Facing coronavirus, as a leader you’re being challenged to navigate an ultra-complex landscape of reduced demand and/or disrupted supply…with a fragmented, distracted workforce. These simultaneous risks are like a pilot navigating stormy skies in mountainous terrain with an uncertain fuel supply. Imagine how it would compound those risks if your gauges lost precision and you struggled to stay oriented? Or if you lost confidence that the wheels and pedals would control your plane’s rudder and flaps to steer?
This same risk-compounding threat exists with today’s travel freezes and work-from-home plans impeding teams’ ability to connect, collaborate, make decisions, and steer the company. With videoconference calls standing in for routine meetings, as well as “offsite” (or onsite) team collaboration on critical topics such as budgets, long-range strategy and planning, roadmaps, and initiatives – the key question facing you is: how can you make the most of this virtual way of running the company?
Based on our more than twenty years of helping leaders maximize how teams work together, here are five things to consider:
#1 – First…you should still meet! There’s a tendency toward fewer meetings when they take place virtually, not to mention that participants seem less concerned about missing them. Set the expectation that virtual meetings are no less important than in-person ones (and maybe more so, since you have less ad hoc contact around the office). This applies to big meetings as well as small ones, so don’t cancel that offsite – reframe it in a virtual space.
#2 – Make time for personal connections in routine meetings and those replacing offsites. It’s always high-impact to get present and remember you’re a leadership team (not just a “team of leaders”) – but even more so in a virtual space.
- Have each person “check in” on how they are feeling and what is present for them – professionally and personally. You might even think about holding periodic meetings specifically to check in. This helps people stay connected and in touch, which is even more important in these situations.
- Consider having lunch during a video meeting, but let it simulate lunch at a team event, with unstructured discussion and team socialization.
- Encourage team members to set up 1:1 check-ins every now and again, to not lose the benefit of serendipitous 1:1 moments that happen around the office and at breaks during offsite meetings.
- Using a videoconferencing tool, open a “virtual kitchen” during certain hours of the day (e.g., lunch), where people can drop in and out as they would in the office. This is valuable among the senior team, to keep executives visible to and connected with others, and as a general team-connectedness move.
#3 – Demand presence – of yourself and others. Even when in-person, cell phones and laptops sap team connection and impact the quality of dialogue. Virtually, it’s just too easy to do email and check Slack (or read health and finance headlines) during meetings. Make it a ground rule that virtual time together is sacred and gets full attention.
#4 – Double down on before- and after-meeting discipline. The most-effective teams treat meetings as the middle of a prepare-meet-mobilize process. Especially when virtual, meetings are more effective with crisp agendas, topic owners socializing pre-reads, and clear next-step accountabilities.
#5 – Exploit the greater flexibility of virtual meetings. When your team is offsite, a continuous day or two of meetings is typical. Things often arise you wish could be worked offline and brought back to the team – but by the time this happens post-event, at best momentum is lost and at worst the action commitment dissipates in the face of the day-to-day. In a virtual space, you can just as (or more) easily have two partial sessions separated by a few days, so any offline work that results from the first session can be done and used to inform the second.
Unless something changes fast, this will be the most challenging year for business leaders since 2008 (with some unique challenges even for recession-tested leaders). The last thing you need is to compound external risks with a downgraded ability for the leadership team to do its job. So yes, switch to virtual when and where you must – and use these suggestions and your own creativity to maximize this way of running the company.
Worried about how a virtual environment might impact your company’s productivity? We’re here to help.
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