Coming out of the storm as individuals and teams

These past couple of weeks, I’ve had some great conversations with clients around emerging from this lockdown situation. Of course, they are very clear that where they were at the start of 2020, and where they were heading as a business or team, is not where they are now. Too much has changed.

In our conversations, we’ve chatted about re-visiting previously agreed outcomes and plans for development programmes, re-addressing team journeys and re-focusing on what might be possible now – in this very different world. But what I’m hearing most is the absolute need to know how their teams ‘are’. Put simply, how they are doing, as both individuals and team members.

Teams are having to learn and adapt at such pace at the moment. Skills such as agility and collaboration have been high on the development agenda for businesses in recent years, and the times we’re in are accelerating personal growth in these areas.

I’ve been making sense of the situation and thinking about moving forward while supporting clients with their own sense-making. The analogy I keep coming back to is a sailing one. However this is paraphrased, ‘We’re not all in the same boat, but we are all in the same storm’ is spot on for me.

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It’s a very visual and helpful way to look at how individuals and teams might be feeling at the moment before starting to consider the support they might need to perform highly with a clear purpose and direction.

Leading Edge’s Point of View on Teams has ‘curiosity about each other’ and ‘clarity on the context and landscape’ as wrappers that emphasise the need to continually review and build in support of working as a highly effective team.

Leading the way on a different team journey

One leadership team I’ve supported for a few years are in my head as I write this.

See the source imageI consider this team to be like a fleet of boats, sailing on familiar seas to a land they had pictured together on a course they had charted together. They were on course… and then Storm COVID hit their path.

They will have undoubtedly supported each other as best they can since it hit, but they’ve also had to sail their own path through it, most likely supporting other people in different boats (their families – their wider crew) along the way.

Now that they’re starting to come out of the storm, it’s time to reflect. And this is the right time to do it. These next few weeks for any leader provide a unique learning moment brought about by a situation out of their control.

What won’t be clear right now is how badly their intended destination has been affected by the storm – even just trying to see this destination clearly could be challenging with choppy seas and an unpredictable undercurrent limiting their ability to focus.

They might need to chart a new destination for now, perhaps a closer piece of land that still feels like a stretch, but a more realistic one. A place they can get to sooner and re-group.

Either way, it’s certain they’ll need to course-correct as a team.

Sailors are both individuals and part of a fleet

This team of senior leaders need to think in two ways: as people (the individual sailors) and as a team (the fleet).

As sailors, they need to:

  • Assess themselves for storm damage – this potential damage might be very easy to see or harder to locate, so the assessment must be more than just a quick once over before they get the boat back out on the water
  • Consolidate what they’ve learnt now, while it’s recent, to create valuable learnings
  • Work out which direction their boat is facing. Storms are disorientating, so they’ll need to check for any disorientation (with the boat and themselves) and assess their own landscape

Sailors know that you can’t learn to sail stormy seas by practising on calm ones. The greatest learning moments come from real-life experience – and this is certainly one of those.

Once they’re back together as a fleet, with boats checked over and facing the same direction, they’ll need to:

  • Be curious about each other’s storm damage and support each other’s running repairs
  • Pool the new skills they’ve learnt, recognising how these skills can benefit the whole team and valuing the strength this brings to the fleet
  • Agree on a new destination for their journey – a land they can all see and are motivated and excited to reach
  • Charter the new course and align to more agile course-correction as they test the ocean

Unique moment for leaders

Leaders have an exciting time ahead. They’ll never again lead a team where every single team member has had an experience like this at the same time (for some, this will have been a life-defining one); they’ll never again lead a team where so many have learnt to adapt and flex at the same time; and they’ll never again have a team that has bust so many myths about how it works.

I know the leadership team in my story won’t let this moment pass – they won’t let the team drift into a version of their old selves. But it would be the saddest thing if leaders just sail on and let this unexpected opportunity pass to practise on the choppy seas and develop through this real-life storm.