More workplaces continue to reopen, but it's unlikely that the old rhythms of work will stay the same. Teams that have adapted during the Covid-19 pandemic shutdown are starting to realize that certain workplace rituals aren't nearly as sacred or essential as they once thought.
As leaders sort through their hopes and plans for a post-pandemic rebound, now is the time to make smart shifts in how we engage the full potential of our teams. From generating new ideas to holding meetings and sharing feedback, leaders can turn the reopening into an opportunity for boosting their team's creativity, productivity, and growth in the weeks ahead.
Reconsider where and how you get ideas.
A distributed workforce creates new possibilities for how teams generate ideas and solve problems. In a world where teams don't office together, the very notion of a "team" becomes more fluid and flexible. While assembling a group of like-minded individuals may create a safe and comfortable environment, it can also hold back the productive friction that leads to breakthrough thinking.
The same goes for how you gather information. Now that teams aren't huddled together in an office, leaders can make a clean break from brainstorming practices that often result in idea suppression. When ideas are challenged -- without being assaulted -- people are more likely to open up and share.
Use your next Zoom meeting to try something I call "speedback." Present a problem (How do we convert paid users? What should our message be to customers?) and split the team into 1:1 focus groups using breakout rooms. Zoom makes it easy to manually assign participants to different rooms. Ask team members to record their ideas, and then remix the groups to form new pairings and generate a fresh set of ideas. The fast pace and fresh perspectives will be more fun and fruitful.
Make meetings more reflective.
The movement to make meetings more effective usually focuses on two solutions: group size (think Jeff Bezos's "two pizza" rule) and clarity of purpose. But if you're participating in one of the 55 million meetings taking place every day, chances are you've felt the stifling effects of "production blocking," where exchanges are limited by artificial speaking blocks (usually dominated by the strongest personalities) and self-censorship.
Instead, make your meetings more reflective by circulating to your team a list of possible actions or approaches (collected ahead of time) and then starting the meeting with silent reflection. Putting all the options on the table and allowing individuals to independently evaluate them lets the entire team think together at once without creating unnecessary bloat or blockage.
Whether your team is meeting in person or online, there are numerous tools and apps that can facilitate a more reflective give-and-take. Some helpful features include real-time anonymous voting, the rank ordering and categorizing of idea options and anonymous commenting. If you prefer a low-tech alternative, consider a "gallery walk" where individuals spread ideas across whiteboards or Post-it pads and then rove about, leaving written feedback for others to see.
Give feedback that's focused on strengths.
Speaking of feedback, there's growing recognition that it's more effective to focus on an individual's strengths, not deficits. The best feedback helps others understand their potential through a partnership approach that drives positive and lasting change.
Consider a "15-2-1" approach to holding these conversations: Spend 15 minutes once a week talking to two members of your team. These casual conversations should be geared toward development rather than appraisal -- a recent success, for example, or an area where the employee feels he or she has exceled -- and should be led by the employee.
These conversations give leaders new insights about what truly matters to their employees and provides an opening for real dialogue about where these strengths can be applied. Instead of reacting to situations they can no longer control, leaders and employees shape a path of progress as events continue to unfold.
As people get back to work, we should resist going back to "business as usual." The only constant at work is that things will change. Making smart shifts can restore the way teams plan and grow together, helping to ensure that these gains stick around long after the crisis fades.