It is very tough to operate in this current climate. Many of us are working from home and those who are going in are isolated from the masses. Our face-to-face contact is limited and many are feeling the effects from it. However, there are ways we can still succeed in this current environment, it just requires better communication.
In normal times, many of us wonder if we are doing a good job and moving the mission along. We sometimes get a “good job” or get to see the fruits of our labors in person as we mingle with the team. Feedback in the military (or anywhere really) is very weak and often not productive. We think our formal feedback sessions twice a year are adequate and some think that is even too much; however, that is a terrible way to think. I think it is because we have the perception that all feedback needs to be formal. Looking through that lens, I would agree more sessions are burdensome. Feedback can and should occur as we communicate on a daily basis with the team. If not, how do you know if you or your team are on the right path.
When we are all in the office or our typical workspace, we are constantly interacting with others. Most of the time, they are chance encounters where we walk into another’s space as they are doing their job. When I was working on my aircraft, other shops or specialties would be in the same area doing their job as well. This forced us all to converse about what each was doing so we didn’t interfere. When we are remote, it is very difficult to know what others are doing. Those doing the work, feel the exact same way. Recently, I worked on a large deliverable that was requested during a meeting and found out after 3 days of work, it was no longer required. This almost led to me inadvertently teaching my children some “Crew Chief vocabulary.” My boss would have known I was working on this and I would have known to cease had we been in the same area as usual. The problem is that we are bombarded with texts, phone calls, emails, group chats, etc and start to forget what has been communicated. After this event (and a few others on the team), we decided to use one source to communicate all of our deliverables and official taskings.
There is a difference between the noise of communicating where you are expected to hang out in a chat room all day and communicating effectively. Therefore, I recommend having more focused conversations with the team and select a primary source to communicate certain things. This could be a simple 5 minute phone call each day to ensure the plans are in motion and the priorities are still on track. It could be a Zoom-type sync meeting where everyone can collaborate or just see a friendly face.
What to communicate or provide feedback on? I have always been a big proponent of communicating the 4 P’s:
Priorities: What are the priorities for the team and who is working on what? Our efforts should all align with the overall goal or mission and it is vital for everyone to know how their piece fits into the whole. If I am given a task that Jane is waiting for and I don’t know that, I could work other things that feel more important to me. Discussing this gets everyone focused.
Problems: What issues are we experiencing? A leader’s job is to remove obstacles or help guide around them. We can’t do this if we are not expressing our impediments.
Praise: Recognition is always important; however, even more so while we are isolated from the masses. Take a moment to discuss daily wins. I recommend big praise for the actions that align with solving a problem listed above or achieving a goal related to the priorities. You get what you reward, so don’t award things not related to moving the team forward.
Processes: We all need to know what the process is for something we are doing. Just like my team moved to a one-source solution for what we are working on, there are processes we all need to understand in order to succeed as a team.
All of this can be discussed by a team of 8 or less in 15 minutes or less…I know because I manage 4 Agile Scrum teams who have daily calls discussing these things. It is clunky in the beginning as everyone is figuring out the cadence of it all, but the team will find its stride. More importantly, everyone will be on the same page!