Written by Marc Bolick
Want to kick off a healthy and productive new year with renewed efficiency, purpose, and confidence among team members? Here are a few approaches that work well for us.
2022 has been a year of rebuilding and recovery for many businesses after nearly two years of disruption by a global pandemic, followed by a terrible and senseless war in Ukraine that threw another wave of chaos into our interconnected global economy. The pressures on leaders and teams have multiplied as we all do our best to maneuver among rapid changes all around us.
While a fluctuating landscape can be a good thing—the frequency and magnitude of change organizations are facing certainly can build greater flexibility, for example—a common symptom is that employees’ mental and physical health may suffer, both at work and at home.
As we turn the calendar from 2022 to 2023, I’d like to share three simple ways that leaders can strengthen their teams’ resilience and connection.
1. Redesign your meetings
The DTG team is mostly remote, so we do a lot of work in ‘meetings’ of one sort or another. But whether you work remotely, in an office, or in a hybrid mix of in-person and remote environments, the challenge of meeting is universal and inescapable. Whenever two or more people get together to do work, that’s a meeting. How can you ensure that meetings help rather than hinder progress?
We adhere to a set of guidelines to help team members design more productive meetings and be more efficient with their own time. Most importantly, we’re building a discipline that allows us to be respectful of each other’s time and work style.
Here are the principles we have adopted for internal meetings:
- Ask why. Always ask whether and why a meeting is needed. Use this fun app or, if you’re unsure if it should be a meeting or an email, try this flowchart.
- Consider the ‘A’s. What can be done Alone with some heads-down time, in Advance, or Asynchronously?
- Do the work of preparing fully. Your time alone is less valuable than all of your colleagues’ time together. Prepare a clear agenda and think through how you will lead others to accomplish the meeting objectives.
- Be respectful of each person’s time and diverse ways of working. Meetings should always be scheduled for the shortest amount of time possible. Context switching is harder for some people than others, so scheduling briefer meetings in advance with clear objectives makes it easier for everyone to contribute while minimizing the amount of focus time taken away from other projects.
- Share accountability and enforcement. Everyone on the team should hold each other accountable for following the principles and practices your team agrees on. It is everyone’s job to kindly call each other out and make meetings better.
- Stay human. Adopting a bit more discipline around meetings is not meant to foster an “all-business” mindset. It’s about creating more time and respecting different work styles so that everyone is able to do their best work.
As you kick off the new year, take a moment with your team to discuss what works and doesn’t work when collaborating in meetings. This list can be a starting point for a discussion, but it is important to get the right set of principles for your team.
2. Connect with those you serve
We are unabashedly human-centric in how we approach our work, and we incorporate this thinking into almost everything we do. One of the saddest things we see in our work is when people have lost touch with why they do what they do.
This happens far too often. Full of excitement and anticipation for how their work will help others, people enter a field or start working at a company but soon become bogged down in processes or frustrated with overwhelming challenges. Perhaps it’s a healthcare provider frustrated with coding procedures… a human resources professional struggling with outdated IT systems… or a forward-thinking department head trapped in organizational red tape.
It seems like we all get consumed to one degree or another by the processes and systems around us, and this prevents us from seeing the connection of our work to the people we ultimately serve. What is needed when this happens is a healthy dose of empathy—a pause to renew that connection that got lost in the day-to-day grind of our work.
At DTG, we often use these two tools to help teams reflect on how their work helps others:
- Stakeholder mapping. One of the simplest ways to understand who your teams are serving is to map the stakeholders of your team. We like the simple bullseye stakeholder map (see our previous post with downloadable stakeholder map here) in which you rank stakeholders according to importance or relevance to the team, radiating from the center outward. This stakeholder mapping activity can be done in as little as 30 minutes and it can help teams create a thorough, shared understanding of the people a team touches with its work.
- Empathy mapping. Another go-to tool for connecting people to the ones they serve is an empathy map (see our previous post with downloadable empathy map here). Developed by our friend Dave Gray, this simple tool structures a conversation around a specific stakeholder that the team serves; for example, a type of customer or even another department with which they interact. Similar to stakeholder mapping, a team can do this activity in as little as 30-45 minutes and gain a deeper understanding and empathy for those they serve.
Both of these activities are great for team building and injecting a bit of energy at the start of a new year. In a one-hour session, you could run one or both of these activities to learn what you don’t know about your key internal or external customers. Just make sure to prepare well and get your teammates to lean into the activity.
3. Build a habit of gratitude
As we approached the end of 2022, we wanted to do something special to celebrate another year of fruitful collaboration. The problem? We are all separated by hundreds or thousands of miles and several time zones. Instead of just holding a meeting to go around the virtual table and hear how everyone is doing (which, by the way, is a simple way to make deeper connections in a remote team), we decided to share gratitude for one another.
To do this, we used an online app called Kudoboard. We set up a board for each team member, shared the links with everyone, and set a deadline to visit each board and leave words of appreciation. Then, in a Zoom gathering, everyone opened their Kudoboard and read the comments as we all smiled and basked in the warmth of our teammates’ goodwill.
This exercise was a first for us. The increased connection and appreciation for one another was priceless, so we are going to work it into our regular routine. We learned that gratitude is something we all need to express more openly and frequently—it’s contagious and makes people feel valued.
In today’s increasingly disconnected, impersonal world of work, it can be more and more difficult to feel a sense of gratification from the work we do—especially for knowledge workers who often toil for weeks or months before getting the satisfaction of ‘shipping’ their work product. Building a habit of gratitude is something anyone can start in their team. The beauty of gratitude is that it is often reciprocated and is always satisfying to give.