6 Ways To Improve Team Effectiveness During Covid.

Everyone is living a story you know nothing about.


It has never been a more challenging time for leaders.

As an Executive Coach, the typical concerns I hear about are: How do I know if my team are working efficiently at home, and how can I help them manage their days as effectively as possible?

Leaders need to walk the fine line between guiding people to achieve organisational goals while protecting and maintaining the well-being of each individual.

Endless internal company surveys have produced data that employees are experiencing increased stress levels and a decrease in their overall wellness.

Here are seven things you can do to guide your team through this pandemic to ensure they are taking their self-care seriously and working smarter, not harder, to achieve their outputs:

Replace assumption for curiosity.

A common complaint amongst the leaders I work with is that they are experiencing inconsistent performance from the team. Rather than make a false assumption that they must be slacking off or watching Netflix instead of working, approach this individual with a lens of empathy and curiosity.

Set up one-on-one calls with each team member to discuss where they are at on a personal level. When did you last ask them ‘How are YOU?’; rather than launch straight into the status items for the week? Once you have a holistic picture of what is going on in their personal life, you can view the situation through the lens of empathy and understanding.

Perhaps this person is the breadwinner and having to support multiple people in their family? Perhaps they are dealing with ill family members? When you have context, you can assist them through the situation rather than imparting judgement and false assumptions. Here are some questions you can use for your meeting:

· Is there anything preventing you from making progress on your work?

· How can I support you?

· Which aspects of remote working are most enjoyable and productive? Which are the most draining?

· How are you planning your days to make sure you have time for both work and personal commitments?

· What are you doing to relax and manage your energy?

· How much sleep are you getting?

You may find that there is no self-care routine and that they aren’t getting sufficient sleep. This is an excellent opportunity to encourage them to make time for themselves and prioritise their health. Often people avoid self-care because of the belief they don’t have time because they are too busy. In the words of Debbie Milman, busy is a decision.

When your team knows that you care and have their best interest at heart, they can begin to make shifts in how they plan their days. Something as simple as suggesting a calendar to schedule their outputs and personal time will reap huge rewards. In times of challenge and overwhelm, common sense isn’t always common practice.

Replace expectations for agreements.

The role of accountability is critical for online work. Instead of approaching the team with a list of what you expect from them, how about establishing agreements instead? People will always support what they help create.

Let’s say Mary is always late for the team meeting. You can have a private discussion letting her know that you have noticed she is never on time, and this delays the entire team and creates a domino effect of late meetings for the rest of the day.

Explain to Mary the consequence of her actions and ask her ‘Can we agree that you will start showing up on time for the weekly status meeting?”. I am confident Mary will agree, or she may tell you that she is always late because her previous meeting ends late and she cannot get to this one on time because it involves more senior people.

In this way, you have established some new information explaining her unpunctual behaviour and provide strategies to manage this effectively.

If there is no direct reason for showing up late, then explain to Mary that it derails your image of her, and she is coming across as unreliable to the team. It also affects trust in the relationship and makes you question if you can hand over more responsibility if she cannot show up on time for a simple status meeting.

Now you can make a new agreement that Mary is committing to. If this behaviour occurs again, you can hold Mary accountable and remind her that she agreed to this. It is no longer an uncomfortable discussion but a candid conversation about integrity where she can no longer blame anyone.

Be clear on doing, done, and deadlines.

The common cause of overwhelm is not having too much to do but not knowing where to begin.

In times of stress, people need managers to go deeper than just listing the priorities for the week and relevant action items. To ensure the desired results, you need to unpack what doing, done and deadline looks like.

As Stephen Covey says, ‘Begin with the end in mind.’ Get clear with your team on what the final result looks like, whether it is an eight-slide presentation on the sales numbers or a document detailing a particular policy.

Then clarify what doing looks like — are they clear on what information is required, when they will block out time in the calendar for it, and any other details that will facilitate the finished product.

Lastly, set a deadline. Parkinsons law states that a task will swell in perceived importance to the time allocated to it. If you give someone three weeks to finish a task or three days, they will achieve either objective. A deadline provides clarity and prevents the task from moving aimlessly from one to-do list to the next and inevitably becomes a mental monster.

Be realistic with the deadline; do not allocate an unrealistic time limit that adds further stress or moves the person into procrastination mode.

Share the vision.

At this stage of the pandemic, the pace feels as if it’s been turned up a notch, or it may feel like the dial is now at its maximum. It is essential to remind your team of the company’s bigger vision and how your team plays a part in this.

One of the benefits of working in an office is that the environment triggers accountability. When you walk past someone’s desk and remember you owe them a document, it catapults you into action. Being at home on your own, you can tend to slip into a solopreneur mindset.

Although someone does not intend to slow the process down, they may lose the drive and internal motivation to send the email or make the phone call with a sense of urgency if they don’t believe they can affect the impact.

When you can remind your team of the bigger vision of the company and their role in the team, it creates a sense of purpose. They are part of something bigger and reinforces a sense of belonging.

Daniel Pink, the author of Drive, says people need three criteria for motivation. That is autonomy, mastery, and purpose. When you reinforce the individual role they play, you solve the purpose piece that may be missing. People need to know that they matter and what they do or do not do affects the greater whole.

Invite feedback from the team.

The most powerful thing you can say as a leader right now is “I don’t know”. During uncertainty, you may feel the pressure to be strong and the guiding force for the team. However, a much more powerful alternative would be inviting their feedback.

Not only will this demonstrate that you value their opinion, but it is the commitment to figuring out the best solution together.

You can set up a regular session with the team to invite their input. Remember, people support what they help create. Some examples of questions you can use:

· What went well this year?

· What changes do you suggest we make?

· What suggestions do you have to make meetings more effective?

· What do you think would help you or the team improve our communication?

· Which skills do you think would be most valuable to learn to enable you to work more effectively?

· Any other feedback or concerns?

A session like this can yield unexpected bottlenecks you may not know of and provide an opportunity to review processes and policies that may have worked in a pre-Covid world but are now a barrier and hindrance.

Create psychological safety.

For the feedback sessions to be beneficial, it is critical to establish psychological safety. This term was coined by Amy Edmondson, who defines it as a description of the climate or the environment.

It is not a practice but a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.

Edmondson explains that in Google’s Project Aristotle, a five-year study across 180 teams, psychological safety was identified as the gateway to building high-performing teams consistently.

What can you do as a leader to create this trusted space for your team?

Embrace vulnerability as a leadership skill. It does not mean you need to share a personal story from your childhood but the willingness to show the human side of leadership. Use phrases such as ‘this is what has worked for me, or how I have managed my stress and overwhelm during this pandemic’.

If you can share your mistakes and the lessons gained, you create a platform and safe space for sensitive discussions such as mental health.

Actively listen to what your team has to say, and do not wait for your turn to speak or try and fix their problem. Listening is about showing the other person that they have been heard and understood.

The starting point for creating a psychologically safe environment is to go a level deeper than empathy. Author, Seth Godin, refers to this as Sonder. He says that Sonder is defined as that moment when you realise that everyone around you has an internal life as rich and as conflicted as yours. In essence, everyone is living a story you know nothing about.

Paul Santagata, Head of Industry at Google, says in order to create psychological safety, team members need to speak human to human.

Santagata uses a reflection exercise called “Just Like Me,” which asks each team member to consider:

  • This person has beliefs, perspectives, and opinions, just like me.
  • This person has hopes, anxieties, and vulnerabilities, just like me.
  • This person has friends, family, and perhaps children who love them, just like me.
  • This person wants to feel respected, appreciated, and competent, just like me.
  • This person wishes for peace, joy, and happiness, just like me.

Final thoughts.

Think back to someone in your life who was a powerful role model for you — it could be a previous boss, a colleague or someone you looked up to.

Why do they stand out as a memorable leader? What were the traits they emulated that built you up to become a better version of yourself?

I’m pretty sure you don’t have memories of aggression or micromanaging, but instead, they supported you, encouraged you and believed in you. Above all, they had your best interest and wellbeing at heart.

How do you want your team to remember you when we are through this — as the leader they will remember forever or the one they want to forget as quickly as possible?

Choose the practices that resonate with you and you will be surprised at how it changes the dynamics of the team:

· Replace assumption for curiosity.

· Replace expectations for agreements.

· Be clear on doing, done and deadlines.

· Share the vision.

· Invite feedback from the team.

· Create psychological safety.

The most successful leader does not have all the answers but allows their people to become co-pilots in the journey.

Here’s to leading with heart,

Warm wishes


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Lori Milner

Lori Milner

Author. TEDx Speaker. Trainer. Coach. Mother of two. Passionate about personal growth and creating work/life harmony.