Last week, under the motto ‘I’ve never done it, but I think I can do it’, I facilitated a two-day event with seven participants in the Yurt and five online from different places in the world. The big challenge was to achieve cohesion within the group. The people at home missed the connection with me and with the other group members.
We then did a number of things differently; some more cameras in the Yurt and more interaction between those in the Yurt and online. The magic worked and at the end of the second day group cohesion was there!
During this time, with a lot of video calling, we often see that it is a challenge to keep ‘team spirit’. Why is that and how do you deal with it as a manager? How do you help your team to continue communicating effectively at a distance? I answer these questions in this blog, using models from Transactional Analysis.
Group formation does not happen all at once; it takes time
In order to understand how team dynamics work, we first need to look at a bit of theory. In a new group, it is important to pay attention to making the connection.
As a leader, how can you facilitate this cohesion in the group?
- You ensure that everyone can take their own place in the team. During the first module of the programme I did this by asking each participant (both online and in the Yurt) the question: “How do you show resilience these days?
- You let people make contact with each other from their own place. You give them the opportunity to get to know each other, to create respect and trust.
- You create a safe climate by consistently offering a clear structure.
- You aim to give each participant the feeling of really belonging to this group.
- Every time something changes (which often happens in this day and age), attention needs to be paid again to cohesion, so that the group can function properly again.
This connection really is the foundation of a well-functioning group.
Achieving this technically was quite a challenge for me and I was very impressed with the co-creative ability of the group. With humour, patience and technical support, we achieved a nice cohesion. It requires a lot of flexibility and willingness to learn from the manager/trainer.
Team cohesion in Covid-19 times
At this time, when we are still in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, it is particularly difficult to achieve this cohesion. Teams struggle and this often manifests itself in internal conflicts and difficulties.
Managers are really facing new challenges!
We are going to zoom in on these difficulties and internal conflicts. It is important for managers not only to recognise that there are difficulties and internal conflicts, but also to know how to deal with them. What you have to bear in mind is that conflicts are part of team formation and, if they are well managed, they do not have to be threatening.
It is important that you stay being a manager, even if smaller groups form within your team that collectively come to you with their views on the conflict.
In this day and age, when you have little face-to-face contact with your team, to properly manage a conflict, you need to understand the factors that cause the problem. There are three interesting changes to recognise since we’re all working from home. None of them is specifically good or bad, but awareness of this can help enormously in resolving a conflict:
- More stress
It is good to recognise that the members of your team are likely to be under more stress than usual, due to all the things that happen in the world. Even a drive to the supermarket is a potential threat to your health these days. It is perfectly normal for people, including your team members and yourself, to experience stress as a result.
When people are stressed, they are less able to change gear, think less carefully and react more aggressively. These are all things that are not conducive to conflict.
- Talking at the coffee machine
In a homework situation we miss the ‘normal’ chat at the coffee machine. Perhaps there is someone on your team who is suffering from illness in their family, a mother/grandparent who is deteriorating, a child who has behavioural problems… In a normal office situation, team members would talk to each other during the break or at the coffee machine and perhaps confide in each other about this. This creates connection, understanding and patience the moment such a person loses their temper during a meeting. Now that we have to miss these coffee machine moments, it may be that less attention is paid to the personal circumstances of a team member, and therefore less understanding and patience.
- Proportions are becoming more focused
Imagine that you have a colleague who you like very much, but who’s not working efficiently. When you’ve just had a good laugh together at a joke in the office, you’re more likely to forgive that person and even help them in their duties. You like each other, so you just do that.
When you work from home, it can suddenly become clear which team member is not keeping appointments. Because the ‘I like you, so you can make some mistakes’ factor is less prominent, this can now lead to (aggravating) a conflict.
Don’t fall into the trap
These changes show that it is important not to lose sight of the fact that you work with people and that every employee is looking for connection. To ‘belong’. People with their own personality and living conditions.
As a manager, make sure you leave room to create that connection during online meetings, even if it seems more efficient to just talk about to-do lists and targets. Speak out to each other about what you are thankful for and what is going on in your life.
For example: I am fortunate to have a team where these things have a place and where there is mutual understanding when things are just as different due to private circumstances. During our last meeting we very consciously expressed this to each other. This gives us new energy for the coming period.
Becoming a better manager
In my training institute you can learn how to become a better manager and how to handle your team well. If you would like to learn that too, please contact me via a (now free of charge) Strategy Talk, so that we can discuss your options together!