This part of a series of snippets from our new book, Lockdown Learnings. A collection of 50 life lessons from 50 leaders in lockdown that reached No.1 Hot New Release in Amazon’s HR chart. Now available in print here.
In our new dispersed model of working, it is tempting to place an over reliance on meetings which “bring everyone together”. It’s a trap we all fall into. A scan through our LinkedIn feeds will reveal countless examples of the Zoom grid – numerous faces smiling simultaneously. The grid has become a signifier of connectedness and cohesion. But there is a very important lesson I have learnt as a leader in lockdown; a lesson I hope will stay with me beyond the working constraints of COVID-19.
The big meeting is important, but it puts the leader in broadcast mode. It is the perfect forum for sharing information, communicating strategy and direction, but it is not a good forum for meaningful connection, deepening a sense of inclusion or listening to inputs and feedback. Similarly, social “drop in” sessions can be helpful to punctuate the day, but beyond a certain number they too struggle to connect with people at a deeper level.
From broadcast mode to listening mode
The obvious conclusion (and one I resisted for the first few weeks of lockdown) is a leader needs to make the time for meaningful one-to-one conversations with people across the company. These conversations are centred on and opened around the collective communication shared in larger meetings, but evolve into personal reflections, ideas, challenges and questions. I found I quickly moved from broadcast mode to listening mode. I felt liberated by the removal of barriers to individual engagement – no eyes watching who I am speaking to and in what order – and the removal of ceremony in the meeting itself – somehow a Google Hangout makes hierarchy less of a “thing”.
These conversations are not just a “feel good” endeavour (although, of course, being alert to personal wellbeing is a must). These are the basis for fresh ideas, diagnoses of problems, the seeds of strategic opportunities. Let me give you some examples.
I am a CEO of a technology company, but have no technology expertise. In lockdown, I spent a week speaking individually to every member of my technology team. I learnt more in those several hours of time investment than I had the whole of the previous week. I was challenged, motivated and inspired in equal measure. Two immediate, necessary actions I needed to take became clear – actions to improve communication, collaboration and output across our client services and technology team.
Action 1: Celebrate contribution
Through speaking to specific members of the team, I discovered that feedback on new functionality has come to mean a focus on the niggles – bugs and frustrations – with no attention to the impressive progress overall. We had no forum to celebrate the value being delivered to the business and its contribution to growth. This was demotivating to the hardworking technology team who could feel their work was not appreciated and its value to the business was limited. We were carelessly failing to celebrate contribution and in so doing demotivating an extremely able and hardworking team.
So now what do we do? We showcase functionality impact on our delivery to clients and celebrate the combined power of client service and tech.
When we’re considering the need to connect with our teams, let’s think less about ‘how many’ and more about ‘how meaningful.’
Action 2: Allow practical observation
At the beginning of a tech-development cycle, our development team does have enough time to “see for themselves” how functionality is currently employed; to have the time to observe and discuss rather than working from second-hand information.
This is an easy fix. We now integrate practical observation sessions as standard.
So, when we’re considering the need to connect with our teams, let’s think less about ‘how many’ and more about ‘how meaningful’. Let’s think less about hierarchy and more about contribution. And above all, let’s think less about broadcast and more about listen.
Kirsty is CEO at Big Sofa Technologies PLC and one of 50 leaders who contributed their learning to the new book, Lockdown Learnings. Read it in full by ordering your copy on Amazon here.