By Linda Dulye, President and Founder, Dulye & Co. / The Dulye Leadership Experience
The full or partial return of employees to the physical workplace is adding a level of complexity for leaders.
Reliance on one-dimensional screens for remote work has zapped human energy. A year of uncertainty, isolation and separation has splintered communication and collaboration within and between work teams. And now, the lifting of COVID restrictions and arrival of the trifecta workplace model (hybrid/in-person/remote) is adding another stress point on employee engagement.
Elevating workplace connectivity is the new leadership priority.
To help leaders rise to this challenge, I have been coaching them with a Conscious Connectivity© model that my firm developed.
Our engagement game plan flexes five interrelated steps: identity, information, interaction, inquiry and impact. All start with the letter I, which hopefully makes for easier recall.
Let’s roll through all five:
Building on the power of visual imagery, leaders should envision themselves as a magnet for bringing people together. Take on the additional title of Chief Connections Officer.
How well-versed are you in that role? Become more self-aware by getting calibrated on your magnetic capabilities for fostering team rapport.
You can rate yourself, but that’s far too subjective. Instead, tap a few trusted colleagues and several direct reports to evaluate your level of engagement based on your actions and words. Find folks who will tell it straight.
Provide four ratings for them to use in their critique: poor, fair, good, excellent. Ask for two reasons that drove their response. This exercise will provide valuable insights to improve your self-awareness and make behavioral adjustments.
Own your professional development. Establish a 15-minute daily routine to learn from podcasts and articles about communication and team building practices that get team members talking and supporting each other. Harvard Business Review, TED Talks, SmartBrief on Leadership and Leading Blog are rich resources. Ask your team members for recommendations as well.
“How are you doing?” takes precedence over “What are you doing?” for information intake from your team. Well-being is a paramount concern.
Topics like time and energy management, physical activity and mindfulness are escalating in the curriculum of a professional development program that I’ve operated since 2008 for coaching next generation leaders in career ownership.
Make periodic check-ins standard protocol. Conduct them through two-way conversations that convey sincerity in words, tone and behavior. Use open-ended questions that defy a “yes” or “no” response. The four most important questions to ask are:
Take deliberate action to be informed about your team members’ progress and well-being.
Leaders need to innovate ways to have fun through casual chats and impromptu–yet deliberate–encounters, in person and virtually. One approach is to stop looking in the rear-view mirror of past methods for conducting team meetings.
Redesign for interactivity—which may require an implosion of a current meeting model. That was the Rx for a corporate executive, who was struggling to engage direct reports during biweekly staff meetings. When COVID shuttered offices, this leader simply transferred the two-hour meeting format to Zoom without modifications. PowerPoint overload triumphed; participation did not. One voice prevailed. Yes, you guessed it – it was the senior leader.
Cue the implosion. A more nimble, inclusive design was introduced that eliminated spectators through shared roles for planning and leading discussion. Meeting time was sliced by 50%. New features include an informal icebreaker exercise that engages every attendee right at the start, a rotating MC/moderator, live polling, breakout sessions and a time box for staying on agenda.
Additionally, ground rules have been established, including limiting presentations to three slides that include graphics and 18-point type. Periodic assessments are conducted to evaluate interactions and make adjustments.
As for the senior leader, they have eight minutes of airtime. Ironically, less talk time has yielded better information flow as more thought and preparation are required to prioritize topics and develop key messages.
Inquiry is powered by curiosity, which requires authentic presence. Impatience, boredom and apathy will be instantly transmitted through your body language and tone.
Stop the practice of asking “Any questions?” before concluding a conversation or meeting. It almost always triggers silence.
Instead, ask questions differently and in ways that deliver real feedback. These three techniques will help:
Impact is achieved by building a ‘we’ factor in teams. I regularly hear from frontline employees who say the remote workplace has made it harder to connect to their organization’s mission and goals.
Use recognition techniques that help employees see the interconnectivity of their tasks. Supplement static practices like annual bonuses or quarterly merit awards with fluid, real-time practices that convey appreciation for contributing to the team’s collective success.
Here are several no-cost, easy-to-apply practices to adopt:
Which of the five Conscious Connectivity© dynamics can you start applying today? Flex your Chief Connections Officer role with deliberate actions daily to unite team members wherever they work.
Check-ins, icebreakers and impromptu phone calls of appreciation will build meaningful connections. Amidst the swirl of today’s still evolving workplace, camaraderie is a welcome constant.