What does it mean to be a part of a team nowadays?
In what feels like a lifetime ago teams could be assembled in the office at the drop of a hat. All one had to do was pop a head into an office and announce the task and which conference room was going to be used. Your team was there on the premises at your beck and call. Sure there were times when not all the members of the team could be there at the drop of a hat but in most cases, a sufficient amount of players could be assembled on a moment’s notice.
The “video conference”, as most video calls used to be referred to before the age of zoom, was the exception, not the rule. That type of communication was mostly reserved for team members and partners that were not in the same city or country for that matter. Nowadays this practice has been broadened and spontaneous team meetings or pow wows in the conference room have been all but nullified. The team simply has not been assembled lately; the covid protocols have not allowed it.
Concerns for one’s own health and the health of others have morphed with new business models creating a new sense of normalcy when it comes to the video conference call. What was once a rare exception has fast become the so-called “new normal” and the video conference call has virtually replaced the in-house team meeting. What remains to be seen is how this new development will play out and what effect if any it will have on the team dynamic. In recent years companies around the globe have dedicated years to developing a “team mindset” and fostering team-oriented structures. However, these new team-oriented concepts sometimes are often at odds with the WFH model. In this early post-covid era in which we currently find ourselves companies have not yet found their footing when it comes to managing in-house teams. The conference rooms have been replaced by desktops and laptops being used by staff working from home and only fractions of teams occupy the conference rooms at any given time.
Nobody questions the efficacy of working from home anymore and nor do I. Workers around the globe have proven that the work can be done. Having said that, I do question the detrimental effects that it could possibly pose to team cohesiveness. To use a sports analogy, I’m not sure if the team members have the amount of trust they need in the team to call the plays that have to be called when it comes down to the crunch. I’m not sure if they trust the receivers to catch the ball, the blockers to block, or the call itself because a proper,”huddle” (spontaneous meeting to discuss the play) is missing. The huddle is face to face shoulder to shoulder where you look your teammates in their eyes and you can read their body language and hear them breathe. After the huddle, there are high fives. We got this! Let’s go out there and show them who we are! The team is on the field with you! Those are some of the sentiments that players take away from the huddle. They matter and cannot always be captured in a zoom call.
After the screen goes blank and your team has signed off signaling the end of the meeting (huddle) you once again find yourself on the field alone. You suddenly remember a question that you forgot to ask. Only one person at a time could speak in the call and the question simply got lost. The colleague that you would have normally visited after the meeting is not there, she is also at home. The smokers are not gathered outside smoking. The break room is empty and you are a member of an absent team! You will not meet again until the next ms-teams, zoom, Webex, or whatever software you are using to make a video conference call is held. The post-meeting meet-up with team members in the canteen or at a sandwich bar isn’t going to happen either. I do not mean to call into question the use of the technology that allows these meetings. The tech has helped us immensely. I am just not convinced that it is sustainable for organizations that rely heavily on teamwork. To go back to the sports analogy, all teams need practice. And that can’t be done from home.
If the WFH model is here to stay, the team-building activities are also going to have to change with the times. Most team building activities are centered on getting the teams out of the office but ironically that is now a space where they are seldom together as a team. The office has become the space where they need to practice.
New methods are needed to not only reacquaint teams with each other but to simultaneously reacquaint staff with the office environment itself. I’m sure there are teams that have done just fine. I’m also sure that if you asked those teams how they managed to stay “teams” during the pandemic. They would say things like, we scheduled our calendars so that we could meet in the office when it was doable. We met up privately. We used social media more! Some will even say, despite the convenience of working from home, I missed the office. I missed the small talk in the canteen.
Teamwork is about more than just work. Teamwork is harmonization and coordination. Teamwork is also about trust. Trust in your team and trust that when you drop the ball a member will pick it up. When you score, your team will celebrate with you. When you fall your team will support you. When you feel like the task is too much your team will remind you that the burden is not yours to carry alone.
I know that this only resonates with true team players and companies that rely heavily on teams. Others will not only work happily from home, they might even choose to leave the area where the company is based. That is perfectly fine and should be supported by the team that stays and plays as a team in the trenches. New ways of supporting and rewarding teams also have to be developed as a part of the “new normal. But what do I know? I’m just a Lucky Mushroom.
Lucky Mushroom would like to help strengthen your teams and incentivize a return to the office.
Find out how Lucky Mushroom can help your teams here.
Team-Building workshop with Icy Bro and Jamil
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Leonard Nimoy Slater