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Prioritising team wellbeing in times of crisis

Insight

There are decades when nothing happens, and there are weeks when decades happen.” Vladimir Lenin, 1912.

This quote feels all the more poignant as we navigate a global pandemic! For many, the impact of the coronavirus has brought to life a dystopian reality far from that which we could have imagined. As the curves of new cases of the virus finally start to flatten in many European countries, there is light on the horizon once again that the lockdown, social distancing and furloughing - words which have become part of our daily vocabulary - will come to an end.

Here at Lane4, we are continuing to operate remotely, and have moved to 100% virtual delivery which has been an exciting opportunity for the business. Our focus throughout has been to maintain the wellbeing of our teams, which was the topic of our recent webinar with Natalie Benjamin and Wil James. They provided in-depth knowledge to help upskill managers and team leaders in constructing the right environment to harness wellbeing.

Natalie Benjamin and Wil James

Natalie Benjamin, former international athlete and Lane4 Consultant Director turned home-school teacher, has lots of experience working with leaders on communication, change and engagement. Wil James, who has a PhD in performance psychology and has worked with the GB hockey and the England cricket teams, is also now juggling his role as Director of Solutions Design at Lane4 with home education.

This blog will cover the following:

-          Why wellbeing matters more than ever

-          How to identify the triggers that affect the state of wellbeing

-          Top tips and strategies that leaders and managers can use to protect and manage their team’s wellbeing  

Why wellbeing matters

Leadership is always littered with managing competing tensions, even when there isn’t a global pandemic to add to the mix. At Lane4, we have a lot of research on the paradoxical mindsets leaders need to adopt in order to navigate such tensions, and that research has never felt more relevant. As a leader, you are constantly juggling opposing concepts: making strategic plans for the future with delivering daily tasks, or being innovative with maintaining processes which work.

Now, these tensions feel even more acute, and in facing those tensions, wellbeing is a term which has risen in popularity. Many of us are noticing how it’s being threatened, and are seeking out strategies to protect it.

In the UK, the number of people who said they feel ‘happy’ has fallen from 56% to 26%, a statistic which I’m sure many of us can relate to as social distancing takes its toll. Meanwhile, stress has become the most common emotion experienced by Brits, with 48% considering it their primary emotion! Paired with the fact that decreased wellbeing impacts performance, these numbers show with absolute clarity why wellbeing matters now more than ever.

Where there is talk of stress and compromised wellbeing, there is often talk of resilience. Resilience is that ability to lessen the negative impact of stress and pressures. At Lane4, we have what we call a ‘resilience recipe’ which our research and experience would suggest comes from three components: mind, body and environment. This blog will focus on the environment part of building resilience to help you and your team protect your wellbeing (see here for an infographic on the mind and body parts of cultivating resilience).

What are the triggers which can impact people’s wellbeing?

At the moment, it can feel like our wellbeing is under almost constant threat, from ever-shifting projects to coping with furlough. To help your team through these challenges, the first thing I would ask leaders to be is strategic. When we are strategic, we diagnose, come up with a plan and then act. Leaders should do this on a micro-level with their people.

To help you be more strategic, we have developed the SCARF model (based on the work of David Rock) as a tool here at Lane4. The 5 components (Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness) can help understand why someone is reacting in a certain way.

In the example of someone being furloughed which is relevant to many leaders today, your team may feel that their status has been threatened if they were furloughed and some of their colleagues weren’t. Anticipating this feeling as a leader can help you tailor your communication around the topic to ensure this status threat is addressed and minimised.

In formulating communication around furlough, there is also the opportunity to dispel your team’s fairness threat by presenting the processes and logic behind decisions. By leading with rationality and logic, leaders can lessen the risk of negative emotions dominating responses.

A component of the SCARF model which is harder to address right now is certainty. Rather than trying to provide certainty in a business setting, many of which are currently quite volatile, leaders can contract with their teams around how to work with them to provide certainty and autonomy. This may involve providing certainty in schedules, communication or around their beliefs.

The final component of the SCARF model is relatedness. At Lane4, we have been given a sporting metaphor for furlough, which is adopting a “one squad mentality”. It’s painted a powerful picture of what we are still trying to achieve together, with some of us on the bench and others on the pitch. This has helped people feel they have an important role to play, and therefore to maintain a sense of belonging.

If you are a leader managing others, it’s crucial to ask yourself how and why you have been responding to threat to your wellbeing. Taking the time to ask yourself this question will allow you more empathy when dealing with your team!

Top tips and strategies to prioritise team wellbeing in times of crisis

There are 4 main things we advise people to do when it comes to dealing with stress and pressure to protect your wellbeing:

  1. Normalise it

This is a lot easier to do today than it was some years ago. When I worked in elite sport, there was a harmful narrative that if people faced up to the stress and pressures they were experiencing, it would detract from their resilience and toughness. I have come across a similar narrative in business leaders. However, I would argue the opposite: the more stress and pressure is discussed and people are honest about when they have succumbed to it, the easier it becomes to deal with.

With normalising stress comes accepting that wellbeing doesn’t follow a straight line. There will be times when stress impacts our wellbeing, but resilience helps us lessen that impact. This helps to stop the level of performance and wellbeing drop when we encounter challenges.

 

  1. Resilience is both proactive and reactive

Proactive resilience is a strategy for coping with a slump in your wellbeing and minimising it’s impact, and occurs before any wellbeing threat arises. As a leader, cultivating proactive resilience in your team could mean contracting around availability: some of your team might be home-schooling children whilst others may need to spend time in the sunshine to manage their anxiety. Another way to encourage proactive resilience is making sure your team is scheduling exercise and downtime. As a leader, this might mean enquiring about what this is looking like for team members, or role modelling it yourself.

Reactive resilience often involves coming back to the basics during a slump in wellbeing. These basics are easy to say, but not always so easy to do: getting outside, talking to a friend, putting time in with your team to connect.

In the immediate, make sure you are noticing your emotional states as leaders, and stopping to think about what is going on internally for you. Then, instead of trying to think your way out of a negative state, take a break, and then when you come back refocus on the why of what you’re doing. This will help you be more present for your team to help them manage their wellbeing.

 

  1. Build an environment for resilience

This comes from three things:

Gaining clarity. This builds on the certainty piece of the SCARF model: it’s important to be continually be asking yourself and encouraging your team to ask: What is my focus? What matters most right now? What is expected of me?

Connecting for support. In psychology, there is evidence to suggest that if you have upward of 5 ‘social identities’ you have a significantly increased chance to deal with life events and transitions. This is because you can draw support from a breadth of people. This is relevant in elite sport: if you have a bad race as an athlete, and you have no other hobbies or connections away from you sport, it will be a lot harder to move forward. For leaders, it’s key to lead by example for your team by having hobbies away from work.

Shifting your view of your role to facilitator. As a leader during this time, shift your focus to facilitating conversations and generating responsibility from your team as a whole. This will help your team shape the decisions they make, and in turn determine the roles they will be remembered for in the face of this crisis. An example of this was when my boss asked us to come up with rules for engagement as a team over the next few weeks, with some of us on the pitch and others on the bench in furlough.

 

  1. Communicate appropriately

Effective communication doesn’t solve everything, and sometimes should be interrogated further rather than used as a catch-all solution. At the moment, as a leader, beware of well-intentioned over communicating. At Lane4, we have identified three different types of communication, and the relevant characteristics which make those conversations positive.

At an organisational level, communication should be visionary, regular, reliable and honest. This should often be CEO-led, and for us that means weekly updates from Adrian Moorhouse, our Managing Director.

At a team level, characteristics of great communication might be tight emails and succinct meetings so that there is time for both task and social cohesion. It’s here that the risk of over communication runs at its highest, and leaders should therefore be interrogating the purpose of copying people into email chains and inviting team members to meetings.

Finally, communication at an individual level right now means having real conversations considering performance as well as wellbeing. Our research on paradoxical mindsets comes to mind here: one of the mindsets is being ‘ruthlessly caring’, which means making tough decisions whilst remaining compassionate.

 

To sum up:

-          Think about your team’s mind, body and environment

-          Get your team to have proactive and reactive strategies

-          Understand your team’s emotional response to the situation

-          Consider your communications carefully

 

If you enjoyed this blog, find out about how Lane4 can help you manage your teams here. 
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