It’s happened! After weeks of lockdown (admittedly now partial lockdown) we’ve had our first experience of BLOG BLOCK! Sounds a bit gruesome, feels slightly painful but in the spirit of sharing with HOT (our Maier mantra of honesty – openness – trust) that’s what’s been going on here. Every week, until now, the ideas have flowed easily. As with all our creative design and writing the process that’s evolved over time is one of gathering ideas, one of us then taking ownership and running with it for a bit before passing the baton between us until we’ve shaped it up and given it our collective seal of approval.
This might sound a time consuming approach but we’re talking of working collaboratively at pace – the speed is important as it energises, keeps it fresh and means the time investment isn’t out of kilter with the end result. It has to be said, since the emergence of the COVID and WFH this way of working has been even easier and a bit of a joy. It connects and engages us, perhaps twice as deeply as before, we can intersperse other projects and pieces of work with this flow of communication and creativity. And it’s not just us – clients are telling us that as senior teams they are feeling more connected than ever – catching up more regularly, with added focus and intent. We get that, it’s the same for us too.
Pace and momentum are becoming more of a theme of late. This week a client of ours was venting her frustrations a bit, feeling her Exec team had lost their way in terms of ways of working – ‘over collaborating at the expense of impact and results’. It was one of those conversations where a whole new flow of ideas is secured just though the sharing of the emotions as well as the facts. The point of referencing this here is to emphasise that any (and all) teams committed to collaborative ways of working need to be aware of the bigger picture as well – the context they are operating in. When do you fly solo, when do you confer, how and when do you collaborate with others as a whole team and when do you act as representatives?
Some of the take-aways for us from that conversation were;
‘Yes, we want collaboration but not at the expense of independent thinking – momentum around delivering must be respected. Collaboration cannot afford to drift into lack of urgency or commerciality – it must add value. Ultimately the source of your energy has to come from YOU along with personal accountability – and in this case those ‘P’s cannot overly rely on the ‘J’s to pull it together.’
When asked what was front of mind for her at the moment it was the sense of everything taking too long with a lot of thinking and creating together (big tick) but not enough actioning and delivering (not so good). It’s that imperative of agreeing and owning when the deadline is, where you all sit on that continuum of fit for purpose/good enough/brilliant/perfection. HOT communication and challenge define great collaboration. There’s no space for self-indulgence, over thinking it or just doing your own thing.
Some clever delegate in a session this week suggested that rather than tag this period as a ‘new normal’ we should instead refer to it as the ‘new reality.’ ‘Normal’ in his mind inferred a level of consistency and stability – of knowing what to expect. When in fact for many this couldn’t be further from the truth. By chasing ‘normal’ we could be in danger of becoming less experimental, of thinking what we have now will do. Of forgetting to look at where there are opportunities to improve. We shouldn’t overthink what’s in front of us, but we should be looking at trying out new ideas, ‘swinging the bat’ as one of our American partners often says. We won’t hit a ‘home run’ every time but at least we’re in the game. At least we’re contributing positive energy and generating a shared sense of momentum.
Well look at that, BLOG BLOCK overcome! On reflection we’d perhaps neglected our spirit of collaboration and in a busy week one of us jumped in saying ‘OK I’ll do the blog’ without any of the usual pooling of ideas and sparks of inspiration. Which in the end took more not less time. Lesson learnt.
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?
You can do a lot in ten weeks
Once we were all safely into WFH, we enjoyed anticipating how we were going to make the most of this apparent pause in BAU; what business books we were finally going to get round to reading and how we were going to use this time to find a bit more balance in our working lives. Equilibrium became our favourite word. We immediately signed up to the Down Dog Yoga App, secretly enjoyed seeing folk in their homes spiced up by the occasional random family members inadvertently moving into shot along with wondering who the hand and arm belonged to as a cup of tea arrived on some lucky person’s desk/table. Then after about a week or so of such novelties they seemed to quickly become the norm – did you notice how many people were so pleased to discover the ‘fake’ beach or loft apartment backgrounds offered by Zoom or MS Teams and then just as quickly couldn’t be bothered with them? You can see me in the spare bedroom with the dove wallpaper, it’s ok, I don’t care anymore.
But like us all we very quickly found ourselves thinking; ‘OK, how do we continue to offer support and development and insight (at a time when teams are going to need it most) without being able to be with them? How do we make Maier digital? And that was pretty much the last time our feet touched the floor/Yoga mat. Pause, what pause? This is intense.
We’ve embraced our inner geek
We’ve impressed and surprised ourselves with just how techy we’ve become and how quickly we’ve been able to move from novice to ‘self-designated expert’. This is definitely something we have in common with most of our clients too – and the IT Director who told us 6 months ago how we should all be using Microsoft Teams and was ignored has been gracious enough not to say – ‘I told you so’! This is something we will not be letting go of and intend to continue building into new ways of operating over the coming months/years. Mind you, we do miss our Post-It Notes.
Being apart has drawn us closer together
At Maier we have always cultivated a culture of team and family and because of this we’re genuinely missing hanging out together. But we’ve continued to share, celebrate, laugh, challenge, chat, create and plan. And like all families we constantly talk about the day when we’ll all be back together, in the same room (possibly still 2 metres apart – but hey, we’ll take it). We obviously miss clients too. We work so closely with our clients it’s sometimes hard to see where they stop, and we begin. Being part of their journeys through COVID has only galvanized those relationships and made us even more determined in our purpose. When has it ever been more important than now to ‘set leaders free’ – coupled with our new caveat of ‘safely’ of course.
The world might have turned upside down, but some things haven’t changed
What’s always mattered to us, still matters, but even more so now. Before COVID struck we did a piece of work with our amazing friends at Borne. We revisited what was important to us at Maier and why what we do and how we do it is so unique. As part of the process we redrafted our values but the one value that has always been at the core of who we are at Maier remains unchanged. Generosity of spirit has been our beacon throughout the twenty five plus years we’ve been around, but it’s perhaps never been more relevant than it is now. For the time being Maier might be solely digital, but that hasn’t changed who we are or what we believe in. Generosity of spirit is still our North star.
We still look forward to the weekend
In a conversation the other day with one of the Directors at a large Housing Group they mentioned that even though they haven’t been able to go out at weekends, they still loved it when the weekend arrived. It struck us that until very recently, even though the highlight for most of us has been queuing patiently outside a supermarket, we still looked forward to the weekend arriving. Miraculously on a Friday afternoon our houses revert back to homes having been offices all week, the final ‘home-school’ bell signals the end of what has been a productive, challenging, fraught, messy (if you’ve been doing art) five days and having whipped through the house and garden with the vigour and ruthlessness of Marie Kondo in those early weeks, all that’s left to do (in our imagination at least) is to kick back and enjoy the weather. Bring on the weekend we say.