There are a lot of articles out there aimed at helping us navigate the “new normal” of working from home and the challenges that come with it. However, most of these articles seem to focus solely on the technicalities of managing this new situation. How do you keep a schedule and maintain a routine? How can you make sure you have a comfortable workspace at home?  There seems to be very little out there about creating real connection in virtual meetings. And that might be the thing we are missing the most about in-person workplaces.
It can be easy to think that having an effective meeting relies simply on a strong agenda or a timekeeper. However, it is the more subtle relationship interactions that help foster strong team dynamic, collaboration and performance.
Creating Real Connection in Virtual Meetings: woman at her computer
 

Creating Real Connection in Virtual Meetings

How do you begin your meetings? Do you check in first, or do you jump right in? If you jump right in, then how do you know everyone is aligned with the purpose of the meeting and fully present? Could it be that some people are distracted from other meetings or with other concerns? How do you ensure everyone can fully contribute?
Given that we are working virtually, it can be easy to miss the physical cues you may otherwise perceive if you were sitting in a meeting room or would have gathered from the few minutes prior to the meeting starting. It can be easier to misinterpret situations in a virtual context than when you have all the data of an in-person interaction.
 

Checking in with the Three C’s

Beginning each meeting with a check-in allows you and your colleagues to become fully present and openly share intentions and concerns for the meeting. The questions shared below are an ideal way to ensure you capture connection and context, not just the content (or agenda) of the meeting.

  1. How do I feel arriving at this meeting?  (Connection) Take the time to connect on a personal level before moving on to the next question. As team members are juggling many different challenges, this is an opportunity to foster connection and understanding within the team.
  2. What circumstances make this meeting relevant and important to me and the team?  (Context)
  3. What results do I hope to obtain by the end of the meeting? Why are these results important?  (Content)
  4. Do I have any concerns that will prevent me from being “present” in the meeting?  (Context)

A modified set of questions can be used to “check-out” upon closing the meeting, so that all participants feel heard. It provides a space for each person to express how they felt about the outcomes of the meeting and share any concerns or issues that may not have been addressed. This concludes the current meeting and sets up future meetings with a strength of connection helping to build a strong team culture.
In addition, it is important, particularly in a virtual context, to continue to check in with participants during the meeting inviting them back in to contribute and be active.  Again, as you are not privy to the usual non-verbal cues, you may miss a person disengaging or becoming discontent.
 

Conclusion

There are many challenges to remote working, but as many companies continue to work in this way and consider a blended approach going forward, issues such as collaboration and team connection become even more important. Fostering connectivity and making sure all voices are heard is an important way to support your team as they navigate this new way of working.
 
If you would like to know more about how Axialent can support your team with a free check in exercise, please click here.

In recent months, we have been dealing with a lot of uncertainty and a fast-changing world. As my colleague, Thierry, and I discussed in the article Survivor Syndrome: Overcoming Organizational Trauma in Times of Crisis, even though people are still struggling with how to adjust to these changes, we need to find a way to reconnect with our future, vision, and possibilities. In addition, people are dealing with guilt about colleagues who have been laid off, and pressure to do additional work to keep the organization alive and hopefully, thriving. Planning for the future in crisis has never been so challenging, or so important.
planning for the future in crisis - image of documents on a table with people discussing them
 

Planning for the Future in Crisis

 
How can we create a future together when there is still so much uncertainty? Can we plan and create a vision if we don’t yet know how to adapt to the recent changes? How can we help our team members feel less anxious and find a way forward that adds value for everyone?
There is a way. It needs to address business planning, but also build trust within the team and inspire and energize team members. It requires learning a new skill and putting a new process in place that many leaders are not familiar with… yet. It all can be learned through practice.
We’ll call this process: “Back to the Future: the art of scenario planning 2.0”. You may remember the movie “Back to the Future 2,”  where Doc Brown taught us that the present and future as we know it could change in many different directions with new events we didn’t plan for. (If you haven’t seen the movie, you now have a plan for the weekend!) This has always happened to some degree, but the speed of change has never been as fast and disruptive as it is right now.
Many of you might be familiar with traditional scenario planning. The intention and process we need to apply in the current situation are very different. The issue now is not how many scenarios we can build based on assumptions and premises, but how fast we can read, listen, and integrate new information and adjust our plans quickly.
Doing this simple 3 part exercise with our teams will help.
 

1. Understand and align common assumptions

  • Check people’s assumptions to understand why they are doing what they are doing. Do you think people will act the same if one thinks the vaccine for Covid-19 will be ready in 6 months and the other in 18 months? What happens when half of your team thinks that people will not travel again and will be spending more time at home and the other half thinks things will go back to normal sooner or later?

Survivor Syndrome: Planning for the Future in Crisis: Women and men having a meeting to align on assumptions

  • All of these different opinions lead people to make decisions that affect how you run the business and their level of engagement and commitment.
  • Creating the conversation and allowing the team to discuss common assumptions will put them to work in the same direction.
  • The question to ask your team is: What do you think will happen in the world in the next 3 months that will affect our business?

 

2. Cascading common assumptions into execution teams:

  • Once we align the common assumptions, we need to analyze how this will impact the work of each team.
  • For example, if we believe that people won’t be able to travel for at least 6 more months, how that will affect consumption based on the industry I’m in?
  • Then, the next question to ask is: What does my team need to do differently, based on the assumptions agreed upon, and how this will affect our business? Each leader needs to identify 2 or 3 critical things that the team needs to start approaching differently.

 

3. Cascading our team needs to our leadership focus:

  • If the team needs to do some things differently, we need to think quickly about what we need to do to make it happen.
  • When we are in such fast-changing environments, the speed of change is a competitive advantage or a liability.
  • The key question is: What do I need to do differently in the next 2 weeks to support my team and make changes with speed and agility?
  • Remember, you are the main lever for your team to adapt quickly.

By doing this simple exercise with your team, you will provide direction, a sense of alignment, and also, something that contributes to the common strategy. You will move from uncertainty to action and help everyone feel like part of the solution.
 

Conclusion

Planning for the future in crisis is always a challenge, but connecting with your team using the process outlined above provides a roadmap of how it can be done. This is not meant to be a one-time exercise. While you are reading this article, many assumptions I have right now might be different from when I originally wrote this, even if it’s only a week later. The faster things are changing, the more often you should run this exercise. As a leader of an organization, I would run it at least every 6 weeks under the current circumstances. Find the frequency that works for you. As you do this, you will be strengthening the muscle of agility, adaptability, and innovation. What else you can ask for?
“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.” – Eric Hoffer
 
To contact Axialent about facilitating this powerful exercise with your team, click here.

In the extraordinary circumstances of today’s world, we are being bombarded by a myriad of contradictory information, while watching the devastating effects on businesses and people we value. While all this is going on, we also need to deal with the effect this has on us as individuals and leaders, build a coherent narrative, and take action. Different people will be affected by different emotions. They might arrive at diverse conclusions and recommendations on how to move forward. How do we deal with the polarities at play amid COVID-19? What is the best way forward when fear and anxiety are the dominant emotions?
Polarities at play amid COVID-19: Road leading into the future
 

Polarities at play

Organizational learning researchers, Chris Argyris and Donald Shon, found that when managers were asked how they behaved with their teams, they responded according to the “Mutual Learning Model.” They spoke about values such as collaboration, humility, curiosity, and learning. However, when Argyris and Shon observed these same managers in action, they saw them behave very differently. Their management style was more aligned with the “Unilateral Control Model.” They consistently tried to beat their counterparts, get their own way, and control others. They didn’t admit their own mistakes and instead, would blame others. For too long, traditional education has valued knowing over learning, certainty over uncertainty, having the right answer over asking questions, and assertiveness over curiosity and tentative exploration. No wonder the managers behaved as they did.
At the same time, the managers couldn’t openly act in this way, it would be completely unacceptable. Therefore, they would act like they were not trying to control others and were more consistent with the Mutual Learning Model. When this duplicitousness takes over, organizations (and their people) go crazy.
 

Some examples of the current polarities at play amid COVID-19 are:

  • Pay attention to the health of our people, but go back into full production right away.
  • Assure people not to worry and do their jobs, but worry about the future and the new normal.
  • Tell the truth, but don’t bring bad news.
  • Take risks in an uncertain context, but don’t fail.
  • Beat everybody else, but make it look as if nobody lost.
  • Be creative, but always follow the rules.
  • Promise only what you can commit to deliver, but never say “no” to your boss’s requests.
  • Ask questions, but never admit ignorance.
  • Think long-term, but deliver on your immediate KPIs.
  • Most important of all, follow all these rules, but act as if none of them exist.

 
The inability to discuss apparent contradictions, and furthermore, the inability to discuss that they are “undiscussable” such as the last rule states, create what Argyris and Shon describe as “organizational schizophrenia.”
There is no silver bullet to deal with these contradictions. What I am about to say may sound naïve. However, we have tried it over and over with hundreds of executives across different geographies with excellent results.
 

The way to deal with undiscussables is… to make them discussable

The first step is, with empathy and compassion, to help people become aware that there is a contradiction at play. Even before attempting to solve it, we need to acknowledge the apparent polarity. Once “we have a contradiction,” rather than “the contradiction has us,” we can engage in conscious conversations.
Contradictions happen in organizations all the time. Different people look at a set of data and make their own interpretations based on their personal history, past experiences, what is important to him or her, their intentions and more. They create a narrative that might blatantly contradict the narrative of others. Sometimes those others are influential people, colleagues with more authority than them.
 

Let me illustrate this with a practical example:

One observable fact: John, the leader of the team, doesn’t speak at all during his team’s meeting with other areas.
Different stories for different people: In Sam’s mind, Sr. VP of Marketing, a leader should voice his opinions, be assertive, and offer guidance to his team. Sam concludes that John has poor leadership skills and will not recommend John for the available senior position in Marketing.
On the other hand, Peter, Sr. VP of Sales, believes that a leader should be measured by how well his team performs. A great leader, Peter believes, is one who makes his people say, “we did it ourselves.” John’s team performed outstandingly during the meeting. They had great ideas and made practical recommendations. In Peter’s mind, this speaks very highly of John, their leader. Peter concludes that John should be offered the available senior position in Marketing right away.
One set of facts, completely different stories, opposite conclusions and recommendations.
The way to have a constructive conversation on the matter is for Sam and Peter to understand how the other has built the story, how the observable facts turn into interpretations, and how these combine with values to give birth to their opinions. They can acknowledge that they both create different stories and value different things.
I can’t promise that they will solve their problem. What I can assert is that they will have a very different conversation about John’s performance.
 

Applying this process in VUCA reloaded

If you were able to ask openly, from a place of humility and curiosity, questions like, “how do you expect me to be creative AND always follow the rules?” you might discover what your boss really wants. For instance, perhaps what she really wants is that you don’t put your division in an unrecoverable risk position, should your project fail. By having this open conversation, you will learn how this is not a contradiction to her and that both can be accomplished.
To survive and thrive, you have to be able to put the polarities and tensions created by this hyper volatile context on the table. Talk about them with the mindset of the learner; understand how everything can be true at the same time. You can do so by looking through the lenses of creativity, interdependence, and “yes, and” ways of thinking. Doing so may help you to discover options that, from a place of “either-or,” had looked utterly impossible to integrate. You are making once “undiscussable” topics “discussable.” While it’s easy to say, it’s not so easy to do. But it must be done if you wish to create a more conscious organization that can effectively deal with Covid-19 and the emerging challenges of the new normal.

Survivor Syndrome: Gather Information and Act. Pile of stones going from large to small at the top.
In the first article of a series I initiated with Fran Cherny, Survivor Syndrome: Overcoming Organizational Trauma in Times of Crisis, we offered some thoughts to start helping you, and leaders in your organization, support your employees get back to their best and grow the power of adaptability and resilience we all need now more than ever. Now it is my turn to come back to this series of articles and share with you some thoughts about the last action we suggested in our first article: “Gather information and act fast.” This important aspect of crisis leadership is about interactive and empathic communication in the context of accelerated digitalization of our social connections at work due to this Covid-19 crisis.
The number one need employees and managers have in the current context is for their organization and leaders to actively listen, with empathy and compassion, to their feelings, fears, difficulties, and what support they need., This is the first step to treating any trauma.
 

Managing organizational trauma

As Constanza Busto said, do not be misled by a quite common Knower posture consisting of believing that we well know what our people are feeling, what needs to be done, what’s best for the other person and needs to happen. This would be a double mistake. First, this would ignore the diversity of your employees’ feelings and needs. Secondly, what really matters is for your people to have the opportunity to express themselves and for you to show empathy, care, and compassion at work in the current context.
I see 3 key steps to manage organizational trauma:
1) Encourage your people to express and discuss their vulnerability.
2) Build a shared purpose as an organization in the context of what you will choose as your new normal, or new future, post-crisis.
3) Permanent and interactive two-way communication.
 

Gather information

Some companies are already running initiatives to concretely gather the data and feedback they need to help their people address trauma and grief (of self and of others). These initiatives include:

  • Regular employee pulse surveys and/or focus groups: Stop waiting for the annual survey or the perfect organizational way of doing it instead of using simple tools and surveys. You could pose a question of the day or week, such as, “how do you feel this week about x topic?” There are easy and simple applications, like “Happyforce,” to measure how your people are feeling in general every day and/or how they feel about a specific topic. It is not only about asking, but also about acting on it. Quick, simple, and effective.
  • Group webinars on health & wellbeing with active participation from employees to better manage their physical and mental health, as well as practice and grow their emotional mastery.
  • Online peer to peer group coaching programs: Consider a series of regular 60 to 90 minute webinars during which small groups of leaders (5 to 6 max) and their coach practice how to bounce back and rebuild their response-abilities to the crises they face.
  • Cascading of “Reflection Dynamics:” A top-down process of monthly 1 hour in-person or online team meetings on well-structured reflections. Managers can discuss challenges with their team and ways to practice effective mindsets and behaviors that will help them, and the company, overcome concrete pain points. Then, each team member cascades it down to their own teams.
  • Create virtual spaces to connect: Organize a weekly virtual café (via Zoom, WebEx, Microsoft Teams, etc.) to encourage people to reconnect personally, beyond work issues.

 

Take advantage of this opportunity to gather information and act

This crisis is not only about trauma and disruption, it is also a fantastic opportunity to grow for people and businesses. In the past 3 to 4 months, we have seen extraordinary demonstrations of resilience, agility, creativity, speed in decision and action, collaboration, empathy, and solidarity in our organizations, cities, communities, and families. Leveraging these bright spots in your organization is a very effective way to help your employees and managers get back to their best with inspiring examples of “what we can accomplish together.” You can do this by gathering facts and data with structured tools and processes. The same tools and processes also apply to identify and measure what did not work, what should we do differently and what we must do to fix the roots of the current organizational trauma or difficulties.
Beyond any of these examples, my number one point about managing organizational trauma is that inviting your people to express and discuss their vulnerability is the best way of making them stronger and better.

When we are facing new, difficult circumstances that we’ve never faced before, it is often much harder to respond in a constructive way. Our reptile brain unconsciously chooses between two bad options: fight or flight. Although we know this intellectually, this doesn’t mean we can get ourselves out of the trap so easily, or support others to do so.
In the article I wrote with my colleague, Thierry De Beyssac, Survivor Syndrome: Overcoming Organizational Trauma in Times of Crisis, we talked about how leaders can to respond to the current challenges in a constructive way. One of these ways is asking people what they need to be at their best, inviting them to be players and to regain control of their situation.
Survivor Syndrome: Tapping into the Player Within. Image of two business women talking
When we are in a leadership position we must challenge ourselves, not only to maintain our center, but also to be at our best to help others around us. However, many times what we see, as Constanza Busto shared in her article Survivor Syndrome: Building Bridges, is that we believe we know what needs to be done and what’s best for the other person. We can’t believe they don’t see it when, for us, it is so clear. Often, while we are thinking that about others, others are thinking the same thing about us. So, how can we escape from this unhealthy loop? For starters, as Constanza suggested, we meet people where they are, with no judgement, just making their stories and situations true and reasonable. Before we make them wrong, try making them right.
Only once that step is done, once we empathize, are we ready for the next part of the conversation. It is time to “coach them out of victimhood,” to help them connect with the player mindset. This means empowering them to think for themselves, encouraging them in a gentle and kind way, and helping them discover their next best step (just one little step) toward a new trajectory.

How do we do this?

  1. Validate their story: Make them feel safe and understood. If we could put ourselves in their shoes, we would be feeling and thinking the same thing.
  2. Ask questions that empower:
    • Help them build a small, short-term vision: “If you had a magic wand, what would be happening now?”
    • Ask “What can you do about it?”: a) Based on what you have envisioned, what is in your control? What can you influence? Is there anything you can now do to start moving in that direction? b) Is there anything you can ask someone for? Do you need to make any requests?
  3. Listen without judgement: Becoming a sounding board, coming from a place of understanding and compassion, for what they feel they can and cannot do, will make a big difference.
  4. Moving from ideas to actions: Help them commit to one “baby step” and be of service.
    • What could be your next move that you commit to try? When will you try it?
    • Can I support you in any way for you to try this?

Tapping into the Player Within

Try to follow these simple steps and remember that it’s not just the questions you ask, but from which emotional state and with what intentions you do it. Make sure you prepare to be of service from a place of humility, care, and helping others. The goal is to accompany your employees to find their own way to be effective with the tasks ahead, to gain trust in you, and feel good about themselves in such difficult times.
Remember, when a person is not at their best, the question we need to ask ourselves as leaders is: how do I choose to respond to effectively support this person to move on and be at their best? Above all, keep in mind that this is not only my choice, but my opportunity to grow and develop as a leader.
————
In our next article, we will discuss how we can all create a brighter future together in the months ahead.

In Fran Cherny and Thierry De Beyssac’s article, Survivor Syndrome: Overcoming Organizational Trauma in Times of Crisis, they mention “meeting people where they are” as a way of helping your organization navigate this difficult time. What does it mean to “meet people where they are?” Why it is important?  
In life, we are all seeking experiences that make us feel good, loved, and give us a sense of belonging. We crave connection. The workplacein any format, is not the exception. According to Forbes Magazine, on average, we invest a little less than half our time at work in meetings, interacting with colleagues. There are plenty of opportunities to build connection and strong, trusting relationships, and yet, often we feel disconnected and sense a lack of belonging. 
Survivor Syndrome: Building Bridges and meeting people where they are. Two hands, one on either side of a pane of glass in a windowMoreover, during difficult times and crises in an organization, leaders tend to focus all their energy in trying to survive and keep the business going; learning to transform the business while running the business. Relationships are sometimes overlooked, and connection is postponed for “when the right time comes.”
In Axialent, we believe that what we do as leaders shapes our organizational culture and how we choose to respond during crisis is what makes the difference.  
Responding to the challenge in a constructive way and supporting people to be at their best will help organizations grow their power of adaptability and resilience: two things we all need desperately, now more than ever. 
 

Building connections and meeting people where they are is a step toward supporting people to be at their best

So, if meeting people where they are” makes us feel loved and valued and can help us thrive, why do we often experience disconnection or misunderstandings instead? 
It turns out we can find it difficult to connect with others: 

  • It takes work and energy: Empathy is hard work. According to the American Psychological Association, people sometimes choose to avoid empathy because of mental effort it requires. 
  • It can be painful / uncomfortable to see people we love & care for suffer: We want to save people from suffering. We cannot “spare people from living the process.” The only way out is through.
  • We get frustrated and anxious for the time it takes to walk the journey: We sometimes feel that talking about what has happened is not the best investment of our time, and it’s frustrating. “Lets go into solution mode NOW!  
  • Knower Energy: We believe we know what needs to be done, whats best for the other person and what needs to happen. “How can they not see it? It’s so clear!” 
  • Our own judgment: We experience disappointment when we feel that things or people are not being good enough. We put our own expectations on others. 
  • It’s challenging to look inward at ourselves to a place where we can connect and resonate with others pain and experiences. We are not always willing to do it.  

 

Building bridges

So, how can we increase our connection to build bridges and “meet people where they are?”

  • Self-connection: Be aware of your own stories and emotions toward the situation. Clarify your own intentions. How is this situation making me feel? What is the story I am telling myself? How would I like to help others? What would make me feel proud, despite the results?
  • Acceptance: Whatever it is, is enough. Let go of any expectations of how things should be or how people should react. We are all in our own journey and the time it takes for each of us to process what is happening is the time each of us need.
  • Hold the space for others: Be fully present with your energy, intention, and attention. Create a safe space for people to share their own stories, without fear of negative consequences. Let people know you are in this together.
  • See people with kind eyes: Tap into your empathy and compassion. We are all doing our best to deal with our own challenges. Its ok to feel whatever each of us is feeling. Be at their serviceassume good intent, and seek to understand others’ perspectives and beliefs with genuine curiosity.
  • Help people get unstuck: The way we see the problem is the problemChallenge peoples beliefs by offering alternative perspectives and support them in creating new possibilities for their business, their relationships, and their lives.
  • Invite people to move forward: Create a compelling and inspiring vision for people to join you and reduce the exit barriers for people wanting to leave.
  • Be the change you want to see in the world: Lead your team by example by demonstrating the standards (behaviors) you would like to see in others.

 
Reaching out and offering our helping hands with the sole intention of supporting each other is the way we, at Axialent, choose to respond.
 
“Just Say No: How Your Meeting Habit Is Harming You” Forbes.com, 8 August 2013
“Empathy Often Avoided Because of Mental Effort” apa.org, 22 April 2019

In a recent article, my colleagues Fran Cherny and Thierry De Beyssac offered some thoughts on Survivor Syndrome; how the present challenges have the potential to create organizational trauma affecting all the dimensions of business and how to better cope with this. Theoffer in their article a list of actions to help and support your employees as we move through this time together. The first on the list being: “to put things on the table. What does it mean to “put things on the table?” What can I do differently to help myself and others around me during this difficult time?
What does it mean to “put things on the table?”
The emotions that are triggered in us by a world in constant “VUCA Reloaded Mode may put us in a place that oscillates between harmful repression and brutal explosion. Anger, for example, permeates openly or simmers under the surface. As we speak to colleagues, friends or family members, it can almost tele-transport itself across remote devices. I like to say that as long as the emotion “has you,” you have no choice. You will do whatever the emotion does, only to regret it later. You will say things that hurt others, make promises that are impossible to deliver you name it.
I like to offer to my clients the following concept: the only way out is through. In order to put things on the table, you must enter a space of higher wisdom and compassion.
 

You do that by:

  1. Taking a few deep breaths of awareness: You separate yourself from the story. It becomes “you have the emotion,” rather than “the emotion has you.” You take perspective of your thoughts. The I (the person) that has the thought is NOT the thought. I feel angry, rather than I am angry.
  2. Accepting the emotion unconditionally: Realize that the emotion makes perfect sense, given the story you are telling yourself.
  3. Analyzing the story behind the emotion: Every emotion has an archetypal story. For example, anger or frustration has the story: “something bad is happening and it should not be happening.
  4. Expressing your thoughts and ideas from a place of tentativeness and humility: As you engage in conversations with your colleagues or leaders about what is going on, you adopt the perspective of good intent from everyoneEven when you don’t understand what is going on, you assume that the people in charge of calling the shots have everyone’s interest at heart.
  5. Inquiring about the thoughts and ideas of others from a place of wanting to learn, of curiosity: The combination of 4 and 5 creates the conversational dance where any topic can be addressed or put on the table.

 

Put things on the table

Working through steps 1-3 are paramount if you would like to have a constructive conversation. Taking these steps will set the conditions for the kind of conversation you want to have. The promise is that you will be better able to understand each other. And then make better and informed decisions, for the good of the business, the team and yourself. Being able to address difficult topics in an opencaring and compassionate way is a powerful way to increase connection among your employees in these difficult times.

Person walking on a beach looking out to a calm sea
First, a bit of context… 12 years ago, we went through a global financial crisis. I remember how we discussed at Axialent the impact of the crisis in organizations, people’s emotions and their effectiveness to give their best at work. At the time, one of my most brilliant mentors, Axialent founder Fred Kofman, said something that stayed with me: People will suffer Survivor Syndrome. He then developed this idea into a short article, and I think now is the time to bring back the “Survival Syndrome” issue to raise our consciousness on what people might be going through these days. Not only might people have lost someone due to the virus, but there is also a feeling of loss whenever we need to let go of the past, of what we were used to. And also when our organization goes through restructuring and we have to let go of colleagues and friends who are part of our community or business family. I call this organizational trauma in times of crisis.
My business partner, Thierry de Beyssac, and I, invite you to read the following article to raise awareness and build effective actions to deal with people’s struggles now. Everyone wants to be at their best, but often unconscious emotional stress gets in the way. We want to help everyone understand some of the hidden and unspoken dynamics we might be facing today and what is it that you can do to dissolve this.
Fran Cherny
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The Survivor Syndrome (in times of coronavirus)

Many war veterans realize that their psychological scars are much deeper than any physical pains, and that these will take much longer to heal. The joy and relief of returning home is sooner or later impacted by the things they remember; things they saw, experienced, felt, or feared come home with them. Stories from this past might invade their nightmares for years—perhaps even the rest of their lives. Beyond the happiness of feeling free and back home, the horror and the loss stays.
Psychological studies have found one thing in common in all these great stories of liberations and family reunions: survivor syndrome. One of the biggest emotional weights that those who made it through alive must bear is the guilt of surviving. “Why me and not my friend?” “Why am I alive when so many of my loved ones didn’t make it?” “Do I have the right to live when so many more worthy than me are dead?” Depression and other mental illness, and a great number of suicides are an outcome of not finding a way to deal with these questions.
 

Organizational trauma in times of crisis

Although organizational circumstances are not comparable with any of these extreme life or death situations, at a subconscious level there are some things that our mind starts thinking in a very similar way. For one’s self‐image and ego, the loss of a job has a deep impact in our self-esteem and how we are perceived by others.
When downsizing, many companies invest in psychological and outplacement counseling for those who have been let go. This occurred after the 2008 financial crisis, and we now see this as a common practice in most large organizations. But what about the “survivors”? What about those who now have to carry more responsibilities in a “leaner and meaner” organization? Who helps these people cope with some of the guilt and stress of remaining when some of their colleagues and friends have gone? People are asking: Why did I “survive”?
 

Some real situations

It is easy to think that those who still have a job should feel reassured, consider themselves lucky, and be ready to give the best of themselves. This might be very true for some, but also a bit more complicated for many others. Not facing a possible organizational trauma could prove to be gross negligence for your business.
In the past several weeks we have seen many people in coaching sessions, leadership meetings and virtual training sessions trying to talk about this and finding it hard to find the right words. We have seen a case of a company who decided to cut 40% of their workforce as their industry has been deeply affected. We heard from some of the people still there, who are working double the hours, and still investing a lot of time in connecting with their colleagues who are gone now, checking on them. We know of one employee even offering to give up 50% of their salary so they can offer a 50% job to someone else, as a way to take care of a colleague they valued a lot, which is an amazing gesture of generosity, but that has much more implications when the company does not know how to respond to these initiatives. All this takes time, energy and emotional resilience, and people don’t know how to deal with this.
 

Paying attention to the hidden dynamics

In the midst of the current global crisis, we are seeing a deep impact not only at a health and an economic level, but also at a mental health level. With so many companies of all sizes impacted by the coronavirus confinement and restrictions, and with the high level of uncertainty of the future, it is important to also take these work‐force survivors into consideration and help them to be at their best. Yes, many people have lost their jobs and we should definitely connect with them and support them emotionally and financially. But let’s also be aware that many others have kept their jobs and in a different way, they are struggling to. Yes, people are being supported by their employers to deal with technology issues, how to effectively work from home and many other things that are definitely needed, but we are seeing very little attention being given to the emotional issue created by survivor syndrome.

 
Why do we need to also focus on this when we have so many others issues? Because these are the employees that will carry us through the crisis, and their needs must be met as they face difficult situations, many times expressing symptoms of guilt, stress and fear. And many worry they could be next as there’s no guarantee that layoffs will not continue.
Our invitation is to at least consider it, because this might be a hidden issue affecting your employees’ state of mind and their capacity to be at their best. It is always better to check, to connect with people’s real concerns and fears, than to pretend that nothing is there, creating an “undiscussable” (something we all know exists, but no one really talks about openly, which creates even more tension).
 

Leadership responses will make the difference

We are raising this because with the current context and level of challenge everyone is facing on all levels, we perceive a risk that many managers might use “passive aggressive” or “passive defensive” behaviors, based on how our primal brain works when we are stressed and in really challenging circumstances: the flight or fight response. This could be expressed in various ways, for example by saying “Come on, let’s focus on the future, let’s move on” when others are not ready, or by just not talking to and connecting with colleagues as a way to avoid “rocking the boat”, or by feeling the need to connect emotionally with our own vulnerability and fears.
If these dynamics are happening today, we believe things will get much more difficult soon when we face the expected next phase of “people and business rightsizing“ that many are already calling, maybe too quickly, the “new normal”.
 

Responding to the challenge in a constructive way

So how can we break this vicious circle? How can you help your employees get back to their best and grow the power of adaptability and resilience they, and your organization, need now more than ever?
Axialent has been working with organizational culture change, executive learning and team effectiveness for a long time now. During difficult times and crisis, people usually do not respond as they normally would. There is a layer of emotional challenges that blocks many people’s ability to face reality and to embrace new ways with agility and joy. And unless worked on, it is hard for many people to connect with the opportunity and explore how they can grow, bringing the best of themselves for them, their colleagues and even, for those who are not around in the team anymore.
As a way to start helping you, and leaders in your organization, support your employees to be at their best, we offer below some specific actions. These will help people move on, with resilience, integrating their feelings and refocusing on what they can do to make the situation better for everyone:
1. Put things “on the table”What remains “under the carpet” or hidden, exists anyway and becomes a source of tension that will add unconscious “weight in people shoulders”. It is critical to create a safe space where people can talk about their feelings, engage in a constructive dialogue and build a collective emotional intelligence.
2. Meet people where they areWith empathy, compassion and non‐judgement, let’s allow everyone to be where they are before we invite them to move on. Don’t ask them to follow and meet you where you are, but walk towards them and let them know you are in it together. Show people it’s ok to feel what they feel. And recognizing our own vulnerability first is a strength that will allow people to move on faster and from a good place.
3. Ask people what they need to be at their best, inviting them to be players and gain controlPeople are often trapped in their own victimhood and find it hard to connect with what is in their control to make things better. We can gently invite them to connect with that part of themselves. It is always impressive to see how improving self-confidence and self-esteem is one of the most powerful ways to gain the resilience you need to face any crisis.
4. Create a future togetherIn the current uncertain times, it is critical to create a vision for what we can create together, in a way that strengthens our capacity to adapt. Building scenarios together, and adjusting them based on new information, is an exercise that helps people share possibilities and start working based on them. This helps everyone feel that they are contributing to solving things in each of the three dimensions of sustainable success: business KPIs, the way we work together building trust, and how each of us feel as individuals are aligned to our core values.
5. Gather information about how all this evolves and then act fastThe number one need that both employees and managers have been expressing is to be actively listened to. In today’s world you can leverage technology to gather data (even every day) about what your employees think and feel, and what their general mood is (always using it in a responsible and open way with the people from whom you are collecting the data from). Don’t miss this opportunity to know how your people are doing, and design actions that can meet their emotional needs.
Only from a place of awareness, we can choose how to best respond to each situation. This is the time to help everyone be at their best and each of us can play a key role in making this happen.
 
First published by Thierry de Beyssac and Fran Cherny in LinkedIn

Working with business leaders around the globe, one topic persists regardless of geography or industry. It’s the challenge of silos. The closed group and silo mentality challenges a business’s ability to coordinate, innovate and be more agile — three criteria for competing with disruptive movements in today’s marketplace. And just as walls can be built to form the silos, these walls can also be torn down.
Before breaking down silos and associated barriers to cross-group collaboration, we first have to understand why barriers and silos are created and/or exist in the first place. Here are four beliefs we hear regarding why silos exist and persist within organizations today:

  1. Knowledge and Certainty — People within silos come to believe they hold specific knowledge that is well known and understood within the silo and is not understood outside of the silo. The silo provides a safe place for their knowledge and certainty of how things should be done. Others outside of the silo “don’t get it” or don’t know.
  2. Belonging and Shared Purpose — Silos are micro entities with their own microculture within the larger organization. These micro entities often have a clear, shared purpose that makes belonging much easier. Associating one’s place and identity in an organization is much easier with silos than without.
  3. Fear and Scarcity — Fear plays a big role in the existence of silos. People fear a loss of perceived control over an area for which they are responsible. We can believe that resources and knowledge are limited and even scarce. This results in protecting the resources and knowledge of the silo for fear that “outsiders” will compromise them.
  4. Lack of Control — Many leaders believe it is much easier to get things done by running the smaller world of the silo than to integrate one’s area into a greater whole. There are fewer people to coordinate with, fewer people involved in decision-making and faster cycles — all things we believe we can and must control within our silo.

Knowing the key beliefs behind the existence of silos, we can learn how to replace them with new ways of thinking. New mental models will help us integrate people, ideas and action across multiple teams while making our organizations more flexible in their ability to respond to challenges. Here are four ways to break down silos and the walls between us at work.

  1. Shift From Certainty to Curiosity — Silos, by definition, are discrete areas wherein people brought together under a common purpose develop expertise that adds value to the greater organization. That expertise should be fundamental to the organization’s ability to thrive; however, oftentimes, that same expertise results in rigid certainty wherein the people within the silo believe they are the owners of what can be known about a particular subject. As such, they are not easily open to other groups that appear to have little or no experience in their area of expertise.

Busting the silo mentality requires having the same expertise but combined with a belief that the perspectives of others can be complementary; therefore, we should always be curious about what other perspectives and possibilities may exist. With an awareness that all people and groups have blind spots, a mentality of openness and curiosity allows us to collaborate and create value with groups outside of our own.

  1. Expand Belonging and Share a Greater Purpose — Just as having a purpose in common can hold a smaller group or silo together, expanding the purpose you and your group share with others can make working outside the silo easier. Oftentimes, we believe that sharing a larger purpose can mean it will be less meaningful for the individual. They may perceive their contribution as less because they have to share in a purpose larger than the one within their silo,

Therefore, it is important to explore and determine the impact each role has with regard to supporting a larger purpose, one that is outside of the group or silo wherein you work. For example, in a technology company, the internal engineering function that serves all employees and company needs has the specific purpose of supporting employees and initiatives with access and ease-of-use of the best technology. At the same time, the human resources department’s purpose is different still in that it exists to recruit, develop and retain the best talent. For these two departments to work together effectively, each will have to subordinate their individual group purposes for a larger purpose they both can share and relate to as both group and individual contributors.

  1. From Fear and Scarcity to Confidence and Abundance — Our experience shows that to the contrary, most groups within organizations work with a mindset of scarcity. This, in turn, creates a competitive posture for talent, resources and budget. A mindset of scarcity will avoid risks and will fear losing time or money. In contrast, a mindset of abundance believes that there is always more and as such seeks to build relationships and collaboration in order to realize more of what they seek. It is a mentality of thriving versus surviving.

However, believing in abundance requires having confidence in one’s capabilities. Confidence allows us to see more opportunity with fewer constraints. Poorly equipped teams lack skills and capabilities. This, in turn, reinforces their mindset of scarcity. In contrast, high-performing teams are always pushing the boundaries of what others believe are scarce. They see opportunity instead of problems. They see more instead of less. They believe in their ability to achieve new heights.

  1. From a Lack of Control to Focusing on One’s Ability to Respond — All situations at work are comprised of elements within our control and elements outside of our control. Silos often persist because we believe that elements outside of the silo are also outside of our control.

For example, human relations and interaction outside the silo can be more challenging than relationships within the silo. This may be true for a variety of reasons, including worldviews, beliefs, attitudes and education that are different than those shared within the silo. And yet, within the complexity of people and relationships lies the greatest leverage for busting silos. By exploring our ability to respond to the challenge of these relationships, we can design processes or road maps to organize the task being shared. Processes help clarify the actions people will take to fulfill a purpose. The clearer, more streamlined and agile the process the better. It then allows for people to collaborate with focus.
Conclusion
Silos exist because they support what we believe about ourselves, our work and our organization. When we believe we know something and others do not, we create silos. When we limit our shared purpose, we create silos. When we have a mindset of having a scarcity of resources, we create silos to compete for and protect our resources. When we seek to feel in control, we build walls that keep out whatever is outside of our control and, in turn, we create silos.
The answer to busting silos begins with shifting our beliefs about ourselves, our work and our organization. We can shift from knowledge with certainty to having knowledge combined with curiosity, wherein we believe the input of others outside our silo can be complementary and add value. We can expand our purpose to be shared with others, thus bringing down walls between us. We can build our capabilities so as to have the confidence required to see abundance and opportunity versus fear and scarcity. Finally, by focusing on our ability to respond, we can expand our impact on others and on the task at hand, allowing silos to open so collaboration can flourish across departmental lines.

Let’s be real. Our classic learning and development world was designed around the knowledge and expertise “haves and have-nots.” The world has evolved, and it is time that we do as well. We do not need more content and more cognitive knowledge. It is all at our fingertips in this age of the sharing economy.
We live in a world of savvy, digitally native creators where little happens, even if you are an individual contributor, without the interdependency of others and the influence of outside data. Cognitive knowledge is one Bing, Google, MOOC or TED Talk away.
Gone are the days of simply rolling out “training.” We are in a world of constant change, and digital disruption is now both a tool and a distraction.
Learning and development professionals have to navigate these new realities in order to create opportunities — like flipped classrooms and virtual conferences — and leverage what we know about neuroscience and the power of social learning. This navigation is often further complicated by corporate restructuring that leaves us focused on helping “survivors” be our outstanding talent of the future in an environment of uncertainty and change.
We are doubling down on doing more with less in a climate where leaders who demonstrate curiositycreativity, agility and authentic collaboration hallmark true sustainable success.
The sharing economy is a disruption and an opportunity. With mutual need, trust and collaboration at its heart, the sharing economy is here to stay and changing the way we do business and see the world.
The mindset of “sharing,” value creation, opt-in, open source and easy access are growing expectations of our employees and customers alike. This means that we as learning and development professionals need to create and curate programs that are relevant, valuable, easy to use, accessible and very focused on leveraging the knowledge that already lives in the system. Our focus is quickly shifting to being curators and enablers of learning in action and through collaboration. This has major implications on what programs we sponsor and how we sponsor them. Gone are the days of the sage on the stage. We are now guides on the side, connecting our employees to learn from one another and leveraging the internet umbrella of knowledge available just a few clicks away. Building technical expertise will still be important, but what will be critical is building stellar learners and sharers within our organizations. Most of the work done in today’s corporate environment requires collaboration in and across high-performance and, better yet, purpose-driven teams.
The challenge is that these teams are not only global but they also operate virtually in a complex matrix where it is necessary for them to source their measures of success intrinsically rather than from the certainty of executing on their task, as these tasks can get reprioritized in a single email exchange.
Leaders and team members alike need to possess strong interpersonal skills that translate in a virtual environment. These skills are needed to create an inclusive environment with the understanding that cultural differences matter, and mutual value creation is what drives healthy interdependence.
One of the most difficult tasks for leaders of global teams in this new world is to have the humility to recognize that their styles of decision-making may be deeply rooted in old ways of working before the rise of mutuality and sharing. Research shows that, in a geographically distributed team, trust is measured almost exclusively in terms of reliability, so leaders of virtual teams need to concentrate on creating clear expectations for all members of the team while checking in mutual value creation within and across to other teams.
The implications for learning mean that the human elements of building trust through impeccable coordination, humility and reliability require very different skills and mindsets for leaders. We are charged with growing leaders who have human-centered mindsets and skill sets that enable learning in action, sharing of ideas, and the agility to pivot in the moment while maintaining strong and often virtual relationships.
We are charged with tapping into the knowledge within and outside our systems. We need to curate experiences that grow adaptive systems thinking, polarity management, design thinking and the inclusive leadership needed to drive innovation (creativity) as well as the ability to leverage diversity, build partnerships, foster a learning attitude and inspire vision. Devices will never replace or even compete with the learning benefits of human interaction. However, the internet is an organizer, amplifier and information accelerant that feeds our desire to learn, with powerful tools that allow us to create our own paths of inquiry and share what we learn. Search is magic, and that information has never been more engaging, accessible and customizable. But “learning” and “development” are two different things. Current curriculum, even when delivered with the tools and media of the information age, do not fully engage leaders nor prepare them with the skills they need to prosper in the 21st century.
Global learning and development is no longer about rolling out training. It is about transforming the mindsets of leaders, including how they define their individual identity, and shifting success from knowing to success from learning and sharing.
We need to be thought leaders in developing expert disrupters and creating transformative environments where learning and development are as easy, seamless, respectful and collaborative as Uber is to transportation and Airbnb is to hospitality. Virtual classrooms will only work with a strong focus on human connection and opportunities for learning in collaborative action, where we are leaning on our peers and making learning and development a sign of success rather than an opportunity to prove what we know.
Search for the pain points in your organization, identify allies within the system to influence learning solutions, and make it real, relevant, valuable and collaborative with a strong focus on humanness, while leveraging the knowledge that exists within the system. As leaders who walk their talk, we need to go about this in a way that demonstrates the very mindsets and skills that we are aspiring to grow within our systems.