A Lesson The Pandemic Taught Our Team

Because everything else in our product is so carefully calibrated to measure one component or the other, when we started researching the “Stay Connected” pack we designed as part of our COVID aid response, one of the things we asked our research groups to tell us, was how useful a certain question was. They were indeed to mark it 1-5 between “extremely useful” to “not at all”. We then spent time splitting them into categories just as we did with our other usual questions, we mapped the behaviours, the types and the premises and we spent a design sprint discussing if results should feed into existent components or if they should feature separately. 

We’ve only asked a few people before we had a revelation and realised that rigorous research will be all but impossible to set-up a priori before the questions were part of our product and that we should question if it should exist at all. That while we need to keep testing to see which of them more readily help, we won’t know that till a time in the future when the results would have translated in one of our existent components such as Morale or Resilience and that, more importantly, we have to challenge the premise that we need to quantify and instead we need to tap into what human moment they create. 

In other words, the questions in the Stay Connected pack are not there to measure. They are there to create a feeling. A feeling of being heard. Of being seen. Of commonality. A precious understanding that we are all going through the same things and despite glaring differences and opposite positions, this frightening VUCA on steroids unfolding reality, is an intensely shared one.  

It was a tough pill for us as a team to swallow, we have spent so much time being forensic about measurements and obsessing about the right tone to ask, the right reward to use to encourage speaking up and the right calibration of our algorithm behind them to accurately measure, that understanding the value of the question irrespective of the answer itself wasn’t evident. And yet, in this situation, what counted was just that. Asking. “Just” asking.

We also spend an immense amount of time telling everyone to take the time to let go of preconceived ideas and to dare to think out of the box and to find ways to relate and yet here we were applying the same quantifying and clinical diagnosis lens as we had done for the algorithm behind Psychological Safety to something that was utterly different. 

When we finished the pack and showed it to people, new clients and old partners alike, the recognition, the relatedness, the knee-slapping “oh yes!” were palpable and that’s all that the pack is meant to do. Contrary to our initial instinct, it isn’t there to measure any of the things we initially thought we should try and quantify with candidates such as: “current resilience reserves”; “optimism”; “digital confidence”; “home situation”; “remote readiness”; “crisis-induced fear” and others. It’s there to make the viewer realise the commonality “I never knew Gene is struggling with homeschooling too, hates video calls, is overwhelmed by too many Zoom meets, works double hard, doesn’t ask for help and didn’t think it was fair to take a sick day off now that we’re working remotely, I’m not alone!” is ten times more valuable than any of our quantifiable moments. 

We all know instinctively this period is going to be immensely taxing to our mental wellbeing as individuals as well as teams, but in what ways we can’t anticipate. It does all depend on when it is that we can draw a line under all this nightmare. What personal price would we have paid, what one has the enterprise paid and of course, how much did it cost the economy as well as society at large. 

These prices will come in several different varieties from physical numbers in the following recession to emotional price tags that could well be even less affordable long term. At the risk of aggravating economists everywhere, the economy in itself is an artificial construct so with enough goodwill, damage in that area could simply be erased by a monumental reset -that may well be needed to rethink how we behave as a species anyhow-, but mending how this entire brush with death made us feel both as individuals, and as teams -whether those teams were at work or in our personal lives-, is a lot harder. 

It is in fact so hard, we are seriously worried about the long term effects this will have at a team level and how it will affect their Psychological Safety because if we all agree that the more Psychological Safety a team has, the higher their performance, then the opposite is likely true as well and it’s a drop we can all ill afford.

Much of it hinges on the team’s previous levels of Psychological Safety, how tight they already were, how resilient, how in-built was courage and a culture of speaking up. So for the teams that were scoring high, this period, even if it brought about a highly unsettling sudden move to remote, would have been reaffirming and strengthening. And then there are those teams that may not have been as strong on Psychological Safety, but they were well versed in remote and had little exposure to the outside world where everyone else wasn’t, so they had a chance to hold on tight to each other and build it fast even if they didn’t know its name. 

The rest of everyone is in a place between fear and paralysis, between doing their best in the new eerie environment and with the ask they understand is asked of them, while operating under extreme uncertainty and avoiding rocking the boat. And therefore not speaking up. And therefore impression managing like never before on and off video calls trying desperately to appear competent and in control. Or trying to seem like a good leader that understands and cares. And therefore dropping what little Psychological Safety magic they had to begin with. A drop that very soon will start to translate in productivity issues so big I dare think they will significantly add to the global recession. 

More and more articles and more and more voices call for a positive spin and list the good things that will undoubtedly surface out of this. It’s undeniable that there are amazing lessons to be taken to heart that have emerged from this starting with community expressions of compassion, to the heroic acts of some, all the way to how this would have brought about lasting changes in how we work and whether we understand the value of comprehending the value of human moments at work. 

To add to the voices that are optimistic, we think the lessons are evident and this very article is about how we learned one when we created our “Stay Connected” pack, but we are willing to bet the farm every team has its own bevvy of “A-ha” moments. How could they not? It’s also clear that this sudden injection of extreme flexibility global exercise, while cruel, would have had many amazingly positive effects long term. 

We have seen more empathy in team leaders than ever before. And the idea of “team” in itself has expanded and was lent to all projects aimed at doing good. Not to mention we have met teams from all industries and walks of life who are amazing enough that they instantly comprehended the extreme importance of Psychological Safety in this context and decided to put it before any other to-do’s that competed for their attention. All amazing sings that our return to humanity, sudden and forced by extreme circumstances as it began, is here to stay. 

The positive responses in this trying time all draw on an existent thirst for emotion we collectively had in our respective workplaces. It draws on an acute need for compassion we tried to do without. It comes from how we had spent far too much thinking of our people as resources, whereas they aren’t. It is in a way, a response to what I call our extreme “human debt” - what we owe our humans at work and haven’t given it to them in the last however long. And that is thankfully changing fast.

So really, when it comes to the components of Psychological Safety we’ve all shown Courage and Flexibility and that will build Resilience. We’re all Learning intensely, more than we have done in years. We all realised Empathy is both needed and permitted -an indescribable shift from its previous ideological confinement to “the little table of fluffy stuff”- and that it is ok to be human. Now if we can resolutely focus on Speaking Up, on being intently open and over-communicating and on the Morale of the team, if we can remain obsessed with the team and protect our work-bubble then we can stop Impression Managing and let go of some of the fear we’re conquering so we stand a good chance to stay -or even become!- Psychologically Safe and therefore high performing teams. 

In tomorrow’s video we’ll tell you more about some of the questions in the pack so keep an eye on your inbox for the opposite of today’s article - a short, to the point, practical guide of what you can do but meanwhile stay safe, stay sane, stay learning and stay psychologically safe!

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