Why is it we can achieve so much more in a crisis

The Covid-19 global pandemic is above all else a human crisis and much continues to be written on this theme. I want to take a different perspective, one that uses this time as a moment of organisation and team reflection and learning.

Over the last few weeks I have been amazed and inspired by the way our communities have rallied in response to the Covid-19 crisis. Such creativity and innovation that has resulted in new applications for 3D printing, repurposing snorkel masks as respirators and much more. Within organisations we have seen essential products and services continue to flow when under normal circumstances the supply chain would have ground to a halt. Company IT programmes for online collaboration have been implemented within weeks rather than the scheduled months allowing employees and teams to remain connected and working.

We know that high performing teams and organisations take time to reflect on their performance, learn, adapt and improve. Questions teams can be asking themselves include:

  • With all the disruption around us, what have we done differently that allowed us to continue to function as a team?
  • If we have achieved more than we ever thought imaginable, and new ways, why is that?
  • Why did it take a crisis to change our attitudes and behaviours towards others we work with?
  • What do we want to keep from this period and take forward into our post Covid-19 ways of working?

Reflecting on the last few weeks, here is my take on two aspects as to why we have achieved what we have.

 

  1. Absolute clarity of Purpose and Intent

In his book “The Art of Action” and HBR article, Stephan Bungay writes about the need for clarity of intent and alignment up and down the organisation.  What is that one, single objective that unites us and towards which all plans point?

How often do we talk about having multiple priorities, or worse competing priorities? By definition we can have only one priority. Our management speak, internal competition, agendas, politics and silos have created an internal lack of clarity or purpose.

Anyone who has worked with me knows that I can bang on a bit about team purpose. There is a reason why having a team purpose that is clear, compelling and consequential, is one of the three essential conditions for team success. If we are not clear why we exist as a team, how can we be sure we are doing the right work?

 

  1. Stop asking for permission to act

At this moment leaders are busy addressing the strategic challenges that Covid-19 has thrown at organisations. Ensuring staff and customers are protected and that the business survives. It is not possible for leaders to focus on the same things and engage in the same way as they did prior to February.

Quick decisions need to be taken and we are seeing leadership & leaders emerge throughout organisations, often in the most unlikely places. People are empowered to take decisions that previously they would have sent up the line. We can no longer always wait for permission to act. We are also seeing the internal bureaucracy melting away.

It also feels good knowing that you can step up and make decisions that matter; really matter. With a clear purpose and clear boundaries, it is possible to act faster and be more effective in ways that make a real difference.

 

  1. Be agile and use all the tools available

The better online sessions I have recently joined focused on experience they wanted to create, both emotional and rational. Only then did they develop their online solutions. It was not about simply pushing slides though MS Teams or Zoom. They were also quick to seek feedback, ask for forgiveness, and continually improve.

Over the last few weeks I have used tools that I had never heard of prior to Covid-19, or apps and tools I knew about, but in new and exciting ways. I was always too busy to see what was out there. Now that we have the time, reach back into your organisation and explore deeply what is available to support the work of your team.

 

  1. Adjust your team norms

As Ruth Wageman wrote in a recent blog, “all teams have norms, for better or for worse (often for worse)Sometimes, dysfunctional behaviour can become the norm, when team members act in ways that are harmful to collective effectiveness, but no one confronts it.” Often this is unintentional.

We are all working in new ways which requires new team norms. I have spoken with clients and colleagues who feel that there is a pressure to be as accessible, or even more accessible than when everyone was in the office. There is an expectation for quick responses to emails or chats and skype calls should always be answered if you have a green dot! The technology that I wrote about above can be a double-edged sword.

Take time to reset team norms making expectations explicit. Reflect on and use the experiences of the last few weeks to agree on what has worked, not worked. Then recommit to a new set of norms. Once you have done this, ensure everyone has permission to “call it when they see it” when norms are being broken.