Recession ahead? What HR can do (Part 2)

I have learned a lot about the role of HR in recession, cost-cutting and other organizational impacts over the years. This is the second of a two-part article on the role of HR during hard economic times. It is especially for those in HR who might be facing a recession for the first time in their careers. While it covers several key topics, it is not exhaustive. I’m looking forward to hearing from other who may have similar experiences or different perspectives!

HR is a valuable partner to help with a team facing a recession.
First time facing a recession? HR can be a valuable partner in the response.

Start before a recession begins

In the first part of this article, we looked at ways HR can begin contributing to a recession response. The CHRO and HR Business Partners/Managers have a unique role to play to help balance the need to meet company targets while furthering company values and employee experience. Starting with the company strategic plan and a team including finance and strategy can help formulate actions to mitigate the risks. Involving people managers and employees early on will help manage anxiety while supporting employee-led actions.

If you must reduce headcount…

But what if simple cost-cuts aren’t enough? Referencing the strategic plan and future workforce development are even more critical if you must consider impacts to headcount. Should you take an x% reduction across the entire workforce, or take deeper cuts focused in specific areas? My experience is that the second option is more effective in maintaining the company strategy and reducing overall impact to the employees. As the scope of impact becomes clear to senior leadership, detailed planning is the next step. Respect and integrity are core to managing this process.

It takes a lot of preparation for a reduction-in-force (RIF) to go as smoothly as possible. After identifying the impacted groups and timing, making decisions on specific people comes next. It is critical to have clear, documented criteria for people selection. Potential criteria can include performance ratings, specific skills, years of service, or other relevant points. This helps avoid criteria that is unimportant or even illegal, like age (at least in the U.S.). Consultation with unions or Worker’s Councils may be required. Have your employment lawyer review the process and selected exits to prevent adverse impact and reduce the chance for litigation.

RESPECT

The world has recently seen some high-profile examples of how NOT to announce a layoff. In one example that continues to get worse, mortgage lender Better.com informed 900 people of their separation during a group Zoom call in December 2021. Then in March 2022 they confirmed they laid off additional employees and accidentally notified them via their payroll app. At best, examples like this show companies that do not understand the impact of these actions to all employees. At worst, it shows companies that just don’t care.

No one likes hearing they no longer have a job, but everyone wants to be treated with respect in the process. The best practice is to have the first conversation between the manager and individual impacted, with someone from HR present. This requires a lot of logistics to schedule meetings, produce documents, arrange additional security, and prepare managers. Always have a short script prepared and have the line manager lead the discussion, with HR available as a witness as well as support if needed.

Support your people managers

Don’t underestimate the importance of training managers in advance! This may be the first time they have ever had to let someone go. Even if they have done it before, the reaction from the impacted employee can vary significantly. There are online resources available that give video examples of reactions and ways to deal effectively with them.

Realize that people will be processing financial impacts as well as emotions like loss, grief, and/or anger.   Being upfront about next steps, giving ample severance and notice, offering references, having EAP providers on-site, providing outplacement support or job training…all of these can help people with the transition. Don’t forget to leverage federal, state, and local resources that offer additional support. Just remember that people pay attention to how co-workers are treated! The respect you show (or don’t) will be clear. Remaining employees will see how you deal with people in a tough situation. This will also show up in Glassdoor or other public forums, impacting your employment brand.

Don’t forget the “survivors”

It’s also important how you treat the people who are not directly impacted by the reduction. Bringing teams together to let them know what has happened and next steps is critical. ‘Survivor’s guilt’ is real, as is the potential for higher workload to make up for fewer hands. No matter what you CFO says, I don’t ever recommend reducing or eliminating planned merit/pay increases. Controversial thought…you may consider to lay off a few more employees if that means you can keep up with raises for the remaining staff.

It is key to keep the remaining team motivated and see that things will not stay this way forever. There is a higher risk that top talent may get nervous and look for opportunities elsewhere. Consider using motivation or stay interviews to see what is important to each individual employee. A personalized retention strategy that involves stock, additional bonus/training, and/or career progression can help actively manage the risk for people you don’t want to lose.

HR Leading with integrity and respect

In summary, I see HR’s biggest role in a recession is to uphold Integrity and respect. They must consider both the company impact and employee wellbeing in the path forward. Tough decisions WILL come. Difficult trade-offs WILL come. HR can hold the space to make sure the company is being as honest as it can about what is going on, and at the same time giving respect to all parties involved. It is a difficult situation to navigate, yet the company and employees can come out stronger at the end. Even impacted individuals can use the situation as a fresh start, even if not the way they would have chosen to go about it.

If this is your first time as an HR leader going through something like this, please reach out to someone who has done it before. I can promise you will learn some things that will help you, your business, and your employees.

Recession ahead? What HR can do (Part 1)

I have learned a lot about the role of HR in recession, cost-cutting and other organizational impacts over the years. This two-part article is especially for those in HR facing a recession for the first time in their careers. While it covers several key topics, it is not exhaustive. I’m looking forward to hearing from other who may have similar experiences or different perspectives!

Where were YOU during the last recession? For the “Great Recession” beginning at the end of 2007, I was Director of Business Transformation for Philips Consumer Electronics, working out of our headquarters in Amsterdam. In my previous role as a program manager in our North American region, I supported HR in a significant business model transformation and organizational restructuring. These experiences working alongside HR professionals eventually led me into formal HR roles. I later served as a Senior Director of Organizational Effectiveness and a Vice-President of HR (business partner) in our Healthcare sector. Being part of a publicly traded company undergoing multiple overlapping transformations and market ups and downs gave me a ‘baptism by fire’ in this area.

A distressed team looking for help in a time of recession
First time facing a recession? HR is a valuable partner from the start.

Don’t wait!

As of the start of June 2022 we are NOT in a recession. However, economists see the risk for a recession in the coming year or two about double what it was just three months ago. I can guarantee your CEO and CFO are already thinking about what steps to take regarding a potential recession. If you are the CHRO and haven’t been part of those conversations, now is the time to take your seat at the table! The voice of HR, backed by more data than ever before, can help balance the need to meet company targets while furthering company values and employee experience. Taking an active role with the leadership team in early discussions can help set the tone for things to come.

One of the biggest challenges is that no one knows how long or severe a specific downturn will be. Yet you don’t want to wait until the panic of bad quarterly results to start your recession mitigation. Start evaluating potential scenarios and related options NOW. Look for ways to manage costs that minimize the impact on company strategy AND employees as a start.

We used to always joke about doing our international travel in the first fiscal quarter of the year. The reason being that nearly every year travel restrictions went into place in Q2 after the first sign of uncertainty in the first quarter results. Cutting travel, deferring training, freezing hiring, and delaying capital expenditures are examples of early cost management steps to consider. The United States Small Business Administration has a great list of ideas to consider. But how do you decide which steps will reduce costs while minimizing negative impact to the employees and the business?

Developing options

Team up with your partners in finance and strategy to look at scenarios with varying levels of cost and people impact. You can then begin to define a series of actions that can be activated based on specific metrics, with more severe actions reserved for more serious situations. If you have a strategic plan for the business (bonus if you have a related strategic workforce plan), use it to guide your actions. Consider which elements of the strategy must be protected or even accelerated, as well as activities to stop or delay.

Specific research and development investments or sales and marketing spend may need to continue as-is to secure future business. Other planned investments with payback periods of less than a year should stay on track or be sped up. This may include already planned transitions to shared service centers as one example. You may have divestments that can accelerate, such as planned office closures or product line retirements. Stopping or delaying specific projects to move resources to more impactful activities is another tactic. Be clear about the potential employee impacts as part of the decision-making process. Consider this for existing employees as well as your external talent pipeline.

Employee well-being

HR dedicates a lot of effort to improve employee well-being, as well as organizational effectiveness. Economic downturns provide more challenges in both areas. Uncertainty, distraction, and anxiety all grow as times get tougher. It doesn’t matter if you are the CEO or the janitor, you worry about the potential personal impacts. Outside the company, rising prices along with increased difficulty in acquiring credit can create personal economic challenges. Inside the company, a hiring freeze can delay a project, a salary freeze can turn into an effective pay decrease, and the threat of a reduction-in-force can weigh heavy across the company.

At a minimum people will be distracted and can even become actively disengaged. Start involving them as early as possible. Be as transparent as you can about the position of the company in relation to the economic situation and competitors. Remember, employees are seeing the same news you are! Share the challenges and what the company is doing to mitigate them. Remember, the rumor-mill will be going full speed. By providing clear, formal statements you can help remove some of the uncertainty and build integrity for the leadership team.

Helping managers help their teams

HR must prepare people managers to support their teams on a personal level, up to and including the CEO. It can be as simple as a script outline for managers to check-in with employees on a regular basis. Feedback from these discussions is then used to address specific personal issues and identify broader topics coming up around the organization. Leveraging a strong partnership with the communications team, HR can provide a formal response to broad concerns through various channels (leader discussions, coffee corners, internal social media, FAQs, etc.).

Clear and repeated messaging will help keep the organization focused on critical activities, while sharing ways to manage mental and physical well-being. Be sure the team is utilizing existing benefits like an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or other locally available resources. Maybe you can even free up cash from other savings for a special one-time bonus, or cover healthcare insurance premiums to provide tangible relief.

Empowering the people

Another way to involve employees early on it to ask them for ideas on ways to save costs, accelerate sales, and drive continuous improvement activities. This empowers them in the situation, along with the benefit of their great ideas! Once we ran a campaign asking for people to identify things that did not add value that we could stop doing. This uncovered several processes that we stopped to save resources and reduce complexity. This offset the level of cost-cutting necessary based on our overall plan, and we publicly recognized everyone who took part.

Upholding integrity

HR is one of the leading stewards of company values. Regardless of what words you use to describe your culture, be sure to uphold integrity during a downturn. Leaders may drive their teams even harder than before on top of the existing anxiety and uncertainty. This can lead to managers and employees feeling additional pressure to make things happen and push the bounds of ethical behavior. The last thing you need is an overzealous sales manager submitting false projections or an accountant making questionable allocations to make things look better than they are. Or worse yet, a senior leader encouraging this type of behavior. HR must be a role model and hold others accountable. As Tom Peters writes, “There is no such thing as a minor lapse of integrity”.

There is no such thing as a minor lapse of integrity

Tom Peters

In the second part of this article, we’ll explore the role of HR in upholding another core value, respect. Even in the tough case of a reduction-in-force. Let me know if you need experienced help Consulting Services > Escape To Expand.

The Great Resignation Attraction Shuffle Explained

The Great What?

Much has been written about the Great Resignation, Big Quit, Big Attraction, Great Reshuffle, or <insert the catchphrase of your choice here>. The fact is millions of people voluntarily left their jobs beginning in 2021. The explanations are wide and varied. Many come back to the root of people who are not happy with their work arrangements.

Think about the nurse being overloaded with patients in the hospital, the fast-food worker not feeling they were earning a fair wage, and the knowledge worker wanting the flexibility to continue to work remotely. There are a wide variety of factors that impact satisfaction at work. This list includes company culture, quality of management, compensation levels, nature of the work, location, work hours, stress, etc. It might be a single item or situation that pushes a person to the point of resigning. Their level of un-happiness in their employment situation gets to a point where they seek a change.

About half-a-century ago Earl Nightingale already had this figured out! He was a renowned motivational speaker and human-character expert. He had this to say decades before “employee engagement” became part of management practice:

We are at our very best, and we are happiest, when we are fully engaged in work we enjoy on the journey toward the goal we’ve established for ourselves.

Earl Nightingale

Let’s take a deeper look at each part of his statement and how that applies to people and companies in 2022.

“Fully engaged”

We often think about ‘employee engagement’ as a noun, a lagging outcome indicator. After all, the term ‘engagement’ is usually associated with a formal agreement to get married. It takes two parties to enter an engagement! The root of engagement is a verb, ‘engage’. It refers to participating or becoming involved in something and is a leading indicator of an outcome. An individual engages with energy, time, and skills. A company engages with the context of the work, a strategic vision, culture, employee experience, and some form of renumeration. Just as in personal relationships, the two parties don’t always agree. But if there are fundamental differences and not enough mutual respect, the engagement will not last. Being engaged is a necessity for happiness, but it is not sufficient by itself.

“In work”

This is another element where examining the verb as well as the noun provides additional insights. Consider the difference between the phrases “I’m going to work” versus “I’m doing work”. The first usually refers to a company and physical location while the other is about the content of the work itself. Before the rise of virtual work, people sometimes had to choose between doing what they want OR being in the physical location they desire. The nature of the role sometimes mandates the physical location, such as for an emergency room nurse or a fast-food clerk. However, for many knowledge workers, the location can be independent of the work activity. Now there are more options where they can choose to be in the work they want in a setting they desire.

“We enjoy”

Being good at something is not always the same as enjoying it! As the great Chinese philosopher Confucius said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” The word ‘job’ can relate to a specific role, or in the broader context to a vocation and associated activities. For me, I love helping develop teams while using project management, process improvement, and human dynamics approaches. I am not limited to specific roles or job titles. Rather, I can see what opportunities allow me to spend more time on the elements I enjoy. Many companies are embracing a broader range of employment options, from remote work to using gig workers. This makes it easier for people to find opportunities where they can do more of what they enjoy.

“On the journey”

Considering Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the work a person does over time may adapt as their needs and desires change. That first job for some may be more about a paycheck to cover essential living expenses than about development opportunities. Others may be able to afford to take a low- or no-pay internship to explore options. There is no single right answer, and the chosen path may branch over time. One thing people can consider is how their current personal journey aligns with that of the company they are at. Where does an employee want to go and what opportunities does the company offer? The talent management practices of a company often link the employee journey and the company journey. This balance is a combination of aligning employee past performance with future potential and aspirations with the needs of the business.

The company may be in a stage of high growth giving employees the opportunity to do new things. Another company may be more well-established in a certain field where employees learn from advanced processes and experts. When people don’t see opportunities that support their own journey, they may seek them elsewhere. However, ‘elsewhere’ is not necessarily at a competitor! Entrepreneurship is surging as an option, as the number of new business applications in the summer of 2020 was the highest in 15 years!

“Toward the goal we’ve established for ourselves”

A journey typically has a goal behind it. Companies choose people they think will help them best meet their strategic and tactical goals. But what about the goals employees set for themselves? A person may be looking for some combination of specific position, renumeration level, flexibility, and/or ability to focus on specific areas of interest. In any case, the work they do should contribute to their own personal goals. The closer their personal goals support company goals and vice-versa, the better. I saw first-hand at Royal Philips the positive impact taking time to connect company strategy to the individual goals of people. When that is not the case, people may move to another situation that serves them and their goals better.

Bringing It All Together

The past few years have impacted each of the elements in Nightingale’s statement, creating more options for people to consider. People are taking the chance at a career move for a happier existence, utilizing one or more of these levers. The specific drivers differ for each person, but the component elements are the same. Companies who do not adapt will continue to face the Great Resignation. The Great Attraction awaits the companies that provide an avenue for people to take this happiness journey with them!

What choices have you made in the last year or two to increase your happiness?

What are you planning to do to kick-off 2022?

Ready for 2022?

With Christmas ads and decorations coming out before Halloween, the world is telling you the New Year is around the corner! NOW is the time to start thinking about your annual kick-off meeting to energize and focus your team for 2022. A little thought and planning before the end of this year can make a tangible impact on your team for next year and help make sure you don’t find yourself in a squeeze during the holidays.

Kick-off meetings typically happen in the first month or so of the new year. They can last a few hours or span several days. Some are in-person, some virtual, and some are even hybrid. They can be tops-down or very interactive. Regardless of HOW the session happens, there are a few key items to include.

Reflect on the previous year to help you learn and let go

A retrospective allows you to take time to celebrate accomplishments and acknowledge challenges. This can include reviews of financial performance, recognizing employee or team successes or panel discussions with customers. Consider your progress in context of your multi-year strategy (you have one, right?). Talk about the things to do more as well as the things to do less. Then close the book on 2021. The past is written, so most of the kick-off is about where you go from here.

Build employee excitement and inspiration through your organization’s vision/mission

An inspiring “why” or “North Star” is a great asset to attract and retain employees, next to customers and investors. If you already have one, great! Use this chance to get people excited about your direction and why they should work with you rather than someone else. If you do NOT have one, use this as an opportunity to co-create one with your team!

Establish clear, tangible next steps for each participant

Use the kick-off to make sure people see how their daily work connects to the vision and strategy. Consider a cascade of organizational goals, personal objectives and key results (OKR), or breakout sessions to define activities and owners. Each person leaves with clear personal commitments to contribute to the strategy. Be sure to agree how they will hold each other accountable to get it done.

Connect as a team and have some fun!

According to Glint, employees who feel a strong sense of belonging at work are over six times as likely to do their best work (https://www.glintinc.com/blog/why-belonging-is-important-at-work-employee-engagement-and-diversity/). Connection to the vision and daily work are part of this, as is feeling part of a team. Use the kick-off to build and reinforce personal connections. One way to do this is to incorporate team building. This can range from simple icebreaker activities to virtual scavenger hunts and escape rooms.

So what do you need to DO NOW? Developing the agenda and content takes time and logistic arrangements must be done well in advance. Between chasing end-of-the-year business objectives, holidays, and on-going pandemic disruptions the time will go very quickly. Here are a few key items to start working on well before you start eating that Thanksgiving dinner.

Decide on timing and location

Setting a date early ensures people can plan appropriately. Check with participants about availability and send out a “save-the-date” announcement as soon as you can. If in person, book venues/hotels at least 60 days in advance, even earlier if you have a specific destination in mind. Consider health precautions, travel costs, proximity to offices/customers, and where people will enjoy going. If virtual, ensure technical infrastructure is in place for presenters and participants. Next to conferencing tools like Zoom, you may need to add tools like Mural or Microsoft Teams to help make sessions interactive.

Define key objectives, potential sessions, and owners

Based on your objectives and the four topics above, what do you want to accomplish? Think about the elements you can use to accomplish that, and who owns those elements. This can take the shape of an outline showing larger blocks of time which will later be refined into a detailed agenda. Be sure the objectives you set fit within the time you have scheduled. Better to select fewer items and do them very well. Focus on items where you can leverage the benefit of people being together at the same time.

Consider engaging an outside facilitator to help plan and manage your kick-off

An expert can bring in external best practices and a fresh perspective to the design of your session. During the session they play a key role as an unbiased facilitator. This allows you to focus on being a participant rather than trying to run the meeting. Some facilitators also offer targeted content or modules that can supplement your agenda, based on your objectives. If you decide to go this route, bring them in sooner rather than later. The earlier you bring someone like this into your planning the quicker they can help take some of the load off your shoulders! It also makes sure you have a chance to grab the best facilitators before their schedules are filled during this busy time.

It could be a one-hour conference call, a day of Zoom discussions, or a multi-day in-person event (following health guidelines). No matter which approach you use, NOW is the time to start working on it.

What are you planning to do to kick-off 2022?

“Trust but verify”?

Trust Equation from Trusted Advisor Associates LLC
Trust Equation from Trusted Advisor Associates LLC

“Trust but verify.”

This quote made famous by Ronald Reagan when discussing nuclear disarmament. It raises the age-old question, is trust given or is it earned? In practice it is both. One person takes the risk of trusting someone else, while the other proves out whether they are trustworthy or not.

Charles H. Green co-wrote several books on this topic, and went on to develop a free online self-assessment that measures an individual’s “Trust Quotient”. By understanding the underlying factors, one can see what they can control to become more trustworthy. Let’s take a closer look at each of the elements and what they mean.

The factors of trustworthiness

The first three factors are additive. By increasing these in the eyes of others, the more trustworthy you become:

  • C is for Credibility. This is about what someone says and if they are knowledgeable or believable on a subject.
  • R is for Reliability. This is about someone who does what they say they will and if they are dependable.
  • I is for Intimacy. This is about others feeling secure when entrusting someone with information.

The fourth factor, Self-orientation (S), is the limiting denominator in the equation. This reflects whether a person’s focus is more on others or themselves. When others perceive someone pursuing their own self-interests, the additive factors in trustworthiness diminish.

Broken trust

A person can develop all four of these factors. The more trustworthy they become, the more they are trusted. The opposite is also true. And once trust is broken, it can be difficult to overcome. It can lead the other party using the internet meme, “I’m a good enough person to forgive you, but not stupid enough to trust you again”. Saying ‘sorry’ may help gain forgiveness, but it takes a visible change in behaviors based on the four factors to build trust again.

Trust in a team

Building and maintaining trust in a team setting, especially virtually, is more challenging than one-on-one. There are a variety of different relationships moving simultaneously while the various trust factors for each person may not be visible to everyone in the same way. Factions may form in a team and individual members can even be ostracized. One way to help is to introduce the concept of the equation to the team as early on as possible. This is a key component in most of my workshops. Being able to talk about the concept of trust with a team and have them share their perspectives can already help increase the trustworthiness factor.

Do you have an experience you can share where trust was broken, and if it was ever repaired or not?

The times they are a changin’

Overview of the Change Management Process

Change and loss are interwoven

I was recently a guest speaker at the University of Tennessee’s Center for Advanced Systems Research and Education on the topic of culture change. The topic resonated very much with the participants whom were from a company facing changes themselves today.

Change can start with a choice or come from a forced situation. The pandemic that brought so much death and sadness also brought many changes to the business world. It is a grim reminder that the foundations of change management came from the work of Elizabeth Kübler-Ross (“On Death and Dying”, 1969). Her ‘five stages of grief’ explored the emotional path people go through after the death of a loved one. Since then, we learned that people going through other significant changes in their life experience a very similar change curve.

“Change is the only constant in life.” – Heraclitus

Perhaps the biggest change businesses made in response to the pandemic was the quick adoption of “work from home”. Even companies that never considered that possible found ways to make it work. But now vaccinations are making it possible to look at re-opening offices. However, some companies like Morgan-Stanley are looking to return to the way things were before…with no remote-work options https://www.bbc.com/news/business-57487963.

Google recently retreated from its position of bringing everyone back into the office to allowing many to work remotely. But why? The reasoning for remote work is different now that it was at the start of the pandemic. Instead of a necessity to get any work done, it is now seen to provide additional benefits. For example, a way to access specialized skills from different geographies, tap into diverse talent pools, and enable more flexibility for benefit of the employees.

We see many other companies are embracing hybrid options. Workers come into an office three or so days a week and work remotely for the rest. While this works for the majority, there are some employees who like to always come into the office. Then there are others who want to work remotely all the time. At least the infrastructure and experiences are there to enable all options for many office workers.

Using what you learned to drive change in day-to-day behaviors

Now is a great time for leaders to look at their learnings from the past 12 months or so. What is working and what can be improved? Be sure to consider the human side (performance, rewards, coaching) as well as systems (online collaboration tools, meeting cadence, decision-making). Celebrate what you have accomplished, keep what is working, and change what you need to adapt.

To change a culture, you have to change the day-to-day behaviors. Be clear about the visible things people do that make up the culture you want to have. While many people picked up the behavior of using video calls for everything, it did create the very real problem of “Zoom fatigue”. But just because you CAN have video for every call and meeting does not mean you HAVE to use it. Define what few meetings where video is mandatory and let people decide for themselves the rest of the time. It is the leader who must start role modelling the change. Using a change management approach can give you the process and tools to make the changes stick.

What changes are you trying to drive in your organization, and has a change management approach helped you?

I thought team building was supposed to help???

Is your next team building event headed for disaster? Image copyright NEW & IMPROVED, LLC
Image Copyright NEW & IMPROVED, LLC

Team building experiences…

The trust fall where someone got dropped…

A ropes course where the rope broke…

Yet another “Zoom happy hour” extending your workday away from your family…

You know the examples from your own experiences. Someone (HR? the manager? a sadistic teammate?) has a great idea for a team building activity. The intention is usually positive, to bring the team together to get to know each other better so they can work together more effectively. Unfortunately, sometimes the result is a good idea executed poorly. Other times it is a bad idea that never should have happened.

The issue often is not the activity itself, but the context of the activity. Before picking something to do, start off by understanding the reason for it in the first place. If the purpose of the activity is to have fun or simply fill time in an agenda, find out from the team what they like. You can take it a step further by having members of the team alternate finding activities for the group. The team may actually enjoy a Zoom happy hour, or a trivia game, or one of these fifty ideas. However, when you need to take team building to a different level, a little more planning and thought is needed.

 Companies interpret the definition of ‘team building’ as simply doing something fun outside of the typical workday setting—rope courses, cooking classes, baseball games. When the focus is not defined or is social rather than building teams or experiential learning, team building will not occur.

Anne Zeitelhack, Executive Board Member CBIZ Women’s Advantage

So what else are teams missing?

Building an effective team requires specific skills that can be learned and practiced. Group problem solving, constructive conflict, and personal energy management are just a few. By bringing in activities that reinforce the skills and behaviors relevant to your team, you help them be more effective at meeting their team goals. Not only that, but you can also enable them to have a good personal experience with their teammates. Here are some great examples of specific skills and related activities: The Truth Behind Why Team Building Is Important In 2021.

In my practice, I use a 30-question anonymous survey from each team member to get an understanding of the strengths and areas for improvement for the team. The quantitative survey results provide data yet do not tell the full story. Interviewing the manager and even team members brings another qualitative perspective. What is still missing is to see the team in action. That is why I choose to use an escape room (virtual or in-person) as an early activity for any team.

Why escape rooms?

Regardless of the scenario, an escape room challenges the team with a group problem solving effort against a timed deadline. Usually requiring different perspectives and skillsets, the puzzles and mysteries are fun to solve with varying degrees of difficulty. The need for the team to self-divide for specific elements while still collaborating across multiple activities is a good proxy for how things get done in the work environment.

Whether the team escapes the room in time or zombies takes over the world, the people have fun. Connecting the shared escape room experience with the other data points helps me target the right additional steps for the team. It also gives very clear examples of team behavior that everyone can discuss. This can then turn into agreements on norms on what the team wants to do more or less of in the future.

When you begin planning your next team building activity, be sure to think about the skills and behaviors needed to develop in your team. You can then find something that the team will truly enjoy while targeting the right areas to help you build a high performing team!

Do you have a team building example to share where things went really well…or really badly?

Bringing in-person and virtual participants together in a hybrid meeting

‘Zoom Fatigue’ is real.

There are clinical examinations of the causes and effects such as A Neuropsychological Exploration of Zoom Fatigue from Dr. Jena Lee in the Psychiatric Times. I also have my own personal experiences and hear stories from others as anecdotal proof.

I recently facilitated a team improvement session for a group to help them have more effective meetings. When people in the office began working remotely, they defaulted to every meeting including video because, well, Zoom! It came out in our session that this was taking a toll in the team. They decided to make video optional for all calls (no questions asked), except for a specific team meeting once a week.

And that is the good news – there are practical steps you can take to manage Zoom Fatigue! The Harvard Business Review published several great tips on How to Combat Zoom Fatigue. These range from things you can do as an individual to agreements that your team can put in place.

Video can be your ally!

What can you do when you have a mixture of in-person and virtual participants, or a hybrid meeting? This is more challenging than a meeting that is exclusively live or virtual. This is due to the different way live and remote participants experience and interact with each other. One way to level the playing field is to design and manage the session as if everything and everyone were virtual.

  • Limit sessions to four hours a day maximum, with breaks every hour or so
  • Have all materials available in digital format, shared in advance
  • Instead of flip charts, use virtual boards like Microsoft Teams or Mural for collaboration
  • For breakouts, people live in the room can have a laptop/tablet for virtual members to join as individuals…unless you can afford one of these – Best telepresence robot in 2021
  • Keep a digital trail of artifacts from the session, such as an action/decision list and copies of collaborative output
  • For a team building activity, consider using a virtual escape room to engage problem solving skills while having a lot of fun!

A skilled facilitator can help design these elements into your hybrid meeting and then help manage execution for the group. They can bring in an outside perspective to making sure the tools and approaches you are using add more value than they take away.

How are you thinking about bringing live and virtual participants together?

Prepare for your 2021 kick-off NOW!

Time is running out!

NOW is the time to start thinking about your annual kick-off meeting to energize and focus your team for 2021. Many people are still just trying to get through 2020, the year of a global pandemic and murder hornets. However, a little thought and planning before the end of the year can make a tangible impact on your team for next year.

What should you do for your annual kick-off?

Kick-off meetings typically happen in the first month or so of the new year. They can last a few hours or span several days. You can choose in-person, virtual or go with a hybrid approach. They can be tops-down or very interactive. Regardless of HOW the session happens, there are a few key items to include.

Reflect on the previous year to help you learn and let go

A retrospective allows you to take time to celebrate accomplishments and acknowledge challenges. This can include reviews of financial performance, recognizing employee or team successes or panel discussions with customers. Consider your progress in context of your multi-year strategy (you have one, right?). Talk about the things to do more as well as the things to do less. Then close the book on 2020. The past is written, so most of the kick-off is about where you go from here.

Build employee excitement and inspiration through your organization’s vision/mission

An inspiring “why” or “North Star” is a great asset to attract and retain employees, next to customers and investors. If you already have one, great! Use this chance to get people excited about your direction and why they should work with you rather than someone else. If you do NOT have one, use this as an opportunity to co-create one with your team!

Establish clear, tangible next steps for each participant

Use the kick-off to make sure people see how their daily work connects to the vision and strategy. Consider a cascade of organizational goals, personal objectives and key results (OKR), or breakout sessions to define activities and owners. Each person leaves with clear personal commitments to contribute to the strategy. Be sure to agree how they will hold each other accountable to get it done.

Connect as a team and have some fun!

According to Glint, employees who feel a strong sense of belonging at work are over six times as likely to do their best work. Connection to the vision and daily work are part of this, as is feeling part of a team. Use the kick-off to build and reinforce personal connections. One way to do this is to incorporate team building. This can range from simple icebreaker activities to virtual scavenger hunts and escape rooms.

So what do you need to DO NOW?

Developing the agenda and content takes time and logistic arrangements must be done well in advance. Between chasing end-of-the-year business objectives, holidays, and on-going pandemic disruptions the time will go very quickly. Here are a few key items to start working on well before you start eating that Thanksgiving dinner.

Decide on timing and location

Setting a date early ensures people can plan appropriately. Check with participants about availability and send out a “save-the-date” announcement as soon as you can. If in person, book venues/hotels at least 60 days in advance, even earlier if you have a specific destination in mind. Consider health precautions, travel costs, proximity to offices/customers, and where people will enjoy going. If virtual, ensure technical infrastructure is in place for presenters and participants. Next to conferencing tools like Zoom, you may need to add tools like Mural or Microsoft Teams to help make sessions interactive.

Define key objectives, potential sessions, and owners

Based on your objectives and the four topics above, what do you want to accomplish? Think about the elements you can use to accomplish that, and who owns those elements. This can take the shape of an outline showing larger blocks of time which will later be refined into a detailed agenda. Be sure the objectives you set fit within the time you have scheduled. Better to select fewer items and do them very well. Focus on items where you can leverage the benefit of people being together at the same time.

Consider engaging an outside facilitator to help plan and manage your kick-off

An expert can bring in external best practices and a fresh perspective to the design of your session. During the session they play a key role as an unbiased facilitator. This allows you to focus on being a participant rather than trying to run the meeting. Some facilitators also offer targeted content or modules that can supplement your agenda, based on your objectives. If you decide to go this route, bring them in sooner rather than later. The earlier you bring someone like this into your planning the quicker they can help take some of the load off your shoulders! It also makes sure you have a chance to grab the best facilitators before their schedules are filled during this busy time.

What are you planning to do to kick-off 2021?

It could be a one-hour conference call, a day of Zoom discussions, or a multi-day in-person event (following health guidelines). No matter which approach you use, NOW is the time to start working on it. What are your plans for kicking off 2021?

#annualkickoff #teambuilding #highperformingteam #teameffectiveness #facilitation

Let’s deal with it: constructive conflict

Two kids fight over a teddy bear

Whether it is children fighting over a toy or adults in political debate, you can find conflict around every corner. In business, I have seen strife between two co-workers on a manufacturing floor as well as a collision between executive vice-presidents in a board room. The situations and personalities vary yet the fundamental basis for conflict is the same – it is based on differences.

Simply being different does not necessarily create an issue. In fact, we know that having diverse leadership teams can provide tangible benefits. A 2015 McKinsey report on 366 public companies affirmed that those in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean.

Then what kind of differences cause conflict? Actually, conflict is triggered when differences in needs, values and motives come into play. Something core to ‘who you are’ or ‘what you need’ feels in jeopardy. Intense emotions can follow, from fear or apprehension to anger and even hatred.

One way to get through conflict constructively starts with understanding what is truly coming into contention. Here are some questions that can help with that:

  • “What’s your real need here?”
  • “What interests need to be served in this situation?”
  • “What values are important to you here?”
  • “What’s the outcome or result you want?”
  • “Why does that seem to be the best solution to you?”

By gaining clarity on the conflict we open the door for cooperation. Those involved can then attack the real problems rather than the people. Going for a win-win approach where the needs and values of both parties is clear then sets the stage for constructive conflict for mutual gain. While resolving conflicts take time and energy, you can come away with an outcome where both people benefit!

The questions above are from the Conflict Resolution Network. They have many free resources you can access including additional skills like the one above. If you need further help, Escape to Expand offers team workshop modules that provide practical approaches to managing constructive conflict within your teams.

Do you have an example where you were able to come to a win-win situation from what seemed to be a divisive struggle?