In 2015, Shane Snow was running Contently, a content marketing platform he co-founded with his friends. With the fast paced growth they were experiencing he asked himself a question most leaders have considered at some point in their career: Why is it that most teams are less productive then the sum of their parts?
Research consistently shows that after corporate mergers, 80 percent of teams either don't improve or get worse. So how is it that a small number of teams actually become wildly successful?
Snow spent the next three years trying to understand what separates amazing teams from those that are stuck in mediocrity. In 2018, he published Dream Teams: Working Together Without Falling Apart (Portfolio). His research has never been more relevant than right now.
With the effect of COVID-19, we are now facing the greatest shift in employee work habits in the last 40 years. As a result of this sudden change, we are hearing reports of teams experiencing greater levels of stress, spending countless hours on call and working through the night to make up for the missing time. Fundamentally, a major loss in productivity across the board.
So, what will allow your team to be among the few that become more productive in these turbulent times? Snow explains that there are three critical paradigm shifts you need to consider:
- Shift your expectations on trust. As Kellogg professor Kent Grayson, PhD, emphasizes, trust is built over time as we demonstrate competence, honesty and benevolence. But when we no longer have face-to-face contact and an ability to stop in and visit with people, Snow notes that it's critical that you first have to trust your team members and their abilities. You must be willing to be vulnerable first and when your team follows through, that vulnerability will be rewarded with a greater level of trust across your organization. The expectation that trust would somehow proceed vulnerability doesn't hold up to the research. In fact, work by Jeffery Polzer demonstrated that in order to build trust we must be vulnerable first giving others the opportunity to acknowledge and reciprocate. Once we acknowledge their vulnerability, in return trust grows. This is what is called a "vulnerability loop".
- Shift from a process-focus to a deliverables-focus. Since our teams are no longer easily accessible, our job can no longer be to manage the process. If we try we will likely interrupt constantly, and be on an excessive number of meetings. Instead, we need to manage the outcome. This means that we have to be very clear with our teams about expectations of what we need, how we need it, and when we need it. As managers, our job is to then figure out how to remove any and all obstacles from their way so that they can achieve that outcome. Much like in scrum, the scrum master's job is to solve problems and eliminate hurdles, allowing for the team's success. This also means you need to get used to the fact that not everything will be done exactly as you want and that this is okay.
- Shift your perception of peoples' lives. It is nature to assume that what works for us works for other people, but we have very little insight into what peoples' day-to-day lives are actually like. If someone is sheltering at home with their parents and children, their most productive time might be in the early mornings or late evenings, similarly, if they are working from a different time zone their work hours might be shifted. For these and countless other reasons, it is essential to understand how people work and when to best engage them, not only as the manager but for everyone on the team. When we were located in the same office, we didn't need to take these issues into consideration as much since the grandparents may be home with the kids, while your teammate is with you working. To figure this out, Snow offers a free work habit quiz that you can take in order to create the most effective work habits for you and your team.
It is natural for all of us to feel overworked, over-Zoomed, and isolated, but understanding these critical shifts in how we need to work moving forward cannot only offer an opportunity to ease the stress of the situation but also make your team more effective, happier and productive. As with every transition it takes time to develop the skills and practices. The desire to micromanage, hand hold, and question your team's abilities are natural. So it may be helpful to put a note on your screen to remind you that your job is to trust and understand the particulars of their situation, and manage an outcome. By doing this in the coming weeks, you will find your leadership and management muscles growing and a more effective and productive team.