Credit: Hans Neleman/Getty Images
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Keeping a team’s energy dialed up through tough times has always been a challenging task — but sustaining resilience in a pandemic? Nobody has written a playbook for that. As Gallup asked in its end of 2021 report: “How can managers be expected to improve the engagement and wellbeing of your workforce if they, themselves, are burned out?”
Through our coaching practice, we have gathered data on the behaviors and practices of 272 global businesses. This dataset has helped us to codify three simple-to-execute, high-return practices that teams can adopt to reboot their mindset, ignite energy, and boost performance.
[Here is the first practice they emphasize.]
1) Resilient teams know that “collaboration” doesn’t equal “meetings.”
We all know meetings are overabundant. An April 2021 survey of 1,000 full-time remote workers by the meeting scheduling tool Doodle found that 69% of respondents said their meetings had increased since the pandemic started, and 56% said schedule overload was damaging their job performance. By one estimate, up to $283 billion is lost annually from unproductive meetings.
But the problem is not an inevitable outgrowth of remote and hybrid work. The real issue is the misplaced belief that all collaboration starts in meetings — particularly synchronous meetings.
Resilient teams understand that effective collaboration can start asynchronously. Our data reveals that asynchronous collaboration can reduce meetings by up to 30%. We’ve also found that asynchronous collaboration can lead to better decision making, as it allows people more time and space to think about their contributions — and it allows more people to contribute, as compared to face-to-face meetings, in which it’s easier for a few people to dominate a conversation.
Take the example of Gil West, the former chief operating officer of Delta Air Lines, who moved over to become the chief operating officer of General Motors’ autonomous vehicle subsidiary Cruise in early 2021. Gil told me that over the course of his career, he used to pull a meeting together to discuss problems. But he’s found the asynchronous collaboration at Cruise, where they use Google Docs to discuss problems, to be faster and more efficient.
One powerful asynchronous practice is the decision board. You can use this method to kick off a new project or to stress test a project already under way. Using an online tool, such as Google Docs or MURAL, ask team members to answer the following four questions on their own time:
- What problem are we trying to solve?
- What bold solutions are we considering?
- Where will progress get stalled? (Who or what inside the organization may have issues with the possible bold solutions?)
- Who should be invited into this discussion? (Who might contribute greater innovation? Who will be integral to execution? Who would we benefit from hearing, even outside the organization?)
The team’s answers to these questions can then be circulated more widely to encourage challenge and debate among collaborators and stakeholders.
One client of ours, a large manufacturer, prepared a decision board with her team using a simple MURAL board in less than an hour. She said they could not have produced a more complete picture of their change management challenges if they had met with the company presidents for three hours.
This collaborative approach is more inclusive than any in-person meeting could ever be. It gives introverts or anyone who prefers time to think the ability to do just that. More insights, ideas, and constructive comments are bound to emerge from a week of three or four dozen people deeply engaged in reading each others’ ideas and contributing their own thoughts than from the handful of people who might have spoken up in the course of a 50-minute meeting.
Teams are often surprised by the level of candor found in the decision board process as compared to a synchronous meeting format. “The process allowed open honesty we don’t usually see, and for everyone’s voice to be heard,” said one team member of a client company who had recently prepared a decision board. “Many of the responses we saw were unexpected. Some of those people I know may not have shared those ideas if it had required them to talk openly and on the spot in a meeting.”
Sitting in meeting after meeting and not feeling heard is a surefire drain on resilience. What most people think of as the primary cause of fatigue is often missed: how the way we work can be one of the greatest contributors to mental stress and emotional exhaustion.
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