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Steve Wood of Core Strengths: How To Communicate With Your Team Effectively Even If You Are Rarely In The Same Physical Space

Interview With David Liu

Lead — Don’t Micro-Manage. Building an environment of Trust and Empowerment is key when working remotely. Be clear on objectives and context, then allow people to deliver in their way.

Create a non-complex & automated matrix for reporting on outcomes and not necessarily too much focus on activities. Discussion on activity or best practice can be achieved in 1:1 or team conversations

We are living in a new world in which offices are becoming obsolete. How can teams effectively communicate if they are never together? Zoom and Slack are excellent tools, but they don’t replicate all the advantages of being together. What strategies, tools and techniques work to be a highly effective communicator, even if you are not in the same space?

In this interview series, we are interviewing business leaders who share the strategies, tools and techniques they use to effectively and efficiently communicate with their team who may be spread out across the world. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Steve Wood.

Steve Wood, Core Strengths Vice President of Global Delivery, is an experienced and highly motivational facilitator, trainer, and senior manager with a proven record of success in a range of demanding and fast-paced environments. He has extensive experience in developing and facilitating training focusing on leadership, team dynamics, conflict management, and personal development.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Even as a child I always had a passion for understanding people and how we are all different, yet similar in so many ways. 25 years in the Banking industry in Senior HR & Retail Branch roles helped develop this interest from an external customer and internal customer-centric viewpoint. My interest in effective leadership and communication led me to join one of the UK’s leading Leadership Accreditation bodies and then to my current role with a focus on enabling consultants and facilitators to help clients improve results through effective relationships.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

There are many interesting stories that jump out for me since I first began my career, but maybe two specifically spring to mind:

1) Making the decision to move from a Senior HR role to Retail Operational Leadership. I distinctly remember the voices of my peers saying, “Prove that this stuff works by joining us in the real world” I took the opportunity to coach with them and brought with me my belief that by developing others to be the best they can be and giving them context and focus and then the freedom to be themselves, we would together achieve great things.

2) Leaving an FTSE 100 organisation to follow my passion for people development by working for an organisation that can support many different clients to help them achieve their potential.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Seek first to understand and then to be understood” — Stephen Covey

I have constantly had to wash out my own filter or cleanse my lens to press the pause button and listen to what someone is actually trying to say rather than what I think they have said. This has enabled me to connect, collaborate and grow from relationships I would have probably walked away from on first meeting. This, alongside ‘asking questions to be curious’, has brought me to insights that I would never have achieved.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There have been a number of people who have influenced me in different ways. If I was to pick just a few, they would be:

1) My Father, who taught me at a very early age to be curious

2) My First Area Director and HR Director in Lloyds Bank, Gary Mayes, who built on the importance of caring for others and helping them grow.

3) Kieran Baldwin, Senior Director at Lloyds, who demonstrated how to challenge the status quo in the right way and for the right reasons and gave me my first framework for getting the best out of others.

Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The pandemic has changed so many things about the way we behave. One of them of course is how we work and how we communicate in our work. Many teams have started working remotely. Working remotely can be very different than working with a team that is in front of you. This provides great opportunity but it can also create unique challenges. To begin, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main benefits of having a team physically together?

There are a number of benefits of having a team physically together:

1) The informal banter when you arrive at the office or at the coffee machine or lunch break can energise and motivate, giving a feeling of ‘we are in this together’.

2) You can sense body language in a meeting and encourage contribution when it appears someone is losing interest.

3) The ability to wander into each other’s office or workspace and share ideas and thoughts as they come into your head.

4) The opportunity to spot when someone is energised or alternatively not having a good day just from their demeanor or mood — Body language and tone.

5) Tackling issues as they come up by arranging impromptu meetings — gets things resolved quickly and ideas out in the open.

6) Arriving at the building and seeing others just gives us the confirmation that we are part of something bigger than just ourselves.

7) Having a defined start and finish time with a distinction between work and home environment.

On the flip side, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main challenges that arise when a team is not in the same space?

Some of the main challenges I’ve come across working with virtual teams are:

1. Feelings of isolation

2. Bouncing from one meeting to another without taking a break

3. The inability to see how others are reacting when in video meetings or phone conferences

4. Missing out on the banter and coffee time conversations

5. Less meetings, but the few they do have are longer and more formal

6. Getting time in each other’s diaries for things we would have just discussed when passing in the office

7. Difficulty making sure everyone is brought into the conversation

8. Making sure that the 1:1 meetings don’t drop off because of distance

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges? What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Communicate With Your Team Effectively Even If You Are Rarely In The Same Physical Space ? (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. Get to know your Team and Agree to Rules of Engagement

You can only know what works if you truly understand your team and who they are. Take time out to really get to know your team. What do they need from you by way of Direction, Support, and Development, specifically, in a remote environment? What do they need from remote meetings? Don’t assume that one size fits all.

This is a great opportunity to review the effectiveness of your in-person communications and how they need to be adapted for remote working

How are we going to work together in a remote environment to look after:

- Each other?

- Our Team?

- Our Business?

It’s also important to note work hours are the same virtually as they were in-office. Work-life balance is crucial, and you can’t expect employees to be engaged in work 24/7. This may seem obvious, but in my recent experience, some team leaders are having difficulty drawing that line.

2. Make Business Meetings Effective: Frequency, Length, & Style

This is a time to ensure that every meeting is effective and leaves the team energised and motivated to be there (not dreading the next sign-on).

1) Updates — Brief (30 mins max) — Weekly

2) Tactical — Brief — (1 Hour Max) — Bi-Weekly

3) Operational — (90 Mins Max) — Bi-Weekly, Monthly

4) Strategic — 1 or 2 Agenda items Max — 2 or 3 hours — Circa Monthly

5) Project Focussed — (90 Mins)- As Required

6) Developmental — (90 Mins) — Bi-Monthly

The above are just indicative. The important thing is that agendas are clear and that we don’t flit between different types of meeting in the same session.

3. Regular Well-Being Check-In Meetings

It is critical to have informal and social meetings and regular ad-hoc check-Ins to see that everyone is okay as a team and individually. Some of these are social occasions — others are specifically for discussing how the team can help support one another.

1) Group — Social/Informal — (30mins or 1 Hour or Ad Hoc)

2) Individual 1:1

It is even more important that you have 1:1 meetings with team members to talk about them and how they are feeling and what you can differently to support them.

4. Lead — Don’t Micro-Manage

Building an environment of Trust and Empowerment is key when working remotely. Be clear on objectives and context, then allow people to deliver in their way.

Create a non-complex & automated matrix for reporting on outcomes and not necessarily too much focus on activities. Discussion on activity or best practice can be achieved in 1:1 or team conversations

5. Right tools for the job

Ensure remote workers have the right tools for the job. This includes laptops, screens, desks, chairs, Headsets for meetings, Etc.

This also includes relevant, but not too many, additional/alternative communication tools for file sharing and instant messaging, such as:

  • An appropriate virtual meeting platform
  • Good internet connection
  • Email functionality
  • Alternative communication platform (Slack, etc)
  • Shared folders — Intranet, Google Docs, etc.
  • Mobile phones or alternative call solutions

Has your company experienced communication challenges with your workforce working from home during the pandemic? For example, does your company allow employees to use their own cell phones or do they use the company’s phone lines for work? Can you share any other issues that came up?

I think the company and our employees have adapted well. All employees have either access to a cell phone or in most cases access to the companies phone lines via their computers. In many ways, our global team is now closer than they were due to more regular interaction. The challenges have been personal circumstances when working from home. Not everyone has their own home office space and specifically, during lockdown they have been sharing internet capability with children studying from home and partners working from home.

Let’s zoom in a bit. Many tools have been developed to help teams coordinate and communicate with each other. In your personal experiences which tools have been most effective in helping to replicate the benefits of being together in the same space?

Using an effective Video Call or meeting platform has helped significantly, and we have become more skilled in using it by sharing screens when relevant but not sharing when we want more interaction. Slack has also been a great solution for timely, efficient, and organized communication. Shared Project documents through Google Docs etc have also been useful for team collaboration. I think with all of these tools, we have all had to learn new skills to use them effectively rather than overuse them. It is a question of using the right tool for the job at that moment.

My particular expertise and interest is in Unified Communications. Has the pandemic changed the need or appeal for unified communications technology requirements? Can you explain? The technology is rapidly evolving and new tools like VR, AR, and Mixed Reality are being developed to help bring remote teams together in a shared virtual space. Is there any technology coming down the pipeline that excites you?

I think all of these tools can be very useful and enable teams to connect when not able to work in the same office. The more we can make it feel like we are together the better it will be. To enable the reading of body language virtually would be monumental for remote communication. My main concern with any of these is that they are accessible to all and at the same level so we maintain equality across the team. It is also important with any of these advancements that we still respect designated office hours and don’t expect everyone to be available 24/7 just because the technology enables it.

So far we have discussed communication within a team. How has the pandemic changed the way you interact and engage your customers? How much of your interactions have moved to digital such as chatbots, messaging apps, phone, or video calls?

We had already developed a platform that lends itself to virtual delivery of facilitator-led training. This has been very effective over the past 12 months. I believe some of this new practice will be maintained even after the pandemic is over as it has proved to be beneficial in modular programmes and enhanced learning. Client Video calls have been our main point of contact over this period alongside chatbox functionality on our website, enabling us to easily stay in touch with our clients and respond in a timely way whilst maintaining rapport.

In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of working with a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote team member?

The key here is to have already built a strong rapport with the team member so you understand when something is bothering them through other things than just body language. It could be the tone or pace of their voice, or maybe a facial expression that you can pick up via a video call. Ensure where possible that you both have videos on and can see each other clearly, and you can emphasise the points that you want to make. Explain the intention of the conversation and then give the feedback in a way that resonates with that person; including the positive elements. Speak to their Value System, not Yours. Keep it factual and not personal. Check out their understanding at the end of the conversation and ask what more you can do to support them.

Can you give any specific ideas about how to create a sense of camaraderie and team cohesion when you are not physically together?

Make meetings fun as well as focused. Make sure you separate the social from the business but don’t neglect either. I covered this in more detail as part of my “5 things.”

Ok wonderful. We are nearly done. Here is our last “meaty” question. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

If I could inspire a movement, I’d want to encourage working with students at schools, colleges, and universities to appreciate the importance of Relationship Intelligence. The value of having positive regard for themselves and for others and the ability to discuss the most difficult issues without it becoming personal is what I’d like to instill in future leaders. If we can facilitate them to get the best out of each other and carry this approach into their home lives and future work environments, it would have a huge positive impact on society.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Readers can read more articles by our team here:

You can also follow our work on LinkedIn, Instagram (@core_strengths), and Facebook (@corestrengthsglobal).

Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.

About The Interviewer: David Liu is the founder and CEO of Deltapath, an award-winning unified communications company that liberates organizations from the barriers of effective communication. Liu is known for his visionary leadership, organic growth strategies, and future-forward technology. Liu is highly committed to achieving a greater purpose with technology. Liu’s business insights are regularly featured in Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine, Tech Crunch, and more.



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