How technical teams can better collaborate in a crisis

remote work

The transition to remote work has been difficult for technical teams. Software professionals were already struggling to deliver everything on their plate, and shifting to a fully remote model has resulted in ever-changing patterns of communication, making it more difficult to build the human relationships that are so important for good collaboration. Just as tech workers were settling into more agile workflows, they must now also manage cross-team collaboration and alignment without being in the same space.

Software professionals have limited bandwidth to adapt and work on the soft skills required to navigate these remote interactions, and collaboration has suffered as a result. In fact, a recent study by Lucid revealed that as much as 75 percent of respondents said that collaboration has suffered the most in their work life since the start of the pandemic, even more than productivity. This lack of successful collaboration within technical teams and across companies can have a truly detrimental impact on an organization, especially during a crisis.

Now that we’ve nearly finished the first quarter of 2021, it’s vital for leaders to encourage a culture that fosters organic human interaction, helps cultivate relationships and therefore makes for a more collaborative environment. This should be led from the top, with upper management helping their teams become more confident in building authentic human and collaborative relationships, both in-person and remote.

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The strategies offered here can help technical professionals build stronger connections with each other. These relationships will then create stronger cohesion before a crisis arises, both within their team and across the organization, so all employees can work most effectively together on issues that come up.

Develop emotional intelligence: Emotional intelligence is defined as having the capacity to be aware of, control and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. Developing emotional intelligence isn’t done by checking a to-do list or taking a class, but instead must be an ongoing practice, just like gaining and mastering technical skills.  

Here are a few ways to exercise it:

  • Feedback Cycles -- Leaders need to introduce an effective process for giving and receiving feedback, such as the STAR model. Too often, feedback can be vague, lacking specifics and or tangible, actionable insights. Learning and practicing this pattern provides individuals with a higher frequency of feedback conversations, decreasing the time between the conversation and action taken.
  • Appreciations -- Teams also thrive where there is a practice of openly appreciating and recognizing individuals and teams and the work they’re doing. You can introduce a practice of appreciation by using a phrase like this: "<State the name>, I appreciate you because <specific context>."
  • Conflict Resolution -- Teams will struggle when they don’t know how to surface and address conflict in a healthy manner. By discussing and establishing conflict protocols ahead of time, teams are ready to establish a safe space with known processes for resolving issues in a more timely and effective manner.

Grow your facilitation skills: A superpower for our current work environment is facilitation, which is all about caring for the ways we collaborate together. The work of facilitation begins with yourself by being present in the meeting at hand and sensing what the group needs. Learn to foster a space of psychological safety, which is the shared belief that interpersonal risk-taking is safe within the team. It’s also important to be aware of participant engagement and energy. Learn to read the "virtual room" and, where useful, consider starting meetings with a quick check-in or a brief guided breathing exercise. This allows people to shift from whatever they were focused on before to become present and to connect with each other in the here-and-now before diving into the topic at hand.

Engage with each other (in other words, have fun!): If you want to build stronger working relationships between individuals or teams, bring on the fun! Avoid introducing overly competitive situations that risk becoming divisive. Think more along the lines of relaxing activities and fun games, as well as providing food or snacks. In longer meetings, I have helped teams take a break by leading a stretching exercise or doing a scavenger hunt to get people to leave their computers.

Be human: Show your teams it’s okay to be human at work by sharing your own experiences outside of work or allowing your home life into work. This opens the door for other employees to share what's going on in their personal life and feel more connected to each other. For example, we recently held an activity called "a picture of your life" where team members took turns sharing a photo from their phone with a 30-second story. Another way to accomplish this is by creating time to connect personally with others, in my recent webinar I shared that asking a coworker to have a virtual lunch with you is a great way to block out time in your day to get to know each other and what’s going on in each other’s lives outside of the office.

By implementing these practices, team members will establish valued relationships with one another, allowing them to be more collaborative and resilient when a crisis occurs. Developing these human connections within and between technical teams needs to be an essential priority as leaders look to establish the next normal. With people who are collaborative and connected, organizations can efficiently respond when a crisis arises, avoiding downtime and delivering success to customers.

Image credit: fizkes / Shutterstock

Bryan Stallings is the Chief Evangelist for Lucid. Bryan is tasked with sharing all he has learned about individual and team effectiveness from more than 20 years spent bringing people together in the workplace. Bryan engages with recognized thought leaders to share their insights on the subjects of agility, collaboration, facilitation, teaming and workplace culture.

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