Sitting in Narita airport after a recent holiday to Japan (before the coronavirus pandemic), I reflected on some of the things I’d experienced during my trip. The resulting life lessons have become particularly poignant today, with most of the world in lockdown and entering uncharted territory. We’re now trying to live and work in ways we’ve never had to contemplate before, and I hope some of these tips prove useful as you navigate our “new normal.”
In this three-part series, I’ll focus on my three key takeaways:
First, a disclaimer: Please excuse the mass generalizations and stereotypes that follow.
Sustaining Your Tribe
Ramen restaurants are one of my favorite places to eat in Japan. Tiny places, there’s only room for 12 people at a time. People are ushered in to stand shoulder to shoulder slurping down their bowls of goodness before shuffling out and letting the next dozen enjoy their feast.
The first place I visited, I quickly learned how to devour ramen from watching those around me. Slurping, it seemed, wasn’t only permitted but polite. I met some great people and felt part of their little lunchtime tribe, if only briefly.
It got me thinking about our need to belong and connect with other people, and how important it is to have a tribe.
Tribes are typically made up of 20-150 people. Small companies are tribes. Large corporations are made up of tribes within a tribe. We also form tribes of friends and, for some, we include their families. But here, I’m going to focus on our workplace tribes.
An excellent read for finding out more about tribes in the workplace is Tribal Leadership by Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright. It details the findings of a 10-year study of 24,000 people in 24 organizations. It argues that culture is what separates average tribes from those that excel.
Right now, it’s impossible in most circumstances to be physically present with our coworkers. So, here are some ways to keep your tribe alive as the way we connect with each other shifts:
1. Set a sustainable pace and plan.
This is going to be a marathon, not a sprint. Keep that mindset. You will need to conserve your team’s energy for the tasks ahead.
2. Be transparent.
Tell your team the truth about where things stand, what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it.
3. Connect more often.
The cadence of my team’s connections has increased. We check in at least once a day.
4. Be visionary.
At Haworth, we create a vision and norms for each of our teams. The vision is the mission statement for the team, and the norms are behaviors that support our mission. This structure has been vital as teams transition to a distributed workforce. Focusing on our mission and actions makes our physical distance from each other less important.
5. We “see” each other all the time.
Our new norm is to have all our meetings take place on Microsoft Teams, with our cameras turned on. This face-to-face time has been vital in helping us feel more connected. It also encourages more active participation in our meetings and reduces feelings of isolation.
6. Keep having fun.
For many of us, the social element of work has diminished. We don’t have café or watercooler moments to catch up and bond with our teammates. We’ve started Friday afternoon drinks on Zoom—a virtual happy hour for us to wind down from a busy week. I’ve started enjoying a glass of wine with friends from all corners of the world.
We can all practice these six simple things to keep our teams “together” during this time. It’s vital to remember our newfound circumstances are temporary, and that they will improve. And, inevitably, some clear benefits and learnings will also arise from this situation. Companies will be better equipped to manage a distributed workforce. Digital transformations will happen faster. And, governments will be better prepared to deal with virus outbreaks in the future.
Next time, I’ll share how I discovered the culture of politeness in Japan and why it’s essential we be kind to one another, especially now.
Be well and stay positive during these unprecedented times.