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Simon Ashton

Phoenix Leaders

Head of Learning & Development

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A new sense of teamwork: adapting to a restructured workforce during Covid-19

Don’t underestimate the power of team connections when navigating this crisis.

In the space of just two months Covid-19 has entirely changed the working landscape for millions of us up and down the country. Overnight, businesses have been forced to review and readjust their organisations, leaving teams stripped back to less than half of their original size, whilst others have been formed simply to deal with the situation.

Well designed teams where the roles of each member are clearly laid out rather than constantly in a state of flux are far more likely to synergise and productively collaborate together.

The sweeping restructuring of the workforce by way of the furlough scheme, redundancies and the redirection of HR has understandably put a strain on our ability to cope with these changes. Our cognitive and emotional resources are now being used at such heightened levels to deal with the current situation that employees are finding themselves feeling burnt-out, isolated and disillusioned. It falls to the line managers to re-instill trust and meaning within their virtual teams.

As we look ahead beyond lockdown, businesses should be focusing on establishing engaged and connected teams across their organisations who can effectively communicate and collaborate regardless of the situation they find themselves in.

1) Bring purpose to each team member’s role

Given the sheer number of people who have been furloughed since the introduction of the scheme, it is understandable that those who are still in employment might start to doubt their position within the company. Whether it’s taking on the extra workload, or continuously comparing themselves and their work to that of their colleagues in anticipation of being furloughed, employees will need all the support they can get from line managers to feel they are adding value to their teams.

To do this, managers need to dedicate time to each of their team members, highlighting their own strengths and expertise. Making each team member feel that their skillset is vital to the success of the team and wider company will bring purpose to each employee, helping them carry out their role more confidently.  

2) Provide clarity to team structure

As many teams will be undergoing frequent changes in terms of size and responsibilities, it is crucial that line managers make explicitly clear the new structure of the team. If individuals are unaware of the role everyone plays within the team, they will most likely feel disconnected and not fully accountable for the outcome of the team’s work.

Strong teamwork is all about having a shared mindset and understanding as well as coordinating and communicating effectively. 

Well designed teams where the roles of each member are clearly laid out rather than constantly in a state of flux are far more likely to synergise and productively collaborate together.  

Clearly delineating the team’s structure and formation is not the only concern for managers – they must also assess whether the formation of that team is actually contributing to the success of the business. By that I mean, does grouping these individuals together make a positive impact on their work (whether that’s through sharing ideas or collaborative problem solving) or would they in fact be better working by themselves? This is a question that managers should continually be asking themselves, especially during turbulent times.

3) Understand the wider business goals

With new team structures employees may find that they are no longer working with old, trusted colleagues, and instead, they are having to create new bonds with unfamiliar faces. This may lead to a change in group dynamics, such as the ‘ingroup and outgroup scenario’, also known as the ‘us versus them’ mentality, which can affect morale. A really simple example would be if original team members have in-jokes that may unintentionally exclude new members and make them feel undervalued.

To boost team connectivity, managers should lay out a clear and compelling direction for the team that fits in with the wider business goals. A clear plan will help employees understand how their contribution as a team will support the company in reaching its goals and create a stronger team bond.

4) Guide team behaviour with group norms

Group norms lay out which behaviours are either acceptable or unacceptable within the team. In the office it is easy to fall in line with unspoken group norms that determine our behaviour, for example in meetings is the manager the main spokesperson, or does everyone take turns to share ideas?

Virtual team meetings make it far more difficult for new team members to judge unwritten norms – technology can often lag voices and our webcam only captures our upper body, making it hard to assess when someone wishes to speak.

To help correct any bad habits creeping in, it is important for managers to lay out the structure and nature of the meetings before they start. Choosing no more than five norms that focus on the most important desired behaviours will avoid overwhelming employees and ensure meetings run smoothly with everyone understanding their role.

5) Trust and open communication – the key to connectivity

When meeting people for the first time virtually, creating a bond built on trust may seem impossible. In these situations, it is important for managers to be a role model for employees to talk naturally and honestly. A manager showing their home office space through the webcam at the start of a meeting can help employees understand the person behind the webcam. The more we know about the person, the easier and quicker it is to build connections.

Managers need to set in place a framework that allows team members to start a dialogue built on the foundation of psychological safety. Team coaching aimed at helping the group find the tools to achieve more open communication will develop a more transparent and robust team dialogue.

Building trust within the group will also allow team members to reflect openly together on the reasons for their successes and failures. These group feedback sessions can lead to considerable collective learning that would be difficult to achieve solely through individual feedback, helping us expand our knowledge, acquire new skills and explore different perspectives of the world.  

Strong teamwork is all about having a shared mindset and understanding as well as coordinating and communicating effectively. If managers do not ensure team members understand the purpose they bring to the company and what unites them as a group, individuals are likely to only be concerned with keeping their job during these difficult times rather than seeing the bigger picture for the company. Managers need to provide teams with the parameters to communicate openly and reflect critically.

Building a strong team foundation will equip individuals with the skills for seizing opportunities and collectively learning from mistakes – ultimately helping businesses come out the pandemic stronger and more connected than before.

Interested in this topic? Read Team cohesion: building resilient teams that survive conflict.

Author Profile Picture
Simon Ashton

Head of Learning & Development

Read more from Simon Ashton

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