We hosted our first ever Virtual Staff Orientation this Wednesday and, to my mind, it was a very positive experience: no technical hitches, all the various presenters were there when expected and delivered brilliantly, participants stayed throughout the event and didn’t disappear halfway, there were good conversations in the chat box, and feedback on the day was very complimentary. I don’t think we could have asked for more.
So why am I smugly telling you this? You were either there and experienced it anyway, or you weren’t and it’s of little consequence to you. Well, during a Q&A session we received the following question:
Is there a team within the university who have adapted well to lockdown that we can learn from?
I love questions like this, borne out of curiosity and a desire to learn. At the time we didn’t actually get the opportunity to address it head on. We committed to responding to unanswered questions after the event so I began mulling it over, and the more I thought about it, the more I saw an opportunity for conversation that needed to reach across the whole University, not just delegates of a single event.
So where are the teams that have done well, and what have they done?
We have shared before in these blogs a few examples of some great teams across the University; these experiences are found in both academic teams and professional services departments, working in different circumstances, so we know it is possible to make this happen no matter what the context.
We also asked a question in the last Staff Pulse Survey about positive experiences, and the feedback was overwhelming and heartening:
It has become easier in some respects to bring people together for quick decision meetings as no need to book rooms, wait until everyone is in the office on the same day; the meetings are generally shorter and more to the point.
Seeing the whole person and getting to know colleagues as rounded individuals with home lives has reinforced our sense of community and connection.
We have been having a daily 9am team meeting which has really boosted people’s morale and everyone knows what everyone else is working on. We plan to continue these weekly when we return physically.
We do message each other on a daily basis, sometimes not work related but just about how you are and feeling.
I’ve attended a lot more CPD activities and got involved in more team projects because I could get to them without travelling and organising childcare.
And my personal favourite:
We have never been so ‘together’ and united as a team, both in terms of relationships, but also in our collective aim as a team.
Some very clear themes there. Now, back to my smugness of earlier – I think the team of which I am a cog is absolutely one of those that adapted well, and I’m proud to be a part of it. Without that great collaborative feel I don’t think we would have pulled off such a positive Staff Orientation and Welcome event this week. What are the learning points to share from my experience and from the survey?
Tools. Use Microsoft Teams and all the related magic tricks. 100%. We created project sub-channels, posted chatter, synced our shared drives so we could all work on documents together, shared our diaries, took time to discover what other gems might help us (who knew Sway was so cool?!)
Talk. We have weekly team check-ins to share updates, and often popped each other Teams chat messages if we knew they’d had a tough week. We asked each other questions as if we are leaning across to the next desk, shared ideas and articles, let each other know if we needed headspace on particular days, and generally kept lines of communication open.
Transparent. I was able to have clear conversations with my line manager about expectations and we agreed what was important now, and what actually needed to be dropped. We accepted that priorities changed and discussed these openly, individually and across the team.
Be human. I really wanted another T word, darn it. But basically, remember we are all finding this easy and difficult in different ways and different times. In our team we have endeavoured to be kind, offer support, work together, celebrate good moments, remember birthdays and ask after loved ones. Little moments matter.
But you knew all that, right? We are bombarded with these kind of messages all the time, we all know instinctively what we are supposed to be doing, so why is it that some teams seem to find this comes more easily than others?
My instinct, reinforced by many of the survey comments I have seen, is that many of the teams who have fared well over recent months were actually pretty well functioning before lockdown. They were built on solid relationships, had a secure identity and were led by compassionate, inclusive and engaged leaders who, when the crisis came, were able to be a guiding presence to hold their team.
If that doesn’t sound like the team you are part of, it’s not too late! A key feature of great teams is a sense of empowerment, and that starts with you. Be the one that catalyses that change. For example, I sometimes hear people say “our team doesn’t have regular team meetings”. Now we all know that a great line manager will be making sure that happens….but if that’s not your experience then is there any reason why you can’t suggest a time and a date for a team meeting? Sometimes it really is that simple, for a change to start somewhere.
A colleague of mine is developing a toolkit for teams to work through together; it will be a collection of resources, ideas and activities that will help you along your journey to being a great team, and we are very excited about sharing it with you in a few weeks time.
We would like to be able to share more positive stories of great teams – so we can keep responding to the question that prompted this blog in the first place and keep learning from each other. Please get in touch!
Juliet Flynn, Organisational and People Development