Team-soothing techniques from the frontline

Tuesday 02 June 2020
The COVID-19 crisis has forced change on all of us. We asked CMI members how they're adapting their style to engage with their teams - and we had some awesome responses.
a woman sitting at a desk talking on a virtual meeting

Throughout the Covid-19 lockdown period, we’ve received a stream of feedback from the CMI community. You’ve shared with us your tips on homeworking, the frustrations of being furloughed, tips on managing remote teams and much, much more.

Among the most thought-provoking feedback has been around how you’re engaging with your team and customers. So we picked out some stand-out comments...

Prioritise the customer

“I, like many others, am working from home with a reduced team due to furloughing,” Simon Evans CMgr told us. Simon is head of national accounts for a waste management business and, at the time, half of his direct reports and half of his business support team were temporarily not working.

“We can't visit our customers but must bridge the gap between feeding our paper mill with recycled cardboard and keeping our customers' service on track. It's a challenge!”

Like many managers during the crisis, Simon has focused heavily on communication. Here’s his daily pattern:

“We have a Webex meeting at 8.30am to have a chat about the day ahead; the afternoon Webex lasts about an hour and is a screen-sharing session to discuss different topics.

“We keep close to our customers and maintain regular contact on the phone. We have one thing in common: we are all doing our best to get through this situation. It’s crucial that we empathise with our customers and offer our support where we can – that’s always appreciated.”

Keep teams engaged

“The twice-daily contact keeps us all connected to the team and the business, and the 8.30am start keeps up their discipline and their routine, which is quietly reassuring for them, I think,” Simon tells us.

“I vary the afternoon sessions and we have taken this time to re-evaluate and improve some of our processes, as well as discuss areas for training and development. We found that some areas for development were as simple as creating training presentations and delivering training sessions to each other.

“Each Friday afternoon, the furloughed team members join the Webex and we have a general chat about what they have been doing, update them on anything they may be interested in. I try my best to keep them connected and make them feel valued.

“I have to say that this awful situation has only strengthened our team and given us personal insight into eachothers’ lives. We are going through something as a team, supporting each other as we go. We are tighter than we have ever been, and that part feels positive.

“When all this passes, I suspect we will accomplish great things because we have transformed from a group of national account managers all working for one person into a team of people who understand each other, understand their business better and overcome challenges by working together.

“We are now greater than the sum of our parts!”

Make it fun

“We are all working from home and are lucky to be able to do so, thanks to the way our company is organised,” Valerie Hayotte told us. “With my teams (and extended colleagues) I organise weekly virtual coffee breaks and Visio-conferences on Zoom. Each session has a theme, for example: wearing something on the head, using a funny background, Halloween, disco etc. These sessions are to keep (and increase) our existing friendly relationships. No business discussions!”

Create a sense of safety

Creating a sense of safety means that you communicate to your staff's ‘fight or flight system’ that the stressful situation is controllable, one non-executive CMI member told us. “You can help by shielding the workers in your care from a disturbing scene, or by explaining to them that they’re safe,” they said. “Reinforce this by showing them what has been done to make the company safe.”

Social distancing is one obvious way to do this, and creating calm is important, too. Speaking and acting calmly will show your staff they’re in a safe place. If you’re struggling to calm yourself or your workers, use simple tools like taking a deep breath, counting to four, then letting your breath out slowly, and coaching your staff to do the same.

“It’s hard to calm someone else when you don’t feel calm yourself, so check your own composure before helping your staff,” they said. “Reality creates calm action, not panic.”

Create hope

This CMI member also believes that hope is important, as it will keep your employees and colleagues looking to the future. “To build hope,” they say, “point to specific, accurate and positive facts about the events, and discuss next steps that are realistic and predictable. Maintaining hope is as important for the individual worker as it is for your team as you provide leadership. Now, during the COVID-19 outbreak, is a time to re-evaluate your psychological approach to management.”

Make it personal

Julia Heslop is operations section head at Aberthaw Power Station, and she has a deceptively simple way of communicating with the people who work for her. “I’m sending regular audio messages to my team. I have a large team and can’t phone them all regularly, but it’s still more personal than a text or email and enables me to share key information and reach out to them all individually.”

To share your own experiences of leading through Covid-19 uncertainty, reach out to us via email, or use #BetterManagers to reach us on LinkedIn or Twitter. We hope to speak to you soon.

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