Team Building in the New Normal

Introduction

We are living in a time of change. So much of what we regarded as being normal for us has passed away to be replaced by a new normal. This normal may endure or it may change but I sincerely hope we don’t return to the old normal because it wasn’t really working for many of us.

In the workplace COVID-19 has ushered in a range of changes. Some of these are temporary but others will become part of workplace culture. The increase in working from home is one of these changes and one I hope remains. Time will tell what remains, what evolves and what changes into something else.

As far as team building is concerned I’m pleased to see the cessation of largely pointless team building sessions. Activities such as rope climbing, trust exercises or paintball orall fun but I don’treally believe they add much to the strength and longevity of a team. Many of these team building exercises seem to only bring out competetive natures.

So what is important in building a team in the new normal? Some things will be the same as before and somethings will be new. My thoughts are based on both successes and the inevitable failure of working in a team.

Relationships

Building a team is all about developing relationships, long term relationships. It is not speed dating but something where you are there for the long haul.

Managers, leaders and team members need to view the team as a long term partnership.It will go through many phases. Sometimes it will be exciting. Other times it will be difficult and challenging. The ebb and flow is part of growing a great team.

The basis of this relationship or partnership is trust. This is trust between team members, the trust a leader has in the team and the trust the team has in the leader. Trust takes time to develop and grows through interactions and behaviour. Overtime this will build a type of social capital between team members and leaders. Like all social capital it will develop a range of expected behaviours or norms. Unwritten rules that all follow, sometimes without even knowing it.

Related to trust is respect. Another two way street between team members and leaders. Team members need to feel respected by their peers and by their leaders. If there is trust and mutual respect positive team relationships will grow and a great team will start to develop. Just remember this trust and respect is hard won and easily lost. Once this is lost it is a hard task to rebuild.

Strengths Based

To build a great team, a top team you will need to be aware of the strengths, interests, passions, knowledge and skills of each team member. If you aren’t ware of each person’s strengths and gifts you are unlikely to develop the team member sufficiently and they will not be able to perform to their full potential. Discover their gifts and strengths and use these to build your team.

Everyone is Different

Each person is different and at different developmentalstages, including the leader. Understand where people are at in a developmental sense. This will explain why somepeople require very little support and others need much more attention. Work out where each person is at, how much support and information they need to do their job and grow and give them what they need. Remember,there will always be people easy to work with and others not so easy to work with. Accept this and work on how you can find common ground with more difficult staff so that difficulties do not disrupt the team. Again, it is important to know their strengths and build on those strengths.

All This Sounds Familiar So What is Different?

There are two major changes thatimpact on workplaces.

First, we now have a number of people working off campus at home or in other locations. For many leaders this will be something new. For others an extension of what was happening before.

This comes with a number of interesting challenges for leaders. For example,how do you supervise,mentor and develop your team at a distance. In essence, the answer is simple and no different from what you may have already been doing. Continue to keep in regular daily contact or contact when needed and make yourself readily available for them.

Communication will come via anumber of means: phone, email, digital video calls etc. The important thing is tor etain contact.

Allied to contact is to resist the challenge to micro manage. Close management of staff is poison, unless iti s really required andthis should be in limited circumstances. Unnecessary micro managment destroys hard won trust and erodes bonds incredibly quickly. It is death. Resist it at all costs and only use it as a last resort.

You will need to change the model you use to appraisethework completed by a team member. If they are working at a distance or in the field the gauge is not hours worked but productivity and quality of work delivered in a timely manner. If you are strict with hours worked this will be counter productive to quality team building.

Those who workin field based teams will find the change to staff working at a distance not nearly as challenging as those who work in an office based environment.

Second, many of us are now using video conferencing for meetings. There is little reason for this to change in the future. Get used to conducting meetings digitally. Learn how the software operates.You may find yourself conducting team meetings,training,staffsupervision etc via this means. Know how to use it and make the most of it.

Some Closing Thoughts

Team building is a long term project. It is about building relationships and trust. It is hard to do in the short term and will have ups and downs, just like any relationship. You will need time and space to do this. You may use approaches unfamiliar to more senior management. To build a great team you will need both the time and the space from management to do this. For example, I favour using an Appreciative Inquiry approach to team building and planning. This is a strengths based approach requiring a participative model. It takes time and the use of different tools such as a SOAR instead of a SWOT analysis tool. Using this in an environment where non traditional approaches are not accepted will bring you into conflict with senior managers and erode both trust and your own confidence. Believe me. I’ve been there. Ensure you have the confidence of those above you before embarking on unfamiliar approaches, even if those approaches would give youthe best result.

Look tothe new normal as an opportunity and not a challenge and go build a strong team.

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