As COVID-19 rages through humanity, how can a leader keep a virtual team working together in the midst of massive uncertainty?

You’ve heard of tough love? Real calm is tough love’s cousin. Don’t be a Pollyanna–be real. Don’t talk to your team about unicorns and rainbows when heavy rains are falling and they can plainly see that flood waters are on the rise. Instead of rushing to make things seem ok, slow down, breathe, and take stock of where things really stand in the greater scheme of things. Don’t be afraid to lead by practicing Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now. Draw strength and wisdom from wherever you find it. 

To help other leaders who are trying to figure out how to lead your organization during these challenging times, I will share four steps we are taking to keep it real and remain calm on the Intentional team. 

Communicate

Communicate and then communicate more. Speculation can create huge doubts that paralyze a team. It’s the little things that matter here, even during a crisis. Sharing information close to real-time ensures that questions are answered and wandering minds are centered. Encouraging communication within your organization will bring people together in a way that builds resilience. 

The Intentional family includes multiple brands (SOCAP, SPECTRUM, Total Impact and Conscious Company Media) with our team spread across the United States. When I first arrived, teams were siloed–with little to no interaction between brands. To bridge this gap and remind everyone to celebrate our collective wins, I created a weekly all team Slack missive – the Friday High Five. In these company-wide posts I share news, celebrate successes and milestones, and offer a quote to inspire the team as they recharge over the weekend.

Access

Provide access to resources, company policies, and most importantly to each other. 

When COVID 19 started to really take hold, we immediately built an in-depth module response, covering team safety, insurance, legal, and product impact. We shared this with the team so that all were on the same page despite cross country team distribution.

While we are a small but mighty team, we found that we were lacking access to one of our most important assets – each other. We looked at our team calendar and canceled all excess meetings and instituted a daily stand-up instead. This may sound counterintuitive but it again serves as a great grounding exercise while the sands are shifting so constantly.

Listen

Show your team that you hear what they are communicating to you. At Intentional, we instituted two practices that are helping us listen to each other and build a greater sense of connection across our entire work family. Though these are small steps, they are effective and accessible to introverts and extroverts alike. The first is having each team member update their status on Slack each day. It’s a fun little ritual–picking an emoji and a phrase that aligns with where you are at. It helps one take a beat and really think about how you are and gives teammates the heads up to the mental space you are in. The second is a practice that we now use to kick off our daily stand up meetings–a “fist to five” energy check-in, a fist means not great with five signalling “watch out world.” I learned this as a CORO Women’s Leadership Fellow and find it to be really effective. Added to this, we state a word that summarizes how we feel. The listening piece comes into play as each teammate gets a chance albeit if only a minute, to state unapologetically out loud how they are doing, be it up or down. Either by call or Slack, I check in during the day with those who are of lower ebb. 

Model 

As a leader, you need to walk the talk. Seriously. Show up. There is no faking this. You need to practice self-care so that your team sees it is safe to do so. You need to state your 2-3 fist to five moments when they arise along with what the inspiration you’re turning to in order to get your energy back or not. We all have days that are plain old 2s and that is ok too. It’s helpful though for all to understand so they know that if your responses seem off, it’s not personal to them. Rather it’s you working something out on your end, and this too shall pass. 

CALM teams are connected teams. 

Practicing these actions has centered our team and provided much needed connective tissue that is holding our work family together.

Humans crave connection. Introverts, extroverts, or somewhere in between–we all want to feel a bond with others. Even in isolation, it is a comfort to know that out there in the wider world we are still part of a family that cares and will lend their support however they can. Understanding your team as a work family is what will keep you all together, and your business along with it.

Kate Byrne

Kate Byrne is the President of Intentional Media, the purpose-driven platform whose brands Social Capital Markets (SOCAP), Total Impact, and Conscious Company Media, are at the intersection of business, meaning, and money. In this role, Byrne brings her deep knowledge of cutting-edge technology, integrative marketing, and digital publishing to generate impactful revenue, create innovative partnerships, and promote social good. Prior to joining the West Coast-based company in February of 2019, Byrne held leadership roles at Watermark, the Tides Foundation, the George Lucas Education Foundation, Future LLC, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, and San Francisco Chronicle / SFGate, and Inc. Byrne has always been passionate about education and women empowerment, having led efforts at Global Girl Media and World Pulse, as well as founding Girls Gone Global, a social enterprise charged with igniting female voices, social impact, media, and financial literacy skills. In 2011, Byrne was named to the prestigious Folio: 40, being recognized as one of the 40 most influential top media industry performers. A frequent speaker at industry events, her opinion columns on changing corporate culture have been published in MarketWatch. She serves as President of the Board of the U.S. National Committee for UN Women / San Francisco Chapter; as Commissioner on the Marin County Commission for Women and Girls; and is an active member of the Opportunity Collaboration and The Feast. Byrne graduated from Stanford University with a BA in Psychology.
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