This is an updated version of a blog I wrote for the IMI published on 30 Oct 2020 – original post published here –

How Did We Get Here?

Covid19, science, and human nature have “collaborated” to ensure that for the foreseeable future we will occupy a virtual or hybrid working environment. Over the last few months as this realisation has hit everyone, people leaders have told me that their people acknowledge a feeling of disconnect from their team. Recent research carried out on behalf of the University of Limerick, Kemmy Business School found that 51% of all employees reported feeling less connected to their teams.

51% of all employees reported feeling less connected to their teams

People working from home are trying to balance work and other home commitments (and distractions). Many find themselves paying attention to their own piece of the work puzzle rather than thinking about their input to the broader team and organisational picture. In addition, many cross-team initiatives were either put on hold or stepped back. All of these have affected the opportunities for collaboration and connectedness.

I see the current situation as an opportunity on a 3 fronts –

1) to clarify what collaboration means for your team

2) to help your team develop real collaboration in a way that is meaningful to them, and

3) to develop your leadership capability further as a leader of remote teams.


WHY Collaboration? 

I suggest that you start by clarifying what collaboration means for you and your team. The Cambridge definition of collaboration is – the situation of two or more people working together to create or achieve the same thing, or the act of working together with other people or organizations to create or achieve something. 

Start by considering the following questions –

  • What makes your team “a Team“? The purpose of this is to clarify where there are real interdependencies in achieving team goals rather than a group of individual contributors called a  Team simply to fit in an organisational model.
  • Why do we need collaboration? This will identify the specific aspects of your teams work and output that will benefit from greater collaboration.

Identify the specific aspects of your teams work and output that will benefit from greater collaboration

Making everyone say something at the team meeting isn’t collaboration and may leave some team members dreading your team meetings! Harassing an individual contributor to reach out to colleagues more, where their work is very specialised and individual, may prompt them to find another place of work and lose their expertise.


Time to make some lemonade

If you are like many leaders you may not know “how” to build that collaboration in the current virtual/hybrid environment because you haven’t been here before. Many leaders I have spoken to over the last number of months have added additional pressure or expectation on themselves from thinking that they, as the leader, have to have the solution.

You’ve heard the saying – when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. So, consider stepping back to see this as a development opportunity – both for your people – and for yourself. You have already developed your leadership capability in supporting your people to going remote and using technology in a new way. As you develop your team’s collaboration in the coming weeks and months you will have expanded your leadership toolkit even more.

So how might you build on this development opportunity?

As mentioned, when we feel we have to have the solution because we are the leader it tends to lead us to Tell how to do it. Our intention is positive but the impact may not be so strong. I don’t believe anyone can “tell” their people to “be more collaborative” (try it on kids, teenagers especially and see how that goes!). I believe the leaders role is to create the environment so that people generate that collaborative experience themselves.

Consider some of the following –

  1. Start by giving your team a worthwhile problem to be solved (by worthwhile I mean something that is a real business challenge and that matters to them).
  2. Set a timeline and a broad outline of what would be a good milestone – for example to present back your ideas at our team meeting in 2 weeks’ time
  3. Ask what help they need from you.
  4. Leave them to it


How will this help?

The act of asking your team to develop how they can collaborate is already creating collaboration!

  • When hearing back the ideas, take the opportunity to help them review the process they used – ask some more questions –
    • “how did you work together on this?”,
    • “what worked well?”
    • “what would you want to improve on your approach in the next stage?”
  • Through this approach you are developing the capability of your team to collaborate rather than follow instructions.
  • If necessary, build slowly.
  • As your team collaborate towards finding solutions to real problems, it will reveal the ways that collaboration works for your teams, in your given business, in your given situation.

Humans are collaborative – trust that your people can find ways to bring that to the fore. They need a  worthwhile focus – if the question to be solved is important enough then they will find solutions.

Just another way to Build People, Build Performance and Build Results

Keep on building