“In a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.”
If there was ever a time when philosopher Eric Hoffer’s famous quote was most apt, it is surely now. Coronavirus has wreaked a raging storm of change on the way we live and work.
It is in these stormy seas that leaders need their teams to work as one. Where leaders get this right, their team will be on deck in the face of the gale, working as one. It is these leaders who are relentlessly focused on the well-being of their teams.
How can leaders maintain team well-being in these uncertain times? Here are three practical strategies that not only enhance well-being but positively impact learning in teams:
A key foundation underpinning well-being is the extent to which individuals feel valued and respected as human beings. Fundamental to feeling valued is being listened to — which is certainly something that can be lost when rapid action is imperative and processing overload is high.
Active listening can strengthen individuals’ feeling of well-being. By being active listeners, leaders demonstrate that they value the people who speak. Few things demonstrate greater personal regard than making time to listen to the questions and concerns of others. Its power is magnified when it is adopted as a norm by an entire team.
Active listening can take many forms, from paraphrasing to check for understanding to asking questions and taking notes. In times of stress, active listening ensures that both the speaker and listener are clear on whether they have understood the speaker’s intention in the same way.
Active listening is not just key to well-being. In stressful times, poor listening can hamper operational effectiveness, too. It can damage the impact of feedback, as the listener may take from the conversation a different message than what the speaker intended. Achieving shared clarity is far more difficult.
In times of stress, there is a greater risk that individuals incorrectly infer meaning from the perceived tone in emails or throwaway remarks in meetings. A great strategy to counter this risk, and minimize stress and worry, is to adopt a straight-talking approach.
Straight talking involves being transparent about your internal thinking and any concerns to the people with whom you are communicating. One inspirational leader recently demonstrated this type of communication when she said, “I have a concern that we are not defining clearly our next steps in this meeting. I’m worried this this will mean we have to meet up again over the same issue.”
Her habit of sharing her thinking swept away her colleagues’ fear that there were any hidden agendas or concerns. Creating a culture of straight talking within a team can minimize stress and enable all team members to talk about their feedback or their worries. In these uncertain times, this open communication can be liberating. Straight talking also supports learning, as it encourages more diverse thinking through honesty and the inclusion of alternative perspectives.
Encourage Stoic Thinking
Thinking like a stoic can free team members from unnecessary stress and worry. Stoic thinkers focus on what they can control and what they can influence. Anything that lies outside these two zones is, according to Stoicism, not worth thinking or worrying about.
This approach can be especially liberating for people who realize how much time and energy is wasted on problems or behaviors that lie outside their control and influence. As psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl sagely put it, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Our response may be to do nothing at all or to take action. By focusing on the preferred future outcome, individuals and teams can choose the most appropriate response to achieve it.
Adopting this approach as a team can support individuals’ resilience and mental well-being by, for example, agreeing on protocols for framing dialogue that avoid extended discussion about issues outside the team’s control or influence. This method can pivot the team’s focus from fixating on problems and past events to exploring future possibilities. Similarly, by pinpointing the triggers that knock individuals’ energy levels, they can choose responses that are less damaging to themselves.
Well-being is not just a “nice-to-have.” It is an essential foundation for learning in teams, at a time when learning is more important than ever.