By Liz Sebag-Montefiore coach and Director of 10Eighty
Working from home, and the move to a virtual workplace for some, has seen the importance of distributed leadership significantly increased. This is characterised by a move away from a command and control mode of working in a centralised infrastructure, to a leadership style where decisions are taken on the ground.
Traditionally, leaders were at the organisation’s centre, driving organisational objectives; but being an employee centric operator in a distributed leadership model completely reverses this approach, requiring leaders to align organisational objectives to employee needs.
Distributed leadership empowers team members to take decisions as best fits the situation, and is predicated on the organisation delegating and trusting employees. It’s illustrated by the Sandhurst model i.e. it’s the operative in the field who makes the decisions not the colonel back at base, who outlined the mission and sent them out.
New ways of working
Leading a team is more challenging than ever when some are in the office and some at home, working alongside colleagues who are shielding and perhaps covering for those on furlough or made redundant. It’s a worrying time for employees and a headache for management and HR to manage and motivate the team; there is a lot that leaders and managers can do to make it easier for colleagues and to ensure a sustainable and productive work environment.
Focus on your people
Such leaders need to be employee centred and ready to sculpt jobs around the employee’s needs, exploiting the strengths and developing the potential of each worker. An employee centric approach requires that leaders spend time connecting with their employees – listening, observing, using emotional intelligence and creating bespoke career paths for each team member (the opposite of a one-size-fits-all approach to defining job roles).
These are “persuasive leaders, who maintain their position by virtue of the personal capacity to express and persuade their followers.”, FC Bartlett, Psychology and the Soldier (1927).
To improve engagement at work, you need to recognise that in times of uncertainty we need to support each other. The best leaders seek to connect with and understand others, they prioritise the team’s needs and build an environment of trust and support. It’s about nurturing relationships rather than just undertaking tasks. These are leaders who motivate others to collaborate, develop, and perform, even in difficult times.
Focus on connecting with the team to create a sense of belonging. When employees feel they are included and that they have a voice within the organisation, they perceive the organisation as caring for them as individuals. Loyalty is two-way street, you get it by giving it.
Strive to communicate support for each team member and make everyone responsible for supporting each other and team goals. Encourage everyone to value what others bring to the table, advocate for everyone’s voice to be heard, and invest in team growth and development. Include employee input in organisational values to show workers they have a meaningful role in building an inclusive workplace.
Particularly during the pandemic, and the difficult working conditions it imposes, clear and regular communication is vital. For a workplace to be productive, communications need to be open and positive. Feedback has never been more important but try to tailor methods of communication and timing to what works for each team member, as different people absorb information in different ways.
Trust and accountability
Trust is crucial when the team is scattered and working remotely; ensure your team don’t feel the need to prove they are working all the time. Set clear goals and where you need people to work collaboratively, set up Zoom facilities and use networking and information-sharing platforms. Trust enhances willingness to cooperate and collaborate and improves the likelihood of workers going the extra mile for their employer. Where there is a good level of trust, employees are more likely to be committed to working towards strategic goals.
The key to establishing clear accountability is to set out expectations, goals, and deadlines. It’s important to provide regular updates on progress, including ongoing communication about how everyone’s contributions and achievements impact organisational success. Leaders also need to demonstrate accountability through their own availability and commitment to their team.
Leaders create team culture through their own attitudes and behaviours. Consider yourself as a role model and ask what team culture you are creating. To build productive and high-performing teams you need a culture that’s positive and open to new ideas, creativity, and innovation; the sort of culture that attracts talent and those who thrive on teamwork.
Network for success
Create a robust network and encourage regular and structured communication. Build in a personal element to encourage catch up time so team members connect with each other despite being physically separated. Open online meetings with time at the start for colleagues to chat about what is going on in their lives just as they would do if they were in the office.
Celebrating success is important in building engagement, so ensure you value each contribution and acknowledge anyone who needs a ‘well done’ or ‘thank you’; a few words go a long way in building rapport and fellowship. Showing appreciation for colleagues can boost the confidence of those feeling isolated when working from home and bolster the autonomy and accountability of those who make your organisation a success.
A leader needs to look after their own growth and wellbeing in order to support the team. Prioritise what is needed to maintain your energy levels while dealing with the myriad of challenges our new way of working brings without anxiety or loss of focus.
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