What does it take to manage your team - remotely?


If you’re anything like the clients I’m talking to at the moment, the initial phase of this crisis provided your team with fast, hard lessons in motivation. ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’, so Plato wisely suggested, and this very necessity drove teams into action mode. ‘Having’ to do anything – as your teams undoubtedly have recognised, enables tactical change, swift action and purposeful communication.

 But as you can see from the Motivation Scale above (www.mindspring.uk.com/shop) , ‘having to’ as a motivating factor is short term, extrinsically driven and accompanied by feelings of fear. You won’t be alone if you recognise behaviours that span from inertia to frenzied activity. Remember that lack of control can often drive disengagement, distraction as much as perfectionist attention to tactical work.

But as the initial intense ‘chaos’ of the pandemic recedes, teams are now finding a new ‘normal’ and now is a good time to explore how to maintain morale and build motivation, encouraging your team to look forwards.

 Understanding the scientific basis of motivation helps here (www.mindspring.uk.com/shop) , with 12 factors proven to be beneficial in motivating a team or individual. As you can see here, you can divide these 12 factors into three areas, Direction, Progression and Connection. That is, to feel motivated to take action you need to know where you are going; to know you are making progress, and to know someone has your back. Let me make this practically useful for you as a leader now, with your team probably still working remotely, by highlighting six of these factors (I’m leaving Vision for the next post!):

  1. Purpose
  2. Contribution
  3. Challenge
  4. Strengths
  5. Support
  6. Play

 What is interesting about the recent science surrounding the notion of boredom or inertia is that it’s not about having nothing to do – it’s about having nothing to do that matters. So, you can have plenty of options for action, but still feel purposeless.

 So, the first two positive motivators on the MAPP wheel above are Purpose and Contribution. At the current stage of the pandemic, this is not necessarily about grandstanding about the company’s future vision and purpose, but it is about giving people the opportunity to do jobs that matter. Try posing the following questions to the team:

  • How can we improve the service?
  • What’s broken we can fix?
  • What will drive growth, even in this climate?
  • Why are these problems critical, valuable and interesting?

 Reflect on what is changing. And what does this change mean to their jobs in the future?

Next, every member of the team needs to have a Challenge they can solve – individually or part of a team. Feeling challenged is a precondition for Flow, the sensation of being fully engaged in the moment. But as we talk about on leadership programmes, there is a ‘sweet spot’ for challenge to be a strong motivator. That is, challenge should be just enough to feel stretched, with support, yet not too much so you’re feeling overwhelmed.

In terms of Strengths (the subject of my last article on linked in), now think about what is called Adaptive Performance. How can you use your strengths in a different way, across a different function? What can you experiment with? Build your team’s resilient mindset and their agility to work outside of their function. Offer your team your unique perspective on their contribution. What strengths have you evidenced? What strengths and talents do they want to use in the weeks and months ahead? What do they want to learn?

I think it is important to remember that your team members are still coping with considerable uncertainty, so your willingness to coach people through this period is fundamental for resilient leadership. What does this Support look like? However basic, it starts with a meaningful ‘how are you?’, that gets more than a ‘Fine’ or ‘OK’ response. Mindful of the significant rise of mental health challenges in the workplace currently, it is a courageous leadership practice to lead the way forwards for a conversation about mental, emotional and physical wellbeing. It’s also about building virtual trust. Think of this as ‘checking in’, rather than ‘checking up’. Ask, be patient, practice empathic listening. Be sure every member of your team knows that their mental well-being is more important to you than ‘getting the job done’ today.

Finally, for this week, don't forget the importance of Play. Or having some down time together. Whatever that might mean in your world (and if you’re like me, it’s probably not another Zoom quiz!). A client of mine recently cooked lunch with her team, another did his coaching via a virtual walk, talking to each other on headphones. They both found it incredibly restorative, supportive and fun.

Whilst I know that you cannot make anyone feel motivated – ultimately, it’s an individual thing. However, you can set the leadership climate for motivation to flourish. Ask away for any more guidance – it’s a pet passion of mine!