Team commitment in a time of disruption

Justyna Turek

January 15, 2022

Having a positive (not drained) experience from online programs nowadays can be a challenge. It was one of the biggest challenges for Holis (a hybrid online program) this year. Together with the team of facilitators and main organizers, I spend hours, before the actual program, talking about the experience that we want participants to have afterwards. What we are all experiencing right now is crucial - the online world is getting stronger, scaling up very fast (metaverse is coming!). At the same time, we have the feeling that there is a lack of attention to the most important components - people. Their online well-being, focus, and attention are dazed. How can we adapt and cope with such a fast-moving forward alternative reality, while we are still trying to deal with our ability to work remotely or even connect with a team? Holis, by default, is purely disrupted and we see from our own experience that it takes time and commitment to even say it out loud that we are a team. Working online it’s like a long-distance relationship. It needs special attention but also some time off to reflect and recharge.

This year's edition took the topic of early childhood development and a growing online experience very seriously. I can say now that it was quite bold to take such a critical topic for the pilot version of Holis. The whole process was like a bumpy road, full of turns, surprises, and even hard moments of truth. We made it all - presenting great and ready to implement ideas with a style. During these 7 weeks, all participants get to know the customs of the Roma community in Slovakia. What was essential for me, was to acknowledge that we the Holis participants are coming from a privileged place of being designers. What goes with it is the responsibility, to propose a solution that we believe might work. It takes a lot of courage and confidence to be able to tell our users that we know - at least something - what they are going through. Empathy should be the number one tool used by social designers at their work. It might sound a little bit philosophical, but who are we to tell someone to live differently? What kind of arguments are we having?

Below, I prepared the top 3 takeaways that helped me and my team to connect in a time of disruption. I am curious if this would fit your team case since every team is different depending on conditions.

1. Common Cause

Participants could be somewhere else, but they choose it to be here and now. Knowing that is incredibly essential to keep the momentum and provide the next steps, so the engagement can increase. Common Cause is one of the most fundamental elements of disrupted teams to get together. It can be achieved by constructing the team’s manifesto, goal’s vision, or mission. Creating a co-owned manifesto, having long discussions, or even sharing personal stories can create this feeling of belonging. An important note here is to make it all realistic, not utopian, so everyone can relate and be responsible for it. It is incredibly significant to provide the cause that is rooted in real life. Having this will help the team, to get through bumpy roads and some challenges along the way. Many of you probably remember hackathons or design workshops while participants were forced to save kids in Africa or provide peace in the world (this is actually getting annoying at some point!). I don’t say this is totally wrong, but in my opinion and design expertise, this is not appropriate or even realistic and can cause some frustration or even misunderstanding in a team. Be realistic about your common cause.

2. Changing Commitment

If you want to see team members committing, you need to commit first and show that you are a believer too. I found it required while working as a facilitator, especially online, to be there for participants in the beginning, while everything yet is unstable. New team, new tools, unknown virtual space… it is a lot for participants, especially if they are new in design methodologies. Things can be seen by them differently. The facilitator, by default, is expecting the team to perform their best. Why shouldn’t the facilitator do the same? Before entering the project, I am always preparing myself to be more active and to give more in the beginning. By doing this, I can slowly fade away and stop adding the flame to the fire. And to be honest, very often, this creative fire is already a bonfire thanks to the team. How to do it? It can be done easily by providing the right format of the work, adding research pieces to the process, asking about their opinion quite often, providing micro presentations, or even coaching personal team members. Being a helicopter mother to the team isn’t good either. As a facilitator, I love observing the natural rhythm of raising the leader in the team. Doesn’t need to be only one, it can be a couple of them. They should be noticed. So they can understand that they are in charge now. It might be uncomfortable since it is like this moment of transition from a teenager to an adult. Therefore, a good facilitator should be ready to let go of the team, even if he/she sees the failure of his/her beloved team. Common failure (we call it a lesson) can connect even closer to the team. It’s almost a heartbreaking moment when your team is telling you that they don’t need you anymore, that they can do it by themselves. I can get over it, can you?

3. Connect Beyond

How old are you, where are you coming from, what is your job? How many times did you get these questions in your life? It’s getting boring right? At Holis, we wanted to connect the team members beyond what is already known. We believe that starting the project by answering such questions doesn’t change anything, but only causes objections. All of us at some point in our lives faced the stereotypes and we know what they can do to our confidence. How to avoid it? How to maintain a culture that goes beyond generalization? I am always starting with asking the team questions about their values. Light and easy inquiries that can spark valuable conversation and story sharing. Learning about each other from our stories, the experience can say more than a school degree or another CV. For example, “What was the most unexpected thing that happened to you in your life? How did you manage?”. A simple answer to this one shows us how a person deals with the crisis scenario, how she/he is implementing the solution, and therefore guide us what can be expected from this person in teamwork. Be aware, to serve such questions or tools at the right time in the process. By finding the right balance between therapeutic talk and coaching would be a perfect mix. Asking too many personal questions too fast in a process can cause the opposite result. Team dynamic should allow everyone to see when there is a time for that.

Holis’ online program is still developing. This year we all witnessed it as a pilot. We received a tremendous amount of feedback that we are right now translating into a recommendation for the next format in 2022 (Woop!).

What we know for sure, is that we need to pay more attention to the online well-being of disrupted teams. The context and the methods will get along the way for sure. Holis has an amazing crowd of experts and partners that are always providing high content and teaching methods. What needs to be acknowledged, not only at Holis but at all online educational programs, is a need for a flexible program that fits the current availability of the participants. It can be with a lighter version of the timetable, or more lectures than actual individual work. Focusing more on discussion and talks rather than following the rigid process. Plenty of solutions already, the challenge is to mix them accordingly so they can be easily “consumed” by participants.

And you? How do you consume your online teamwork? Is it tasty?