Leading from a distance: What makes people in a team feel safe - My learnings
This article on psychological safety has made me think of my last leadership function and the sudden switch to distant online work more than a year ago. Today, many teams continue in home office mode and find hybrid ways of working. Here is what helped me and my team through the unprecedented times:
- First of all: A strong team spirit with a high level of trust is key when personal encounters become rare. When people can rely on each other no matter what, a crisis won’t shake them easily. Of course, this level of confidence and true team spirit takes years to build, ideally outside of crisis mode.
- Shifting from long virtual team meetings to high-frequency 1:1 conversations, taking the personal situation of each team member into account: a mother with kids in home schooling or a team member who lives alone and has difficulties setting boundaries between work and private life in home office – showing interest, knowing what’s going on without intruding privacy and supporting your people makes it easier for everyone.
- Observe and adapt to the individual working and communication styles of your team members: One person might appreciate more small talk than others, another needs frequent exchange on concrete actions, yet other needs to be encouraged to voice what’s on his or her mind… It takes particular attention and care to understand and appreciate such subtle differences in interactions.
- Personal transparency and honesty: More than before, share what is on your mind, what is easy for you and what you might be struggling with, what you don’t have an answer or solution to. Tell the truth, don’t shy away from being vulnerable, and have the courage to accept being challenged. And if needed, bear the discomfort of the situation – there is nothing wrong with standing by your true self.
- Walk & Talk: Whenever circumstances permit it, take time for a walk with each of your team members. Bilateral conversations in the open air have many upsides: the brain is more creative when moving (at least in my case) and walking is just so healthy – do I need to add more?
- Encourage people to take breaks (and don’t forget to take them yourself): At the beginning of the pandemic-related shutdown, when all of us started to work from home, I forgot to take lunch breaks and often felt dizzy and tired in the afternoon. Soon I realized it was because I haven’t eaten since the morning and did not drink enough. So, my advice to myself back then: Block a lunch slot in your calendar, meet up with someone on the phone if it helps and keep a large bottle of water at your desk (just as I used to do in the office).
- Last but not least: No matter what, have your team’s back and make sure they feel it.
Today I help young leaders to cope with the challenges of leading a team in a diverse environment: partially virtual, across various sites and/or with diverse cultural and professional backgrounds. My own leadership journey is a great asset in this respect.