I have spent the last two weeks communicating with leaders around the world and one thing is clear: we are in totally uncharted waters without radar, sonar, or anything else that will help us chart a clear course.
I can’t help but be reminded of one of my favorite quotes from Warren Buffet—one that I have used for years in my work: “In times of turbulence, it’s not the turbulence that is the danger. The danger is addressing the turbulence with old thinking.”
Aside from the obvious economic implications we all face—emphasis on all—there is great concern about the social fabric of companies, the welfare of the workforce, the wonderful cultures we have worked so hard to create over the past 30 years. What will happen to this? With everyone either wearing personal protection equipment or working from home, will we lose all the forward movement we have made in engaging our employees and creating the cohesive bond that is so critical to a high-performing team culture?
I look at this time as a time in which we can take cohesion to the next level with not only customers but employees as well. Let’s call it Humanity 2.0. I’ll explain.
For more than five years I have worked with a global telecom company on a concept that I think, at least, opens the door to some creative approaches to the problems we will inevitably, and with increasing speed, face with social distancing: a loss of connection and fear of what will come. I also mentioned the concept recently when addressing the global conference of a global technology company before we knew anything about Covid-19. Here it is: As we rush to embrace all the wonders of the digital world, we run into the danger of recreating the silos we have fought so hard to tear down. I call them digital silos. It used to be that team members were all on the same floor, passing each other in the hall and when getting coffee in the kitchen. But, not so much anymore. Our teams are distributed all over town, all over the country, the continent and the world—not a supportive environment for social cohesion. Oh sure, we have the wonder of video conferencing, but all too often these interactions are very transactional, and once the “end call” button is clicked, we’re alone.
So, here’s what I told the telecom company and the technology company which led to a new approach: “The more digital we become, the greater the need for our analogue skills.” Why? Because digital distancing changes the dynamic of how we interact and, if not counteracted effectively, begins to destroy cohesion. Why? Because cohesion is based on trust, trust is based on knowing the other person, and you can’t know someone unless you talk to them about something other than business. It sounds simple, but in the rush of things that need to get done, this is the first casualty of the digital world.
Then I was asked, “So, what does all this look like in the real world?” Okay, now remember, this was five years ago. What I said next was greeted with a look that was a mixture of fear, disbelief, and an audible gasp. I asked the executive to promise to do something for me. I said I would like him to pull his team together for a video conference, but this time with no agenda. “What!?” “No way!” “I can’t waste time like that. Not in this culture.” I responded, “Please, trust me on this, and promise me that you will give it a try once a week for four weeks. Do it at the end of the week and let’s call it Café Friday.” Very grudgingly, he promised me he would try it.
Six weeks or so, later, I came to see how things were going. “The first ‘Café Friday’ was deadly at the beginning, I have to be honest. So, I hope you don’t mind that we changed it a bit.” Hearing that was music to my ears. It told me that they were engaged in the idea. “Well, you know we’re a pretty young group, and the Café Friday theme didn’t connect with us, so now we call it ‘Hangover Monday'”. I loved it! He told me that now, on a rotating basis, each member selects a topic each week to discuss, like a movie that made a difference in their life, or an insight they’ve gained from a mistake they’ve made, or what’s the strangest thing in your refrigerator (yes, it’s true}.
We both had a great laugh and he told me it has become the meeting that no one misses and that the team was really getting to know each other, and cohesion was definitely on the upswing.
So, here’s my challenge for you in the age of Covid-19: I realize that Café Friday or Hangover Monday won’t work for everyone, but one thing I do know is that when you bring a group of smart people together and give them a problem to solve, the ideas start flying. Now, here’s the question for your team: “How can we use technology to improve our analogue skills?”
Try it. You could accomplish far more than you ever thought at a time in which it was never needed more.
Good luck on your journey!