If you are a seasoned observer of team dynamics these are interesting days.
The Covid lockdown presents new and entertaining challenges for those who strive to make teams perform at the highest levels. I have been wondering which of these problems is the biggest?
On the whole, the teams I have helped over the years seem to have done really well and even enjoyed the new lockdown world. They were up and running at the start of the trouble and their members already knew and trusted one-another. The Covid-19 challenge has actually provided them with a point of focus, a challenge against which they have generally unified to considerable effect.
Perhaps oddly, I have the impression that teams formed from scratch during the lockdown (often because of it) have also been successful. They are doing things differently and seem to be doing them well. Again, I suspect this is because Covid offers them a challenge and meaningful raison d'être around which members can coalesce. People are coming together with mutual interests to solve the problem – and thoroughly enjoying it in the process.
Thinking about it, only one group of teams have actually worried me: those that have had to replace one or more core members during the lockdown itself.
This is a real challenge at the best of times. When team members are replaced others can feel a real sense of loss. The whole basis on which existing relationships have been built can be challenged and I have even experienced moments when existing members begin to turn on one-another in the face of a new arrival. Old relationships are changed between those who remain and new ones forged. I have heard the experience described as being like a sense of bereavement (which frankly rather underestimates that horrible experience) but the effect is not dissimilar. As new characters arrive old certainties are swept away and the tribe expresses a collective and involuntary shudder.
Such changes are inevitable. Indeed the experience of lockdown is quite likely to increase the rate of churn amongst team members. Some individuals will be delaying pre-planned moves until the end. Others will also be re-considering their lives and careers and planning moves to run chicken farms in Cornwall or gambling dens in the Hebrides. We should expect to see many decide to change direction. In any case, we should recognise that the occasional change of personnel in a team can be of great value if it refreshes the pool of energy and ideas.
How to Manage the Churn?
The question therefore remains, in the impersonal world of on-line meetings and human isolation: how to manage the rotation of people amongst my team?
We all know perfectly well; there is no magic wand for this. Human brains haven’t changed and people still pass through various stages before they achieve a real sense of mutual loyalty and respect. The right solutions will vary dependent on characters and circumstances.
One fundamental of “High Performing Teams” does stand out as a way of integrating new people. It is equally true now in the lock-down days as it was in the past and will be in the future. Teams need to share an absolutely firm and clear sense of purpose. They have to want to work together in order to get to a shared place. Once new members buy into that idea, the rest will follow. Perhaps not smoothly, but it will follow.
In a future blog I will look more closely at how to manage “team churn”. In the meantime I would be interested to hear your views on the problem and its possible solutions.