Reinventing Your Team in the Midst of COVID-19
Cheri Torres is an author and trainer cheritorres.com. She works with leaders to enhance their ability to fuel productive and meaningful engagement, including the art of reinvention. Her most recent bestselling book is Conversations Worth Having. You can download a free Conversation Toolkit and learn more about inspiring creative conversations at ConversationsWorthHaving.today
Foster Connection

If you hadn’t used online meeting tools before, you are now. If you’re not using a digital meeting platform that allows for video, reconsider your platform. Fostering connection among your team is vital. A team with strong relationships is more creative and productive. So, take the time to build and reinforce relationships in a virtual setting. Avoid diving directly into work at the outset of meetings. Instead, pause, breathe, and get curious with your team. Start your meetings strengthening relationships by asking generative questions that build connection and shared understanding. Give everyone time to answer, including yourself. You might ask:

  • How are you doing? Is everyone in your home healthy? (How can the team support you?)
  • What is a bright spot for you; something positive that has happened as a result of the current conditions/changes?
  • What strengths are you bringing to this challenge? And how might those strengths help us be an awesome virtual team?
  • What are you reinventing at home and what are you learning.

Then foster strategic conversations.

Reinvent Yourselves

This is another opportunity to pause, breathe, and get curious with your team. Your team is working in an entirely new context, as are the customers/people you serve. Instead of trying to do what you’ve always done, getting frustrated because the system isn’t set up for it, take this opportunity to rethink what you do and how you do it. This is the perfect time for reinvention; in fact, it is a requirement. Have a conversation about your mission, vision, and values within this new context. Reflect on whether the purpose for your team, department, or organization has changed under the current circumstances.

Ask generative questions to get clear on a shared purpose, vision, mission:

  • Ultimately, what is our purpose? Has the current situation changed it in any way?
  • What outcome(s) are we striving for with our work together? What measurable results are we after?
  • What do our customers/clients/people we serve want and need from us now? Has it changed in any way?
  • Given our purpose and our desired results, what aspirations do we have for our work together as a virtual team?

Avoid jumping straight to solutions or conclusions about how to proceed. Allow the team to explore opportunities and identify possibilities first. Ignite the creative juices!

Imagine the Possibilities

Take time to challenge assumptions and question old processes and procedures. Imagine you were completely redesigning yourselves to serve your purpose and the larger mission. Engage your team in thinking through how you might capitalize on this new environment: What might actually help your team excel, be more effective or efficient, think creatively? Spark the creative genius of your team by asking generative questions that allow new opportunities and possibilities for achieving your goals to emerge:

  • Given the new parameters for our work, how might we go about delivering on our purpose?
  • What’s available now to help us achieve our mission?
  • What challenges must we meet to exceed our own and our customers/clients expectations?
  • How might we achieve our purpose in half the amount of time it took before Covid-19?
  • What opportunities do we have to transform how we achieve desired outcomes because workplace parameters have changed?
  • How might we engage our customers/the people we serve in helping us think through what they actually need from us? Have their parameters changed, given the current situation?
  • What can we streamline? What can we jettison? What truly matters here?
  • How might we best support one another in this new environment?
  • What training do we need in order to take advantage of these new possibilities and how can we scale rapidly?

Based upon the ideas that are generated, give your team permission to reinvent by trying some new things, even as they continue to do what must be done right now.

Rapid Prototyping

Engage your team in rapid prototyping of the most promising ideas: The ones that will give you the greatest return on your time and energy. The ones that promise to reinvent the way you do business. Engage in regular cycles of action learning to evolve your prototypes into new ways of achieving your mission. Include your customers in your learning cycles: “What works well for you? What suggestion do you have to help us improve?”

If your team is innovative enough, you’re likely to find the work gets done in much less time than normal. With that added time, offer your team opportunities for professional development, encouraging them to expand their capacity for reinvention. 

Free and Discounted Professional Development

Literally everyone who offers training is taking their trainings online. Many are offering free workshops and discounted training to support people and small businesses at this time. For example, we are providing free webinars that support reinvention, resilience, and communication: e.g., helping teachers to reinvent connection with students and parents and  healthcare professionals to reinvent care and connection while enhancing resilience, immunity, and positivity. All of these are being recorded and are/will be available for free on the Conversations Worth Having Youtube channel. Udacity offers free tech training to laid off workers due to the coronavirus. Apple is offering free virtual coaching. The Center for Appreciative Inquiry and the David L. Cooperrider Center for Appreciative Inquiry are offering free webinars to support engagement, rapid reinvention and innovation. Free online certifications and courses includes courses and degrees from Harvard, Stanford, Coursera, UC Berkeley, and LinkedIin. These are just a few. Google free training in your field. You will be amazed at the gift economy that is emerging!

Lean In to Reinvention

You can take advantage of the present opportunity by developing your team’s reinvention skills—which includes asking generative questions. These skills will help you better respond to your current situation. At the same time, it builds capacity to respond to future global changes, such as the emergence of wide-spread artificial intelligence and robotics. No one knows all that is critically important during this pause in our economy. In a world defined by rapid and continuous change, however, we can be assured that learning to reinvent ourselves will be an asset.

No matter how bad something is, there is always something of value to be glimpsed, learned, or received. COVID-19 is no exception. 

CHERI TORRES
These practices are simple, but not easy. They require us to set aside practices and beliefs that have helped make us successful in the past. Being the problem-solver and the answer-person got you where you are, but it will not take you into the future. That strategy cannot handle the level of complexity we are facing. Letting go of what has always worked takes courage. You have to be willing to risk admitting you don’t have the answers and cannot discover them on your own.  You have to be willing to step into the unknown unsure of where it will lead. And you have to move beyond trusting just yourself and a few colleagues to trusting the whole.

Children are great role models for this.  In a trusting environment, they naturally explore the unknown with curiosity and openness. They are not yet convinced of “one right way” or a set worldview, which results in an open mind, an open heart, and an open will. Still trying to understand the way the world works, they listen to many voices and keep trying to make sense of things. Children continually ask questions and especially want to understand why when adults tell them, “No, not possible.” We’ve all heard or experienced the child who keeps asking why until the parent says, “Because I said so!” When it comes to government, that answer will no longer work.

Here is a little more detail on the practices. You can learn more in Conversations Worth Having: Using Appreciative Inquiry to Fuel Productive and Meaningful Engagement.

Prepare to Be Awed

Appreciative Inquiry, one of the most effective and widely used approaches for fostering positive change, is grounded in a set of principles or rules that help us understand how our conversations influence what happens and what’s possible. The principles are predictive of where we can go in our interactions.

  1. The Constructionist Principle: We create our social reality through conversation and shared meaning-making.
  2. The Simultaneity Principle: Change happens the moment we ask the question or make a statement.
  3. The Anticipatory Principle: Our expectations influence our experience and what’s possible.
  4. The Poetic Principle: There is more than one truth or way of seeing and understanding any situation, person, or organization.
  5. The Positive Principle: Words create images and images are compelling; the more positive the image the more positive the action.

Collectively, these principles invite us to stay open to the outcome and to be intentional with our words and thoughts, for they govern what possible.

Choose Positive Framing

Positive framing is about intentionally shaping a conversation to focus on a desirable outcome and to energize engagement to produce positive results. A positive frame draws people in and inspires curiosity, imagination, and interest. This should not be mistaken for focusing only on the positive. Quite the contrary, this is about dealing with even the toughest issues in a way that motivates everyone to find creative solutions and take action. Flipping is a tool to help you take any problem or challenge and create a positive frame. This is a simple three-step approach to move from a negative, deficit-based frame to a positive frame, allowing you to work towards solutions by engaging in conversations worth having.  The three steps are:

  • Name It. What is the problem, complaint, or the thing you don’t want?
  • Flip It. What is the positive opposite, the thing you do want?
  • Frame It. What is the positive impact if the flip is true; what is the desired outcome?

Ask Generative Questions

What Generative Questions Can Do
Elicit information, stories, ideas, and perspectives
Tap experience
Allow strengths to show up
Show us best practices and elements of success
Move toward solutions or to information and data that inform possible solutions
Identify new ways of thinking, new possibilities, opportunities, and aspirations
Inform what we might do, the results we might want
Make room for new knowledge, creativity, and innovation
Deepen connections
Strengthen relationships
Engage those on the sidelines
Generate Understanding

 Adopt an attitude of curiosity. When we are genuinely curious, we naturally ask generative questions.

  • Make room for diverse and different perspectives. How do you see it?
  • Surface new information and knowledge. How did you manage this process in Detroit?
  • Stimulate creativity and innovation. What might be possible if we . . .?

When dealing with any issue, even difficult issues, generative questions make unseen information visible and result in conversations that create trust, positive energy, and the transformative power to move the system forward in the desired direction. The result: new ways for solving complex problems and compelling images for collective action.

Conclusion

No matter what role you play in government, conversation is going to be a part of your work. The greater your leadership role, the more central a role conversation plays. If you want to evolve your career and become a truly effective leader for the future of your community, state, nation, or the world, become a master of fostering conversations worth having.

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