Essential Partners: How to keep remote teams connected, creative, and efficient

3 proven steps that any organization can take to become more effective and resilient

Cambridge, Massachusetts, UNITED STATES


Cambridge, MA, May 12, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The COVID-19 crisis has put companies and teams under extreme stress. Not only are workers navigating the sudden shift to a remote office, they are also wrestling with the anxiety caused by this pandemic.

As a result, colleagues may struggle to find the focus, trust, and creativity they need to succeed. Teams may become frayed. Communication norms may break down. Minor conflicts and frustrations may grow into dysfunctions that undermine the whole organization.

Founded in 1989, Essential Partners (EP) equips people to live and work better together in community by building trust and understanding across differences. And for a nonprofit whose mission is to foster community and connection, EP has done a surprising amount of its work remotely.

Our clients and practitioners are located all over the world, from Silicon Valley to Sarajevo. The transition to social distancing has been smoother for EP because of our long experience with remote learning, coaching, and facilitation. EP’s trademark approach (used internally as well) builds strong relationships, team coherence, and effective communication practices in a virtual office setting.

Drawing on that experience, here are a few proven steps that any organization can take to keep remote teams connected, creative, efficient—and resilient enough to face the road ahead.

Connect before content

When you’re together in an office, it’s easy to read a coworker’s mood. They arrive in a flustered whirlwind or greet you with a little extra pep. Working remotely, we lose that insight into our colleagues’ emotional states. But we all bring our whole lives to work—and right now, that means people are bringing a lot of fear and anxiety.

Before we begin any meeting at EP, virtual or in-person, we connect before getting to the agenda.

In practice, that usually means a quick go-around. Ask a question that invites something personal, give everyone a minute to think about it, then let each team member respond within a specific amount of time.

The question might be something like, “What from the rest of your life are you bringing to our discussion today?” Or it might be as simple as asking for a single word that tells the team about their state of mind.

Even one word can help your team members see each other as more than just colleagues, which can help defuse tensions and improve collaboration.

At bat, on deck, in the hole (a facilitation best practice)

Virtual meetings can be frustrating. There are technological challenges—spotty internet, muted participants, videos not working—as well as interpersonal challenges, like talking over one another and feeling anxious about whether you’ll get a chance to speak.

Team members can come out of a bad meeting feeling excluded, self-conscious, or hurt.

Structure and clarity are crucial to having an effective virtual meeting, one where team members feel heard and included. And baseball offers a model to help organize that participation.

The meeting leader should state the lineup after every speaker, so people always know when their turn will come: Nadiya’s up, David is on deck, and then LeVonna.

One person is at bat (speaking now), another person is on deck (speaking next), and a third person is in the hole. The meeting leader acts as umpire.

The clarity this provides will set expectations about participation. This creates a sense of equity and orderliness. The structure lets colleagues avoid missteps that can bruise important working relationships.

Make space for reflection

Silences can be unbearable on video calls. Our natural impulse is to keep the conversation going, to fill the space, and move the meeting forward.

But people often need a moment to find the right words or organize their thoughts. To leverage the strengths of the whole team, you need to create opportunities for them to reflect on what they want to say.

At Essential Partners, we build silence into the structure of meetings. We do this by being explicit about opportunities to reflect on a question or topic, “Let’s take one minute to reflect; write down your thoughts if it helps.” You might share your screen with a timer displayed so people know how long they have until the discussion will begin.

When you make space for reflection, your virtual meetings will be sharper, the ideas will be more creative, and your colleagues will feel more empowered and included.

Transitioning to a remote office will come with its share of headaches. But these three principles—connecting first, using a structure, making space for reflection—will help avoid some common pitfalls. By fostering personal relationships in small but consistent ways, your team will be more creative and productive, more open to new ideas, and more resilient when challenges inevitably arise.

Essential Partners is a learning-centered firm that collaborates with multinationals and small companies, nonprofits and foundations, all across the globe. Find out more about how to work with us.


        

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