Technology: Boon or Burden for Leadership and Team Development During COVID-19
Updated: Aug 16
*Similar article featured on td.org, COVID-19 Leaders Need Coaching Now More Than Ever
The conventional wisdom holds that technology in the workplace has created a sense of social isolation. So much of people’s work is accomplished through “impersonal” computers and devices like smartphones and tablets. During the current COVID-19 crisis, this sense of isolation has increased dramatically for many of us. Seemingly overnight, organizations have implemented mandates for people to self-isolate and work from home as a way to help arrest the spread of the disease.
Face-to-face meetings, team offsites, and training courses are rapidly being canceled. Leaders, coaches and other professionals who support teams at work are asking, “Now what? Do we simply postpone?"
The reality is, work still needs to be done. The challenge confronting all of us is this:
How can people in organizations – especially teams – still accomplish their work while operating within a completely remote environment?
Over the past weeks, I have been inundated with requests from clients needing to react quickly to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Case in point: Leadership Strategies International is scheduled to kickoff a blended learning course called Coaching Mindset Essentials™. It is one of the courses offered through our Team Coaching Operating System® (TCOS) program. Our training school is accredited by the International Coach Federation (ICF).
Given the impact of COVID-19 shelter-in-place guidelines, we are in conversation with an internal client to decide whether to postpone the course or to move forward by quickly re-designing the course in a 100 percent virtual format. We would redesign the delivery of the three-day face-to-face learning component to a 100 percent virtual learning format in a way that maintains a deep and meaningful learning experience.
Concurrent while working with my clients, I invited just-in-time conversations with my expert team coaching colleagues in the USA and UK, as well as some of my learning and organizational development business partners, to talk through implications of the crisis and navigate this new landscape successfully.
I offered this scenario for discussion: As an internal team development business partner, you and the teams you support are faced with having to work in a 100 percent virtual environment, without any face-to-face contact for an indefinite period. Yet, we have a two-day team alignment offsite scheduled in two weeks. What do you do?
During a robust conversation, we drew on the wisdom of this small, focused “crowd.” Having synthesized the wisdom of my colleagues, coupled with my experience working with organizations in crisis over the past 30 years, what follows are some of the best practices to consider. I invite you to add to the list.
A key principle underlying these best practices is this: Use technology proactively as a way to connect people at a human level and to make just-in-time decisions that enable success for both individuals and the business.
Reach out to your team leaders now; don’t wait. Silence can be anxiety-producing. Start by asking about, and acknowledging, the challenges of COVID-19 on them personally. Use your presence and your compassion to connect at a deep level to see how each person is doing.
When you sense the time is right, shift the conversation to strategic business topics, e.g., “How is your team doing? What do they need right now?”
Add your perspective.
Do a reality check. Talk about what is realistic now. For example, “We have a face-to-face session scheduled two weeks from today. We are now faced with doing work in a different environment — 100 percent virtual. How important is it to accomplish the original purpose of the face-to-face session? Has the purpose changed? Are priorities different now? If so, how?”
What are your current priorities? Given what we now know, how do we need to pivot?
Let’s brainstorm options and next steps about what would be most helpful to you and your team at this time.
Creating Virtual Connections.
Work with the leader to quickly set up a videoconference with core team members. Use this time to help people feel connected and valued. Similarly, help the leader identify each team member’s personal and professional needs, and determine how to support them. Draw upon your deep knowledge/skills to design and facilitate team meetings in a way that builds psychological safety and a sense of community. Help the team leader and members:
Increase their sense of belonging. Acknowledge personal challenges during this time of crisis and recognize their contributions. Offer support.
Reduce the amount of uncertainty and ambiguity. Help clarify the team’s immediate goals, roles, timing, next steps, etc.
Rather than telling team members what to do, solicit their ideas and input. Give them a sense of agency around their working environment and offer insights on how to best stay connected with the team to accomplish work together.
Develop a calendar for frequent check-ins. Use videoconferencing to connect and monitor how people are doing both personally and professionally.
Help the leader assess formal and informal structures that convey a sense of fairness. This includes a well-balanced distribution of work during this time of crisis.
Drilling down, remember:
Less is more. Break offsite meetings — which might otherwise run up to two days — into 90-minute chunks.
Offer frequent five-minute bio/stretch breaks to weave in that well-being (a useful lesson for team leaders re: what they can do with their own teams).
Use technology to work in large groups. Continue the conversations in smaller breakout groups — even triads or pairs. Do short sprints of work during the breakouts, then reconvene back to the large group to report process, integrate ideas, and make choices about what to do next.
Record and post team meetings so those unable to attend can keep up to speed with the team.
Design meetings with different time zones in mind. Find a time of day when most people can attend a synchronous, all-team meeting to check-in, get updates about team project progress, issues to address, give direction, etc. Then, as one of my Pepperdine University MSOD alumni suggested, “follow the sun” and “pass the baton” from region to region.
Set up online forums where people can share/build on each other’s work (e.g., use G Suite, like Google Docs).
In summary, consider when the timing would be right to use the current situation to build individual and team capability. Help the leader/the team consider how they can quickly pivot in a moment of crisis, and to notice how this crisis is fostering their resiliency and agility.
Embrace technology as a means to continue to find ways to connect — and frequently stay connected. Help yourself and others feel grounded through just-in-time connections.
Capitalize on the power of collaboration to stimulate new thinking that leads to new ideas and moves those ideas forward.
Consciously meet people where they are by accessing and sharing your own humanity — embody your capacity to be agile, innovative, compassionate and generous.
About the Author
Dr. Laura L. Hauser, MCC, MCEC
Founder, Leadership Strategies International
Dr. Laura Hauser, MCC, MCEC, works with organizational leaders and their teams (and the professionals who support them) to build healthy workplace cultures. She is an internationally-recognized thought leader and researcher in the highly specialized space of team coaching. Using art and science, she teaches, coaches, supervises and consults in a way that expands mindsets and capabilities needed to navigate through disruption. Laura has been honored for her contributions to the coaching profession. She is the developer of the Team Coaching Operating System®, an ACSTH coaching school accredited by the International Coach Federation. Contact Laura by email or on LinkedIn.
When referencing this material, please acknowledge the source: ©2020 Dr. Laura L. Hauser, MCC, www.leadership-strategies.com