A New Model on Preparing Virtual Teams for the Long Haul

Teamwork has gotten harder. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were few strategies in place for converting in-person teams to 100% virtual ones. “The conversion process—and the results—has differed substantially from team to team, even within the same organization. This variability puts tremendous strain on individual employees who are now navigating not just one whole new way of working, but often several,” writes Questrom lecturer Constance Noonan Hadley in HBR.

Along with her co-researcher, INSEAD’s Mark Mortensen, Hadley solicited data from more than 275 managers across the world about how they are coping with COVID-19. They found a lack of clarity, fading interpersonal connections, low motivation, and overwhelming workloads—problems that would destroy teams if they were to persist.

To help companies take stock of their teams and how they function in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hadley and Mortensen have developed a three-stage model: Triage, Stabilization, and Long-Term Care.

The first phase is the triage phase, in which leaders must focus on identifying any critical team problems. “In the triage phase, companies should look within teams and across them for task- and people-related issues that pose immediate, serious threats to team survival,” write Hadley and Mortensen in the HBR article. Asking questions can help—questions like “Are teams being staffed in an idiosyncratic or uncoordinated manner?” and “is the team’s interpersonal foundation cracked?”

The second phase, stabilization, relates to addressing any of the critical issues identified in the triage phase. “Of course, you should immediately attend to any employee-facing severe emotional or physical distress as the first priority. After that, you must work to address the issues through targeted interventions. Below are some concrete examples and approaches to mitigate these critical issues.”

Lastly is long-term care—keeping the process ongoing. “After the first two phases, you need to shift your focus to keeping them healthy and avoiding relapses into the problems mentioned above. While many companies aren’t yet in the long-term care mode of this crisis, we urge leaders to start thinking about laying the foundations now, as this is your chance to make sure bad habits aren’t formed and established.”

Read the full article, including tips on what to do once you’ve asked and answered some of the above questions, on HBR here.

View all posts