WFH Week 11; What We’ve Learned – Back to ‘Storming’

We ran two team events last week (virtually of course) and although very different in style Tuckman featured in both. For those of you unfamiliar with the name you might know it better as the ‘Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing’ model. Dr Bruce Tuckman published his theory way back in 1965, which for us definitely proves its worth – any model still holding its own after 55 years has to be a bit special. The premise is that every team goes through four stages of development;

  • Forming; when a team first comes together
  • Storming; the stage where teams begin defining and challenging roles, responsibilities, dynamics etc.
  • Norming; the period where a comfortable and effective status quo is found
  • Performing; the point where a team is really flying, they have a strong identity, they can work and think as a collective and are united in their purpose and their shared success

 

The ‘storming’ stage often gets a bad rap – people can mis-read it as being solely about conflict and competition. It’s where boundaries are tested, and individual personalities emerge. But, it can also be a time of great energy and advancement and it’s absolutely necessary if teams are to realise their potential. There’s no skipping over any of the steps, no matter how tempting.

 

The two teams we were working with are both well acquainted with Tuckman, naturally the focus pre-COVID had been about getting to the ‘performing’ phase; what processes needed to be in place, what behaviours were important etc. What came out of our virtual events was the very real sense for these senior leaders of having ‘taken a step backwards’ – in Tuckman terms at least. It’s an iterative model so moving backwards and forwards is part of the process, it’s not linear. But nevertheless these were genuine feelings shared by the two groups. The leaders we were working with were of course able to see ‘storming’ as an opportunity to regroup and rebuild and critical for planning ahead in these challenging times. But it was important to take the time to explore what was happening and to help reconcile a seemingly backward trajectory with sustainable progress.

 

The factors that are evident in high performing teams such as; collective problem solving, confidence of shared purpose and direction, high levels of motivation, team spirit etc. have been stretched to the limit by more recent siloed ways of working. It’s harder to participate and contribute at times, teams are having to learn new ways of working together and it doesn’t suit everyone, team needs are often secondary to individual needs. As one team member put it, ‘It’s so intense on a personal level, it’s harder to look out for each other.’ Especially when you’re ‘cycling through different emotions throughout the day.’

 

As leaders and teams begin to move away from WFH and back into a shared space, the end result most likely a blend of the two – the way we work and interact will need to continue to evolve. We will almost certainly need to be more agile in our thinking, pace may continue to trump precision in our decision making, priorities/OKRs/KPIs will change. And most of this will require us as teams to revisit the ‘storming’ zone (if we’re not there already). But within that we’re encouraging teams to;

  • continue to show empathy and care for each other
  • work to stay HOT (honesty, openness and trust)
  • focus on the ‘we’ not the ‘I’
  • see ‘storming’ as positive, as a way to come back stronger

 

As one of our clients once described it, ‘I don’t particularly like the feeling before a storm, that sense of pressure building. But once a storm has passed there is a freshness to everything, a cleanliness and clarity that wasn’t there before.’ And who wouldn’t want more of that right now?

WFH Week 6; What We’ve Heard

As we come to the end of our sixth week of lockdown at Maier, we’re definitely feeling the hit of ‘COVID-19 fatigue’. WFH is great for reflection and perhaps a bit of contemplation and learning but we’ve also, thankfully, been super busy coaching Exec teams and senior leaders – virtually of course. It’s pretty intense though, there’s a lot more focus needed working in the digital medium don’t you think? One of our clients summed it up perfectly, ‘the digital world makes it much easier…but it’s not easy.’

So this week we thought we’d just be a bit random and share some interesting snippets from our many conversations.

Things that made us laugh (very welcome);

  • A CEO working from the spare bedroom, arrived late for our MS Teams call and was very apologetic. He’d broken a glass but was keen to assure us it wasn’t his fault! He fessed up to being a bit of ‘a dishwasher fascist’ at the best of times but in lockdown he’s becomes obsessed with how it’s loaded and someone in the house (no names were shared) had got it wrong.
  • Having just kicking off a group Zoom call with the usual pleasantries someone’s teenage son came bounding into her room, saw she was in conference and turned on his heel to leave, flashing his bare bottom for all to see in the process!!! What followed was silence and then absolute hysteria.
  • A friend was relaying her tale of going to her local London park for her daily exercise slot. Being a warm day there were a few folk sunbathing although socially distanced. Without warning the police arrive and to her astonishment (and amusement) as one all the bodies came to life – hands and legs in the air ‘exercising’ like mad.

Things to reflect on;

  • A global CEO we work with saw his company shift from 20% of staff working from home to 80% within the first week of lockdown. That is a HUGE change and in sharing his thoughts he emphasised how aware leaders need to be of the different rates at which people are adapting to the shift; people can become very sensitive, much more so than they normally are and small things can be blown out of all proportion. In his words, ‘you need very good judgement in how, when and what you’re communicating.’
  • A great message received after an evening Zoom session, ‘Thank you all for that – I feel nourished by your company.’
  • Having referenced a particular model of Old Power/New Power in our Exec team work, it was very gratifying to be told by another CEO how it has become even more relevant in this crisis and how they are utilising it on a daily basis. She’s looking forward to working with us in using it as the foundation for the ‘new normal’ they will be seeking, which links brilliant with a favourite quite of ours at the moment, ‘It may not feel like it at the moment but the foundation for your recovery from this emergency is already being laid.’

Things to think about in the coming week;

  • At a conference late last year, before COVID had really hit, Michelle Obama was already talking about the importance of ‘planning in joy’. ‘You might think you should not feel joy when other people are suffering, but you need to find joy or else risk burning out.’ Her advice is to ‘think about what you are going to do this week that is going to make you selfishly smile’. Now even more relevant than ever.
  • As we begin to think and plan for a return from lockdown – however tentative and far away that seems, remember that for some this will surface very real anxieties while for others it will represent some much needed hope and energy. Remember to check in with team members individually to gauge where their heads (and hearts) are at.
  • Coming together as a team for no reason, is a reason. As we fall into our lockdown routines, working through an ever growing and shifting list of actions and tasks don’t overlook the importance of sometimes just hanging out together.

What we’ve heard – E’s and I’s in isolation

E (extravert) and I (introvert) in MBTI is all about where we get our energy from. E’s choosing to look externally for their energy sources and I’s preferring to look inwardly for theirs. It’s important to remember that everyone spends some time extraverting and some time introverting and we shouldn’t confuse introversion with shyness or reclusiveness. They are not related. But, no matter what we thought we knew about the preferences of E’s and I’s, even we’ve been surprised by their reactions to WFH.

Don’t assume it’s just E’s that ‘hate’ working in isolation, we’ve heard the same from plenty of I’s too. The I’s we’re speaking to are missing the ‘easy’ connection they have when colleagues are close by. Instead I’s are having to consciously make the first move, emailing less, calling in more – some days it can feel relentless. Unable to ‘absorb the atmosphere’ or ‘read the room’ before crafting their response, I’s are having to jump into the mix regardless. But, there are things that make it easier including being part of a truly trusted and trusting team. Lockdown is proving to be a real test of just how comfortable we are with those we work with – after all, we’re now spending time in each other’s kitchens, living rooms, spare bedrooms – how could we not know more about each other by the end of this?

Left to their own devices I’s also face the danger of overthinking everything. Turns out that having too much space to reflect can be as challenging as having too little. Many of the I’s we’ve spoken to are finding their tendency to be introspective almost overwhelming as the day progresses. Never the less there is also a genuine joy in spending time away from the office and for some there’s a real sense of anxiety at the thought of going back to the office routine.

Hearing colleagues talk about WFH being the new way forward is of course filling some E’s with dread. But not as many of them are climbing the walls as you might expect. As long as energy needs are fulfilled with plenty of virtual contact going on some are quite enjoying it, particularly if they also happen to be a J as well. Time to talk things through and then time to get on and DO IT! But, a lot of the E’s we’re in contact with have referenced the impact of lockdown in and out of work. For E’s unable to connect to their wider network as they would have done before the lack of interaction is tough. Whether you’re a leader or colleague make sure you’re reaching out and checking in – and it absolutely doesn’t need to always be linked to work. In fact, even better if it isn’t sometimes.

And finally, nobody we’ve been talking to – E or I – is missing the commute!

Celebrating #20years trading

The Kaleidoscope Effect

When working with top teams from different backgrounds and sectors, often at different stages in their corporate life-cycles, you might naturally expect to be focusing on a number of very different issues, specific and unique to each team. But, as we’ve learned over the years, this isn’t necessarily the case.

In fact, while recently delivering a series of strategic Executive team events (‘custom-made’ for each client of course – that is the Maier way after all) we began to notice an emerging pattern. It seems that when it comes to the C-suite, problems are often not made for sharing. With HOT (honesty, openness and trust) being one of our markers, what stood out during the sessions was that even the most gifted and enlightened of Execs still feel the need to hive off functional issues to be dealt with later behind the proverbial ‘closed doors’, often with minimal input from colleagues.

What may seem mundane and trivial on the surface can prove to be something of a chronic distraction –  more often than not these departmental conundrums have a much wider impact than we realise. With meeting agendas already bursting at the seams and top teams having to work at hyper-speed to stay ahead of complex change curves, it’s easy to understand why Exec members don’t always bring problems to the board table. And let’s not forget, for most of us ‘going public’ with problems, even when not of our making but certainly within our remit, often takes guts and a good dash of bravery.

Team-powered problem solving

The big message here is ‘you don’t have to do it all on your own’, in fact, it’s better if you don’t!

“Tricky problems must be shaped before they can be solved. To start that process, and stimulate novel thinking, leaders should look through multiple lenses.”

The value of ‘team-powered problem solving’ is in the diversity of approaches it brings to unravelling difficult issues. The ‘what-ifs’ become ‘so-whats’ because the combined efforts of a team inevitably generate more options and ideas than any single individual, no matter how talented or experienced, ever could. A great example of this was during a recent event we facilitated where an Exec member happened to share a problem she’d been having with a particular team of hers as part of a HOT development session. The collective input and ideas from everyone else in the Exec team proved invaluable, not only in terms of offering varying perspectives but also in confirming their support. By the end of the session a plan of action had been drawn up and wheels already set in motion.

Then there’s the collective learning and shared support to add into the equation – solutions might be simple but that doesn’t always make them easy to implement and knowing you have a team behind you, all invested in your success, makes any challenge more manageable.

This approach isn’t just for the ‘here and now’ – similar tactics  can be used when looking ahead, in avoiding anticipated problems and identifying potential ‘bumps in the road’. To find out more, contact us.

Inspiring spaces 

On the subject of problem solving, a change of scene can be hugely beneficial in providing the right environment for open and honest conversation, along with increasing productivity levels and simply getting the creative juices flowing.

Over the past 20 years we’ve had the privilege of working in some truly amazing spaces, but our standout venue so far this Summer has to be the Turner Contemporary in Margate.  It provided the perfect setting for this Executive group to reflect, to take time out in thinking that bit more creatively around what’s front of mind and enjoy exploring some new possibilities.

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