Leadership teams in organisations around the world are grappling with the economic and business impact of the Coronavirus Pandemic at the moment.  Some of their big challenges are:

  • continued crisis management dealing with business disruption,
  • health, safety and well-being of staff – at home and returning to work,
  • scenario planning for business continuity,
  • hard decisions about short term cost cutting measures including redundancy,
  • even harder decisions about longer term business strategy.

The list goes on and leaders need to work through all of this whilst working from home, without direct interaction with their teams and the normal opportunities to check in with colleagues by the coffee machine. Whilst people are getting better at virtual meetings, team dynamics and effective collaboration can be difficult.

Research into leadership in a crisis (1) shows three dynamics:

  1. Narrow thinking – people stick to what they know;
  2. Deferring to the leader – people look up to strong leaders and follow them;
  3. Conformity – people don’t speak up.

This happens at a time when leadership teams need to be at their most creative and when they need to collaborate, support and challenge each other so that they can make good decisions in a timely manner.

Given this context, I wonder how much time leaders are spending on each of the three core aspects of their role – managing teams, tasks and individuals? I imagine task focus might win the day with some attention to individual issues? Team dynamics, which can be quite hard to deal with at any time, may not be a priority right now.

Yet, there is much to be gained by taking a step back, reflecting on how well the team is doing and agreeing ways of working in the “new normal”. In my experience of coaching teams recently, valuable conversations have been:

  • Reflecting on what the team has achieved, how they did that and celebrating success;
  • Agreeing ways of working together more effectively again as crisis mode reduces – comms channels, meetings and agendas, expectations, working groups;
  • Sharing personal experiences, feelings, challenges and successes as a way of reconnecting;
  • Agreeing key messages for communication and how to deliver them consistently;
  • Identifying practical ways of supporting and challenging each other;
  • Reflecting on core values and how the team might remind and guide others in the organisation about what really matters right now.

Here is what some people have said:

“Great session. Lots of learning, support, reflection, kindness and fun. And we had singing!”

“During the session today, I almost felt normal, more so than recently. It helped me focus again, which worked very well for me.”

“It was the first time since my team began working in these unusual conditions that we had found time to really stop and reflect. It gave us a breathing space from rather fast paced work to look back and see what we have achieved and the ways in which we have done that. It showed me that some of the strategies we have implemented will continue to be useful once we get through COVID19. And it allowed us to laugh together which is so beneficial to mind and body!”

The benefits of slowing down to move faster again are huge. Take time to have meaningful team conversations, maybe with the help of a team coach, whilst modelling good practices for effective virtual meetings. The objective may be to reconnect the team and reflect and learn together (I call it team “R&R”), which can restore a sense of normality and focus. It may be to agree ways of working effectively together in the “new normal”, adding creativity and collaboration back into the mix if this has got lost. Or it may be to make important decisions on priorities, strategies and core values so that the team can speak with one voice and lead the organisation more effectively through the crisis.

It’s time well spent.

References: (1) Gardner, Heidi and Peterson, Randall, “Executives and Boards, Avoid these Missteps in a Crisis”, Harvard Business Review, 24th April 2020.

Sabine Stanley has an exceptional track record of working with senior leaders and leadership teams in complex organisations, creating momentum for organisational development and change. Bi-lingual in English and German, she works in both languages and brings rich cross-cultural awareness and a global perspective.