Remote Team On Screen

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has provided businesses across the world with a vigorous stress-test, says Craig Harbour, Digital Specialist at Web Events Group. He explains why collaborative leadership is more important now than ever.

Among the many lessons that might be drawn from the crisis is that the right team can take decisive action, while more centralised leadership might have failed. The world of business going forward is likely to be a very different one.

The obvious change brought about by the pandemic is a widespread trend towards remote working. This is a practice which was, up until 2020, a niche one.

Conservative business leaders were reluctant to try a new idea, even in cases where the benefits were obvious and undeniable. A survey conducted by RSM International early in the year revealed that almost half of new ideas put forward within European businesses were never fully considered by senior management.

Jean M Stephens, Chief Executive Officer at RSM, claimed that: “…micro-management can stifle creativity and diminish potential, especially in moments of rapid evolution. It can prevent brilliant thinkers from experimenting, provide a false sense of security and render organisations inflexible.”

Of course, the global situation is constantly changing, and flexibility will be needed if business is to react appropriately. In many cases, this might mean asking employees to take unpaid leave, or to agree to a pay cut, or be placed on furlough. If employees are to agree to take these steps, they will need to have full trust in the leadership and the processes through which broader strategy is ultimately formulated.

An effective way of engendering that trust is through collaborative leadership. But what exactly does that look like?

Create a united front

One of the major issues to overcome is that of silos. When the various components of the business are siloed, they are divided, and thus unable to work effectively together. Workers in one department might operate at crossed purposes with those in another.

To help break down these silos, leaders should be encouraging those under their management to get to know members of the other teams – who they are, what they do and where they’re from. Between them, the leaders of all teams should agree this as a business-wide strategy which will reward the organisation as a whole by improving working relationships and streamlining processes.

Encourage others to share

When Google’s researchers looked into the components of an effective team back in 2016, they determined that ‘psychological safety’ is critical to ensuring that employees feel emboldened to broach their ideas to the team.

This is a term which has floated around academia for years, but its importance is only just being fully recognised. A professor at Harvard Business School, Amy Edmondson, defined it as “a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up.”

Workers in environments where a team leader panics and tries to control things is likely to produce stress and an overall downturn in productivity.

In the age of COVID-19, panic is an understandable impulse, and one that leaders may have to consciously suppress to maintain the wellbeing of the workforce as a whole. This may require putting into place rules for collaboration to ensure that everyone gets a chance to speak their mind, and that everyone feels that their ideas are being considered seriously.

Be as accessible as possible

Fostering personal relationships is a vital part of leadership, and never has that quality been more important than now. With the vast majority working from home and with many people grappling with the mental struggle of reduced social interaction, leaders must be available to their teams.

As Stephens says: “As a leader, displaying understanding and empathy has also never been more crucial. Video conferencing has given us a window into the homes and lives of colleagues who we would not, ordinarily, have seen outside the office. Workers at all levels have taken responsibility for the emotional wellbeing of isolated colleagues. As a leader, all it takes is a little compassion and empathy to listen to those problems, provide support and help find a solution. Diffusing this ethos across a business will foster a community in which no one feels alone or abandoned in the face of pressure or stress, be it personal or professional.”

As the old saying goes, crisis brings opportunity. There are many challenges facing businesses in the wake of COVID-19, but effective implementation of collaborative leadership can help to navigate those obstacles and even change working practices for the better moving forward.

Contributed by Craig Harbour
Neina Sheldon
Article by Neina Sheldon
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