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Enabling culture change with leaders and teams to sustain inclusion, innovation and high performance

Enabling remote culture change with leaders and their teams

by | Mar 4, 2021

Clouds and mountains reflected in a calm lake

In enabling culture change with teams and their leaders for the last six years I pay close attention to how a team behaves.

Prior to COVID 19, I would normally be with a team on site but when COVID 19 disrupted my business so significantly I had to adapt to enabling change remotely.

To say it was a relief when I realised that it is entirely possibly is an understatement. Whether through Teams or Zoom, or any other tool, enabling the change is possible. Whether it is Moscow or Dubai, Krakow or Johannesburg, Oslo, or Singapore the same behaviours reveal themselves.

Are there regional variances given the different countries and cultures? Absolutely. There are certainly many lenses to consider but to begin with, I would start with simply paying attention to how people are ‘visible’ and their levels of participation.

Start with observing if teams are willing to be ‘visible’

I start with observing how many people have their camera switched on for a virtual meeting, no matter what the context or importance. Are they open to making themselves ‘visible’? This is crucial because ‘visibility’ can have a significant impact on participation. This in turn plays out by either enabling a team to perform or by sustaining ineffective behaviours that undermine performance.

Next, how do team members actively participate?

With that in mind, I also pay particular attention to how people are contributing when they are visible on screen. Essentially, I am curious if the contributions are building on previous points, demonstrating active listening, engaging the thoughts and perspectives of their peers.

Is the context understood, is there accountability and ownership and what are the levels of commitment? Are other colleagues actively brought into the discussion, included, and involved?

Equally, how does each member of the team acknowledge any concerns or in truth, show any empathy or compassion, any vulnerability?

To that last point specifically, I look to see how the important business issues are openly and honestly raised, discussed, and understood? How are the business difficulties or challenges resolved? How are relationships and trust maintained when open, honest feedback is used to resolve the business issues and enable the team or colleagues.

Likewise, how are any ineffective behaviours sustained?

I also pay particular attention to how a team may enable and sustain behaviours that are not as effective. For example, are cameras mainly off and do they only come on when an individual contribution is made? Does the leader have group participation or are they having to work with one or two people perceived as relevant to the agenda topic? In essence, how does dependency on the leader show up and how is it sustained?

With that in mind, how a team ensures key issues are fully explored and understood stands in contrast to when assumptions mask a lack of understanding. How quickly are solutions introduced and how is this valued?

Are difficult issues avoided and are promises made that cannot be fulfilled. Is discussion on actual team performance avoided and how quickly do colleagues turn on each other or go defensive? Is the discussion kept tactical and lost in detail?

The leader plays a vital role, so what are they enabling?

Interestingly, in both cases I also pay attention to how the leader is participating. How are they pulled down into tactical detail and how hard are they having to work on sustaining energy, involvement, and outcomes of the meeting.

This includes but it not limited to owning the agenda, tracking time, involving team members, asking questions, probing understanding, ensuring some discussion, allocating actions, providing context, and explaining issues, to name just a few.

Again, there are different scenarios that play out given the team, context, sector, region, etc. I tend to say, ‘there are many shades of grey’, meaning I use many lenses or perspectives to ensure greater understanding and awareness of how the existing pattern of behaviour or culture may be playing out.

What I start with though is to observe how people are making themselves visible.  Literally.

Why bother with turning cameras on?

I noticed that when people are visible to each other on camera, behaviours can then emerge that enable more effective, inclusive, and engaged cultures.

Take for example a team I worked with recently. What I uncovered in the initial sessions with them was that they needed time to work on other unrelated projects when in team meetings, so ensured their camera and sound were off. In one case, someone openly confessed to preparing family meals whilst attending a remote team meeting.

By working with them to build psychologically safety, they started to talk openly about how effective their team meetings were. Their conclusions were revealing.

The realisation from the team was that they did not have a lot of trust in each other. Their trust was continually eroded through a mutual suspicion that no one was really involved when cameras and sound were turned off.

Similarly, they acknowledged that they were not effective as a team because they were so distracted. That the distractions invariably meant they did not fully understand the evolving complexities and had to make numerous assumptions to ‘cover their tracks’ and appear credible.

So, contributing beyond their agenda item was avoided! That, the easiest way to appear credible was to ‘band aid’ the growing list of issues and offer up varied and multiple solutions.

Unfortunately, this only made the situation worse as they became even less effective trying to manage all the solutions instead of addressing the real issues.

However, once they committed to turn their cameras on for each other they became visible to each other. Both literally and figuratively. Now they could be seen, and it became very transparent, very quickly when someone was ‘multi-tasking’, distracted and so not fully participating.

And so, behaviours start to change as does the level of thinking and contribution because to be frank, accountability and ownership are now a required standard of performance.

This is not enforced or imposed but comes from the simple reality that they are more likely to be asked a question and engaged.

That realisation is enough for most people to start paying attention and become involved.

For me, that is one of the first steps to enable remote culture change with teams.

Real people, real change, real results.