I recently talked with my friend Kian Gohar about how daily life has changed over the past few years and, for many of us, we are now working and meeting virtually as much, or more, as we are in-person.
Kian is co-author of the bestselling Harvard Business Review book, “Competing in the New World of Work,” with Keith Ferrazzi, who is also a friend of mine. Our conversation resonated with me because of BNI®. For 35 years, BNI Members around the world met weekly during in-person meetings. In early 2020, all 10,000+ chapters of BNI changed to online weekly meetings and the organization has continued to grow every year. BNI Members have generated over $18.9 Billion USD in closed business for each other in the rolling last 12 months. We now have chapters meeting virtually, in-person, and hybrid, which is a combination of online and in-person.
Create Emotional Connectivity
Kian and I talked about the importance of creating emotional connectivity with colleagues when working in a hybrid environment. He recommends using breakout sessions during a virtual meeting. By having smaller groups of three to four people, you create a place of psychological safety to share opinions and reduce self-censoring that may happen in larger meetings.
As soon as people are in the small groups during the virtual meeting, ask them to each answer a very simple question: “What is sweet and sour in your life?” Sweet is something that’s going really well in life, whether personally or professionally. Sour is something that isn’t going as hoped. The point of this is to allow people to get to know each other so that they understand the context of what’s going on in their lives.
Over the past two years, most people have reassessed their assumptions about how we live and socialize and work. However, our assumptions about how we collaborate may not have been reassessed. There is a myth that we collaborate by first calling a meeting to get everybody into a room and then decide how to innovate and collaborate.
Consider this idea to maximize collaboration – don’t start with a meeting first. Create an asynchronous meeting instead. Begin with a document on the cloud. The team leader, or the problem owner, writes down what the problem is, some potential solutions, and who should be involved in the conversation to bring more ideas to the table. The cloud document is then shared with the team. They have a week to ideate individually on this document and add all their thoughts to it. This allows the team leader to see the whole universe of what the various problem sets are that they’re trying to solve. They can identify one and say, “Okay, let’s call a meeting around this particular problem that I hadn’t thought of.”
To maximize innovation and collaboration, start first with an asynchronous meeting, identify all the various problems sets with your team, and then go beyond your team, perhaps include potential partners and vendors, to get more ideas into this particular concept. And then call a meeting, whether virtual or hybrid or in-person, to continue working together toward a solution.
How can we make sure our team is fully resilient to adapting to the future? First, recognize that everyone comes to work with different energy levels. And as a team leader or a business owner, it’s your responsibility to identify the team’s overall energy level.
To establish a baseline of your team’s resilience level, you can do a simple survey every two or three weeks through whatever format is most convenient. Ask your team to rate from 1 to 10, (1 being low, 10 being high), what their level of personal resilience is. And you’ll see a baseline over the course of the next few months. Let’s say everybody’s a five or six. And then one person says, “Hey, I’m a two.” Now you know there’s something going on in that person’s life so you can try to figure out how you can help them.
Additionally, in a leadership role, you want to model the behaviors that are important for the well-being of the team and the organization. Sometimes that means enforcing breaks and creating a space for individual resilience to recharge energy levels. Then, when you are trying to solve the problem as a team, you’re able to support each other and cross the finish line together, even though everyone has different levels of energy on an individual basis.
We are fortunate to have an opportunity to take all the lessons from the past few years and look at how we can make the future better. The status quo is gone, we are not going back to the way things were. We can create a new world of possibilities by reconsidering the assumptions that helped us succeed in the past, and continue to reassess them to help us navigate the constant change the future will bring.