, customer service, positivity, creativity and productivity…and to happiness. So what do teams need to feel engaged with their work? Obviously there are the pre-requisites of organisational support, two-way communication and information transparency at all levels.
But what makes the biggest difference is the line manager’s relationship with their team members and their relationships with each other. Suddenly we are all in it together and the line manager needs their support as much as they need him or her. They look upwards and sideways for communication, inspiration and organisation. They are hungry for recognition, reassurance, trust and that intangible ingredient that gels them together, a common goal that they believe in. Just like I was in 1977. These qualities might be implicit in families and I think I received these at that crucial time. But the difference with teams is that even though managers may not instinctively provide these out of love, they may have to recognise that these same human needs still exist in the workplace.