A cat sits on its owner’s lap while she works on a laptop

Supporting your team through a time of remarkable change

Everyone is different.

So obvious, but it has never been a better time for managers to add this to their list of personal mantras. In this delicate moment, every member of your team is experiencing an extraordinary amount of ‘firsts’ all at the same time – remote working, adapting to isolation, home-schooling, caring for relatives and, for many, acute anxiety. It’s never been more important to acknowledge individual uniqueness and offer the right kind of support and understanding to your team. This doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but there are some valuable ways in which you can support your people and help everyone to adjust now and in the future.

Successful leaders must walk the dual pathway of organisational health, achieving a balance between performance (what we need to achieve) and health (the way we do it). If your focus is solely on the performance of your people, it’s unlikely they will be able to deliver year after year. Equally, if it’s making sure that everyone is having a great time, the organisation will probably lose money. Imbalance on either side is unsustainable in the long-term. During this time, you have no doubt noticed coping mechanisms manifest in your teams and colleagues. Perhaps a flurry of ‘busy-ness’, where productivity levels seem – and are – unnaturally high. It’s actually a very predictable response to sudden change and the anxiety it brings. Busying ourselves over and above our usual levels can bring level of control, it feels like we are doing something of value and the constant activity distracts us from thinking too much about what’s actually happening. It’s also a really obvious indicator that it’s time for a manager to reach out and ask The Big Question.

How are you?

Three little words that are packed with meaning. They tell your team members that you are thinking about them, care for their wellbeing and have time to talk. It subtly says that you have noticed there may be something on their mind. Or that you acknowledge things aren’t as they should be. First steps are never easy, but by offering the opportunity to have a confidential conversation – with you, or with a support network in your organisation – you are creating a safe space that can help in coping with change, feeling overwhelmed and make your people feeling less isolated.

Come together… but don’t overdo it

However, when we’re all apart, it’s tempting to put in place a structure that tries to replicate the physical closeness we have in the office. Endless rounds of breakfast meetings, lunch meetings, end of day meetings, ‘how are you’ meetings and personal one-to-ones can actually end up feeling very stifling for all involved. It’s important to understand that while we absolutely need to come together and function as a team, no two teams are alike, and you need to find your own way and frequency of connecting as a collective.  

Understand that outcomes are more valuable than hours

People are delivering, but there is also a clear and uncomfortable trend towards ‘always on’ – the need to show that they’re putting in the hours. But the two are not the same. Being online and available for nine hours a day is incompatible with working from home in normal circumstances, so it’s likely to be near impossible during isolation. Shared workspaces, fractious children, caring for other family members and the demands of pets are all new additions to the working day. The rhythm of an office environment is very different, and we are all used to being interrupted throughout the day and having a routine that sets our hours, availability and understanding of the time required to complete tasks.

Returning to the concept of performance and health, this is where conversations with your team around outcome-based expectations aren’t just important, but essential and critical. Set objectives and plan what is required for the week, but acknowledge that your team are working to new, asynchronous rhythms and give them permission to work in the way that suits their circumstances, rather than wait for individuals to raise a need with you. If that means a 3pm finish, then so be it. Their performance must be based on what they have achieved, not their constant presence online.

The Kübler-Ross Grief Cycle – a curved line showing the stages of grief from Denial to Acceptance
The Kübler-Ross Grief Cycle © By U3173699 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

It’s ok to not be ok

The ‘stiff upper lip’ is a very real thing and managers must be mindful of the people who are finding it more difficult. In leadership, we often look to the Kübler-Ross Change Curve (also known as the ‘grief cycle’. See above) as a way to anticipate and understand the way we respond to change. In our current situation, it’s a really valuable tool that can help you to you to give the support your people need, at the right time. It’s been observed that the change ‘curve’ can actually be viewed as a bowl ­– and when you place a ball on a bowl, it will rock back and forth a few times before settling. What this means is that where a person finds themselves on the curve now doesn’t mean they will continue to move forward at a consistent rate, so remain watchful of your team members, and encourage them to look out for each other too.

Together we can

Here at Canon, we share the corporate philosophy of Kyosei – living and working together for the common good – and never has this been more relevant than it is now. In this context, we can translate it as our organisation being nothing more or less than the collective result of all our individual efforts. In taking extra care at this time to look after – and look out for – each other (be that our partners, customers, colleagues or teams), we bring great balance to the health of our organisation and beyond.

Looking back to face the future

Enforced isolation won’t last forever and it’s likely that we will have to socially distance and be mindful of protocol for some time to come. That said, it’s very difficult to build scenarios on what we don’t yet know. This kind of uncertainty requires difficult conversations, but now is exactly the right time to be having them. You most certainly already have had some learnings from the experience, as will your team, so pose the question: “Even if we could go back to where we were, what would we do differently?” It’s a scenario you can explore, regardless of any current and future restrictions. Perhaps some have found working from home to be enormously productive? And there may be other suggestions that improve team communication or emergency processes and solutions that have worked surprisingly well.

By the time restrictions are lifted, this conversation will have you well ahead of the curve. You will have addressed fears and worries for the future, while also giving your team something to look forward to. This is both helpful now and when we need to adjust to a new reality. Without it, you risk your people returning to the beginning of the curve, feeling confused, anxious and fearful. By placing the view beyond the barrier, we’re showing a light at the end of the tunnel – and we have the choice of how we’re going to step into that light.

Written by Frits Paagman, Canon EMEA Executive Coach

Related Articles