How do we improve human interactions to recover in our work, our organisations and our society?
When I speak at conferences and summits – digitally nowadays of course – I often ask the audience this question: “Imagine you have in your hands a group of pillows that you need to get to the other side of the room without walking there, without moving. What would you do?” Most people often say “Throw them across the room”, which is perfectly feasible. Then I ask “Imagine now that instead of pillows, you have in your hands a group of birds, how would you get the birds across the room without moving?” The sensible answer here would not be ‘throw them across the room’, because the birds will fly in all different directions. Instead, you might think of throwing food and encouraging the birds to follow.
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Leadership is about facilitating interactions.
To lead or not to lead
Leadership is not directing, forcing or dictating. Leadership is instead guiding, encouraging, facilitating1. Facilitating is simply just about creating the right contexts that encourage the fruitful interactions you are looking for. Leadership is about facilitating interactions. In fact, as Tom Smith states “Leadership is the ability to facilitate movement in the needed direction and have people feel good about it.2“
Shifting from dictating to facilitating is a mind-shift. In order to be the leaders that facilitate, we need to embrace a whole new mindset. The question then is how can we facilitate and improve human interactions? In fact, before we facilitate them, how do we define improving human interactions? Think of every organisation as a community, companies are communities of people. Improving interactions then has to start with how we define interactions. ‘Interactions’ is a broad term that englobes a number of different dynamics happening with one person or between people. So it is important to define what interactions mean to a certain community within an organization. We need to start by actually defining what interactions mean to that community and moreover what good, positive and fruitful interactions would mean.
While this is an important exercise to go through in an organisation, the real essence is not in the interactions themselves but rather in the value that the interactions create. It would be a missed opportunity to define interactions in terms of nouns, in terms of what they are. Instead, we need to try and define interactions in terms of what they can create for the different people involved.
Companies are communities.
To lead alongside Covid-19
What we went through over the last 4 to 6 months across the globe, has been … ‘interesting’, to say the least. A lot has been said about the different aspects of Covid-19, the lockdown and working from home. What I want to highlight here is one specific aspect: extremes. Consider this; a few weeks to months into the lockdown, we couldn’t wait to get back to the office, children started begging to go back to school. While it may sound funny and unheard of, this is typical of an extreme situation. While before, we may have longed to work leisurely from home and kids may have begged not to go to school some mornings, we now couldn’t wait to go back. You can have too much of a good thing. This is because it’s all about extremes and people eventually crave balance.
Considering the wide range of personality types, behavioural tendencies, ages, cultures and all diverse aspects in an organisation, ‘balance’ is not a one answer fits all. So what is a leader to do? In the spirit of facilitating, we need to shift from trying to accommodate and cater for all different types of people, to instead try to create the context around them and for them. One thing we can learn from the pandemic lockdown is that people adapt. We were forced into new situations – such as working from home full time for a lot of us. However, as the lockdown eases, we are less forced and more able to choose. The extreme situation that was forced upon us is now a choice we can make if it suits us. Our spectrum of possibilities is expanded. As business leaders, you have an opportunity to trust the ability of your employees to make the choices that will suit them. Your role then will need to focus on ensuring that the individual choices do not create drawbacks and risks for others. While you can trust that most employees will make their own choices and choose what’s best for their productivity and well-being, the most important thing will be to ensure that the individual choices also work for the team and the organisation as a whole.
Making sure the choices that are best for each individual in your organisation also work well for the team as a whole is important. This is focused on the ways or working of your workforce. And while it is a good place to start, it is important to remember the other less obvious aspects of going back to work after the lockdown. Among those are the question around meaning and the one around mental health and well-being. The question about meaning has been triggered by the sudden all-important question we were all faced with “am I in an essential profession” or the more likely realisation that we are not. This is an important question to discuss with employees and reframe to find the meaning and purpose of every profession. The question about mental wellbeing and health is one that we need to anticipate. The question is what are the consequences of all the physical distancing measures – that we need in our workplaces to protect our physical health -, on our mental health?
Are you wondering what’s next for your workplace and employees? Are you struggling to get your employees back to work and boost their interactions and well-being in these difficult times? Check here how we have been helping organisations worldwide transition to the new normal.
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