As workplace technology advances, workers would seem to be tied together more than ever before. But the same technology can also isolate them, at least at the personal contact level. It takes a good leader, with a strong approach toward building cohesive teams, to make sure that doesn’t happen, says Mark Fenner.
With all the technology available in today’s workplace, people can instantly communicate and collaborate across time zones, in just about any location. Yet it is still incredibly easy to get disconnected from the people with whom you work. The challenge for teams with remote and mobile members is to stay connected at a human level.
Even in the evolving workplace, there are leadership rules that do not change. One is the importance of the organization’s vision and mission. They are the foundation of the organization. Faces may change, teams and departments may grow or shrink, but the mission and vision provide the basis for community and continuity.
So how do you assure the necessary cohesion? You do it through meetings. Not the meetings we all dread, but short, purpose-driven meetings that tie people together by making the best use of everyone’s time, not wasting it.
The key is human contact. Ideally, individuals can gather in person. That is all but impossible anymore in the average workplace, so the second best choice is a mix of in-person participants and remote or mobile team members dialing in by phone or by video. Relationships are built through human contact.
Start with what I like to call the “daily huddle.” This might be just a five- or 10-minute meeting every day that unites the team and hits the highlights of the day. Designed to be mercifully short, it addresses the day’s priorities, any items that need escalation, or immediate challenges.
The more significant meeting is the weekly review. This meeting’s purpose is for the leader to create an environment where he or she listens, and where the team feels supported and accountable. Team members report on their activities, their challenges, their accomplishments, and their priorities. The idea is not to solve problems but instead report on potential problems. Team members will naturally start helping each other and strategic problems can be addressed in the monthly or quarterly strategic meeting.
This weekly review meeting should be strictly limited to an hour. Done right, it compels each person to focus during the week on achievement, so they can share their accomplishments in the meeting. People want to look good among their peers, and that encourages them to self-manage and hold themselves accountable between meetings.
Monthly or quarterly strategic meetings can run from two hours to a full day depending on team size, culture, and the particular needs of the team. This meeting is more strategic and focused on solving problems. The leader becomes a facilitator, leveraging the collective problem solving skills of the team.
Why are meetings like this so important? Because they help keep a team or department unified and headed in the same direction. When people start to lose that sense of unity around what the team is seeking to accomplish, they feel that their work contribution doesn’t matter. They lose clarity and feel disconnected from team members. Meetings help them empathize, and bond, with their fellow team members.
Of course, for a leader a few hours of meetings a month isn’t nearly enough to reinforce the mission and vision sufficiently among the team. This is where technology can be leveraged to stay connected in a different way. Twitter, texting, and team-focused social media are great ways to keep reinforcing the mission and vision.
The work metrics that technology enables, by producing useful and actionable data, can also enhance the daily, weekly, and monthly/quarterly meetings. It is infinitely easier now to determine what you as an individual accomplished in the course of a day, a week, or a month. That allows a high degree of self-management – something that millennials are quite good at, by the way – among individual team members.
The knowledge that this yields empowers people and builds confidence. They are aware of and can measure their accomplishments, and in a meeting they don’t have to wait for the team leader to assess how they’re doing. They already know.
About Mark Fenner
Mark Fenner is President of Rise Performance Group, a Dallas-based leadership training organization that works with mid-market high-growth organizations. Before founding Rise Performance Group, he worked with a management consulting firm and was a sales executive for an industry analyst firm and a financial services company.