Company Cohesiveness in The Time of Coronavirus

By Russ Levanway, President

My, how things have changed since I last wrote in. Our company weathered the sudden shelter-in-place mandate well, then adapted accordingly as businesses started reopening. The first few weeks were focused on getting everyone as productive as possible and plugged in as possible – both our own teams and our clients.  Since then we’ve regained momentum on special initiatives and projects we had already planned to execute over the quarter.

But what about advancement? How can we move forward and tread new ground as a company, when our teams work remotely, spread apart from one another?

In the book The Five Dysfunctions of A Team, the first dysfunction is the absence of trust. Trust is key to any functional team, whether working remotely or not. In practice, trust means believing in one another’s competency, responsibility, and buy-in. It also means believing the members of a team have one another’s’ backs and are looking out for each other. When teams exhibit healthy trust levels, their creativity, skill-building, and productivity soar.

If your teams were highly trusting Before Coronavirus (B.C.), that won’t unravel in a day. It won’t last forever though, either, not without careful cultivation. Removing members’ personal connection with each other for weeks or months will put a team’s trust at risk, for sure. If you’re seeing a lot of issues with communication and how people are working together remotely, start by looking at how you expect trust to be built and maintained on your teams. How can we keep them functional without in-person face time?

Get smaller. One way is pretty simple and immediate: get your teams to a manageable size. As companies grow, they often struggle more and more to communicate effectively with more relationships to manage, more dropped balls, and more confusion.  If your company’s teams have grown too large, virtual meetings can be totally ineffective. Oftentimes, the quickest and easiest solution is to split into groups of five to eight people, including leadership. Many companies are hypervigilant about team sizes, and there are many examples about how they go about making sure they are structured accordingly. At Amazon, Jeff Bezos has his famous “Two-Pizza Rule” in which two pizzas should be able to feed a team. If the team is larger than that, the number of interactions needed to communicate and get thigs done can become overwhelming.

Boost intimacy. Increasing trust isn’t only about numbers — it’s about cohesion. It’s not only built in formal office settings or official meetings (Zoom or in person) where trust in people’s capability and competence based on performance becomes evident.  Natural, informal connections at the water cooler, on a lunch break, or at happy hour are just as critical, if not more so, for trust building. It’s important to keep those organic connections alive now, too, when everyone’s working remotely. How? Start by making space for these connections. Get an informal chat group going to encourage banter. Launch a virtual happy hour. Schedule a Zoom meeting just to catch up on how everyone on the team is doing. Intentional, thoughtful spaces like this provide room for virtual huddles and high-fives to occur.

If you see your teams’ communication breaking down during this unprecedented time, remember: trust has always been the key to their success. What ways are you making sure your teams stay cohesive while you work apart from each other? How are you intentionally building and maintaining that trust while working remotely?