Though difficult to imagine now, after a year plus of sweatpants as our work-from-home uniform, we used to dress up for work – in suits and ties and dresses.
I once worked at a company that relaxed its dress code on Friday –– “Jeans Day,” they called it. But then nobody on the executive team wore jeans. I was one of the first ones to do so.
That example pales in comparison to the massive paradigm shifts we’ve seen in the pandemic era. But the principle is the same: The C-suite must model the behavior it expects from others in the organization.
Currently, we’re in a period of transition. Some of us want to go back to the office; plenty of others don’t. But most leaders now recognize, that a hybrid model is a must. Without embracing flexible work and the opportunities it presents, we won’t attract Gen Z talent, and we’ll stifle innovation.
That means leadership has to embrace the hybrid model, too. If a company’s executives are in the office five days a week, its culture hasn’t really changed.
Any transition of this magnitude, however, is a challenge for leaders. Although we learned a lot during the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re still figuring out what a hybrid team looks like. We’re wondering how to manage, nurture, and motivate them. There’s no manual for leadership in these times, but we can employ strategies that help our most precious resource –– our people –– start fresh after so much upheaval.
This is the power of the restart: an intentional milestone in your life or in your calendar; a blank page, a new attitude.
How many times have you tried to kick a bad habit (or start a new one) and decided to start on Monday, or the first of the month? In business, you might roll out changes in a new quarter. And of course, the ultimate restart is a new year.
There is psychological power behind a restart. Economists Hengchen Dai and Katherine Milkman call it a “temporal landmark” –– the idea that initiating goals is particularly effective at the start of a new period of time.
As we return to the office (at least some of the time), we have a golden opportunity to restart. We can break the mold of corporate leadership that has been holding us back for decades. Now is the time to lead with authenticity and heart. We can use this period of transition to create a high-performance team, galvanized by a purpose-driven culture.
These seven strategies will help you establish a foundation for that team and navigate this transition in a way that will make everybody feel good, confident, trusted, and inspired.
1. Connect IRL (in real life) –– and intentionally
It was one of the most difficult things about the pandemic: the lack of face-to-face connection. We crave it. As human beings, we need it. We’ve missed conversations between meetings, hellos in the hallway, and water cooler chats.
Now, we have to be more intentional about our interactions.
Over the course of my career, the immediate reaction by leadership to team-building activities was: What’s the bottom line? But the bottom line is much more than just numbers now. It’s just as important to invest in the people at the heart of your business.
Many of us are managing a hybrid workforce. You may have new members on your team who have never even met their colleagues offscreen. I recommend hosting in-person events with an agenda centered on forging (or reestablishing) interpersonal connections.
Ask your team to come prepared with one or two things they learned during the pandemic (sourdough bread, anyone?) Encourage them to share pictures.
2. Air it out
We’ve been through a lot throughout the last 18 months. We’re still worried about what the “new normal” looks like. Perhaps some of the people you work with harbor resentments or frustrations with each other which may have festered during the time away from the office.
We don’t need to bring this baggage with us into the future. Instead, do an exercise I call “getting it off our chests.”
Write down the ideas, problems and/or errors, and categorize them into groups. Some items might be action items, others not. But it’s crucial to give your people dedicated time and a safe space to work through whatever might be holding them back, so they can focus on what’s ahead.
3. Keep what works
Now, let’s look on the bright side: What do we love about the way we’re working right now or the way we worked during the pandemic?
There were definitely some distinct upsides: We learned how to do things faster. Countless executives told me they couldn’t believe how quickly projects were approved and executed.
Most of us enjoyed the flexibility of working from home. I’ve also heard people talk about how 2020 humanized their senior-level leaders, who stripped off the corporate mask and dealt with their children or pets video-bombing their Zoom meetings. They seemed more authentic, more approachable, more relatable. And that in itself builds trust.
Ask your team what they appreciated or enjoyed while working remotely, and retain those things in your culture. They might be business processes or behaviors. Remember: Google’s corporate-culture study Project Aristotle shows psychological safety is the number one trait of a high-performance team, so it’s important everyone feels heard and seen.
4. Embrace your strengths
I’m not good with numbers; I never have been. I just like to know the total at the bottom of the spreadsheet and how it came to be. But I do know how to weave that black-and-white data into a story and a strategy and a decision. My time is better spent doing that kind of work, not struggling with calculations.
Most of us recognize our weaknesses at a gut level. But not everyone is confident claiming (and thus able to cultivate) the things they do best.
Here’s a simple but powerful exercise to do with your teams:
Split into small groups of three or four people. Everyone should write down, and then share, one professional strength (like technical skills or subject-matter expertise) as well as one behavioral strength they admire about each other. The latter could be something like: I love the way you show empathy with your team, or I admire your transparency; you always put issues right out on the table.
It works because, we usually don’t praise our teammates this way. Often, the exercise can be quite emotional, too. Participants say: I didn’t realize that you thought that about me, or even I didn’t see that as a strength.
A great organization understands, reinforces, and celebrates the strengths of its people. And its leaders ensure everyone’s duties make the most of those strengths. It’s what I call the “team multiplier effect.”
5. Recharge your ‘trust battery’
Trust is difficult to define. It’s ephemeral, a feeling. We know it when we sense it. When we don’t have data to judge someone we just met, we have to go with our perceptions –– which, of course, we humans have honed over millennia. We want and need to feel safe.
As business leaders, we absolutely must earn the trust of our teams. If we don’t have it, communication is difficult and sometimes painful. We’re compelled to copy a dozen colleagues in an email. Every interaction feels sticky and fraught with obstacles.
We all know how to read the battery icon on our phones and laptops. It’s a good way to think about the relative level of trust you’ve built among everyone you work with.
Charging that trust battery takes effort –– and every bit is worthwhile. When we trust each other, communication is effortless.
How can we charge the trust battery when it’s low –– or depleted?
Listen to your teams with an open mind and an open heart. Strive to understand their concerns and take action to rebuild that bond.
It won’t happen overnight, though. Specific, intentional steps are the only way to recharge that battery.
6. Build on your best behavior
In team meetings, leaders tend to talk about objectives and deliverables –– and praise those who produce them. But we should focus just as much on building behavioral strengths. Behavior is where culture happens.
Engage your teams with these questions: How do you want to be known? What is your team brand? How will you make decisions? How do you handle conflict? How can you hold each other accountable? How do you define success? How will you celebrate it?
As you work through these prompts and plan your approach for leveraging the very best qualities of the individuals in your organization, you’ll create a blueprint for a high-performance team.
7. Keep it going
The final step of this process –– which never really ends –– is to develop a cadence for accountability and a framework for a cycle of continuous improvement.
The key is to keep it positive and motivational. Think check-ins, not reports, that follow up on ideas that arise from these exercises.
For example: If you build a team brand around the strengths of its members, how should people reinforce the brand in situations where they’re an ambassador of your organization? What happens when somebody does something out of line with your brand? You should have that discussion up front, in a positive environment, so everyone is committed to your mutually agreed-upon values.
Seize the day (and the opportunity to restart)
As leaders, we tend to thinkour policies and procedures are the reason why things get done. But to me, culture is how things really get done. And leaders are the ones who establish culture and inspire their workforce to embody the values of an organization.
Now is the time to harness the power of the restart –– the “temporal landmark” of our post-pandemic season. We help people put their missteps in the past and elevate their confidence.
Every day is an opportunity for a restart. But this one is special. Let’s make the most of it –– together.
Jan Griffiths is the president and founder of Gravitas Detroit, which provides workshops, keynotes, the Accountability Lab, and the Finding Gravitas podcast to accelerate high performance through authentic leadership. A veteran executive in the automotive industry, Jan previously served as chief procurement officer for a $3 billion, tier-one global automotive supplier. As podcast host of Finding Gravitas, Jan explores what made these authentic leaders who they are today, understand what they consider to be their Gravitas, and what they do every day to practice great leadership