This is a trying time for everyone, including our team members. Lives are being upended as schools close or assisted living communities are locked down, alternative childcare or elder care is patched together, work is shifted to virtual, and we juggle our individual, family, and collective worries and changes. For those who are now managing a virtual team, or operating as part of one, we have compiled resources below.

We are able to offer support or be a sounding board based on the fact that Aspen Leadership Group was founded as a virtual team and based on the crisis management experience gained by our consultants in emergency response organizations and as team leaders in a variety of nonprofits during turbulent economic times.

Basics to Keep in Mind
  • All the anxiety, fears, and immediate concerns in the larger system are in every individual in some form or fashion. Assume this, make space for it, and start every conversation connecting to how they are and what they need. Some won’t want to share and will want to get to the business at hand; some will take up the whole conversation just talking about what is showing up in their lives. Everyone will welcome, and remember, the personal touch of being seen and heard at this moment in time.
  • Every individual is doing their best. Be compassionate and assume the best intent. Their inattention for a short while doesn’t mean they aren’t committed or that they don’t care.
  • Human nature, under pressure, defaults to one of three reactions at any one time:
    • Don’t feel one’s emotions and just push through
    • Pull back and hunker down; or
    • Be overwhelmed and freeze.
    • Reactions can be a blend of these three on any given day or week. Listen and don’t assume they will stay in their current state of mind.
  • During uncertain times, people yearn for ways to feel some normalcy. Getting productive work done—seeing some results in a chaotic time—can provide some sense of control. Work can also provide ways to connect in meaningful conversations that are NOT about COVID-19 and the fast-changing headlines.
Ideas to Consider
  • Create more ways for the team to communicate to stay aligned
    • More communication is critical on virtual teams, and transparent information is needed. When there is a void in communication and transparency, people create assumptions that may affect morale, their choices of what to work on, and productivity.
    • A colleague who runs a global virtual team sets up 15-minute briefings at the same time each day, so everyone stays in the know. They use a platform like Zoom that allows anyone to log in. The briefing is recorded, and it is expected that those who couldn’t join that day will listen to it.
    • This same colleague sets up optional “An Hour with Mark” Zoom meetings each Friday at the same time. These are like office hours, and anyone can log-in to ask questions and get clarification.
    • At ALG, we have small teams meet regularly on Zoom to work on projects or adapt processes, and then bring those ideas to our full staff meetings held on Zoom at scheduled times that are committed on everyone’s calendars far in advance. Working virtually both as a small team, and also in the larger team, connects people on two levels.
    • We’ve used Zoom at ALG successfully to advance a series of important conversations. Last fall we created a five-part DEI training for our whole team with an outside facilitator who kept us real and helped uncover missing conversations that were needed.
    • Remember that mistakes will happen when the world is moving fast AND the virtual response needs to be fast. Not only expect it but make this overt. Share the mistakes and what was learned in your meetings, and ask colleagues to help each other through them.
  • Create new ways to connect personally with each other
    • People are hungry for connection during turbulent times, even if they don’t articulate this to themselves because they are pushing through or are frozen. It is the human experience to want to connect with others for safety or a sense of belonging when there is a lot of uncertainty.
    • One nonprofit created a buddy system to ensure that colleagues check in on each other (for the individual reasons above).
    • Food always helps, or some token of physical care. Sharing recipes for cooking at home or at-home workout videos can help build community and keep a team’s collective mind, body, and spirit healthy.
    • Celebration and acknowledgement are also important. When there are no hallway conversations to learn the story of what went well, we need to tell that story virtually. This is a big help in keeping a team knit together. In times of crises we want to help lower anxiety and fear by showcasing trust, collaboration, and interdependencies across our teams and highlighting what is going well and what we are learning.
  • Provide ways for teams to innovate and adapt to emerging realities
    • Under pressure, and with a desire to return to normalcy, teams can often keep doing what they’ve done before. However, new systems may be needed for this unique time. What was done before created solutions for previous needs. Set up consistent ways for people to pause, learn, reflect, and brainstorm together to find new solutions for emerging needs.
    • This might mean providing time for staff to speak with donors both to listen and to ask what they are thinking and feeling at this time. Reporting back might provide some adaptations to normal donor outreach or other parts of your strategy.
    • This might mean testing a new approach. The research shows that women give more spontaneously. And from our experience we have found that during times of crisis, women dig deep to support the most vulnerable among us, and they’re quick to organize to tackle urgent challenges. Certainly, schools and campuses have unexpected costs right now as they help vulnerable students and adapt to on-line learning. It might be time to pause and design a one-day or short-term campaign with your women donors to support a specific set of financial needs you now have, as one example of a new approach.
    • Working collaboratively on adaptations or new solutions can bring positive energy to a subset of your team, and a sense of success to everyone.
      • And don’t forget to celebrate and acknowledge here as well. One colleague created the “giraffe” award and handed out plush giraffes to team members who had been innovative and “stuck their necks out”. Make it virtual and share giraffe emojis or GIFs via Slack or email to recognize colleagues!

People we care about on our teams may be anxious and vulnerable even as they still desire to provide valuable work. We hope these ideas help you design ways for them to remember we are all in this together and they are not experiencing this alone and to feel listened to, valued, engaged, and productive.

Please let us know what actions you take with your team communication, connection and innovation. We hope to share ideas from the field with our ALG community.

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