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Reconnecting teams: don’t wait until things start to break down

We lavish more attention on our cars than we do on our colleagues and employees. Isn’t it time for that to change?

We lavish more attention on our cars than we do on our colleagues and employees. Isn’t it time for that to change?

When was the last time you booked your team in for a service?

Think about it. We take our car for a service every year – or at a particular mileage. The reason is obvious.

We don’t want the car to break down. We want it to perform at its best. We need to trust that it will function properly when we’re on a long drive.

But why don’t we extend the same care to our teams at work as we do to our vehicles?

Why must we wait for our teams to start breaking down before we take seriously the need to “maintain” them and keep them in good working order? Even the most senior leaders need a social check-up – perhaps more than most, due to the sheer amount of responsibility they have to shoulder.

Our social glue is dissolving

Covid has exacerbated this problem. The pandemic has made team cohesion harder while also exposing the underlying problems we’ve been ignoring for so long. For many of us, working remotely, we’ve been separated from our teams for almost a year.

Yes, most of us have tried to stay connected. We’ve even worked on ways to use video conferencing to replace those old “water cooler” moments. Team coffee breaks on Zoom. Fun quizzes on Teams. Thursday night cocktails. I’m sure your company has its own version of one or more of these.

Yet, despite our best efforts, the social glue that holds us together has been dissolving. Those informal bonds created through shared experience and shared understanding have been stretched and often lost.  

We can see the impact of this on the figures around mental health. In the UK alone, over 2.3 million people visited the website of mental health charity rethink.org in the first six months of lockdown.

If this mental strain has taken a toll on the mental health of the population at large, then you can bet it’s taking a toll on your colleagues too. In many respects, there’s just no substitute for face-to-face physical contact.

Consider the example of entrepreneur and angel investor Matt Mullenweg. He’s perhaps best known as the founder of the open-source web platform WordPress – which currently powers 40% of all the world’s websites. Before Covid, Matt was one of the pioneers of globally distributed working.

His company Automattic employs over 1,300 people dispersed across 76 countries – without a single office. Despite this dispersed model, Matt always made a point to bring all his employees together physically in a single location at least once a year – at great expense. The point of course, is that even he recognises the need for strategic alignment and social glue.

The effect is even worse for new team members

Despite the economic uncertainty, plenty of companies have been hiring during lockdown. New people have joined our teams. Most of them have yet to meet any of their colleagues in person!

It just makes good strategic sense for teams to ensure they’re working well, properly aligned and in tune with one another. The consequences of getting this wrong become way more significant the more senior the team.

What’s the answer?

For starters, let’s recognise the problem for what it is. It’s not just the pandemic. It’s also lack of proper care and processes. Work is not just about work, and we all know intuitively that we’ll get more out of ourselves and each other the more we put in.

So now’s the time to start planning. To get our teams together and rebuild those bonds. To get together face-to-face – ideally offsite – to reconnect, with three core purposes:

  1. To listen to – and understand – what everyone has gone through, what they have missed, and how they are.
  2. To reconnect everyone with the strategy, the plan, the purpose – and make sure we are all pointing in the right direction.
  3. To have some fun – to remind ourselves that work should be fun. Our work colleagues may not need to be our best friends. But we spend a great deal of time together – so we should take the time to get to know one another.

Why now’s the time to action

We have seen more and more clients asking us to help them with exactly this problem. That’s what motivated me to write about it, because it means things are moving in the right direction.

But it also means that if you haven’t started planning for this, you might soon find yourself at a competitive disadvantage when compared with some of your more proactive peers.

To find out how SH Leadership can help your teams reconnect as we start to look at returning to the office, please get in touch.