Often, a lot of the team leaders we work with fail to check in with their teams as much as they should. This is normally due to a few reasons:
- There’s too much going on in the business that checking in with someone on something not work-related is forgotten or dismissed
- An assumption that what’s needed is to have very in-depth, one-on-one conversations, which feel like a lot of extra work.
- Leaders worry about what might happen if they do check-in – maybe things might get too emotional and they won’t know how to handle it.
These are not good excuses. We need to get out of our way and we need to ensure that we’re connecting with our teams, even if it’s only through a short, sharp and quick catch-up.
To help you better connect with your team, we’ve put together three quick ways to get a detailed reading of how your team feels emotionally and mentally.
1- The numbers game
In our workshops, the quickest way we get a feel of the room is to ask each person to say how they feel on a scale of zero to ten. As most of us will be running these meetings digitally, we like to have everyone write down their number on a post-it note and put it up to the screen for everyone else to see. This way you can get a quick read of the numbers.
Before you ask:
It’s important to let your team know that their choices are judgement-free. If you’re a two that’s okay, tomorrow or even an hour from now you could be a nine and vice-versa. Equally, don’t feel guilty if you’re a nine and you see people who are a three or four.
Reassure people that they aren’t going to have to explain their number. If someone feels uncomfortable sharing their number publically, that’s ok too. Just ask them to private message their number and you can talk to them independently.
Lead by example
During this exercise, and all of the exercises in this article, it’s important that you are leading by example. Make sure you’re the first one to share your number with your team to get the ball rolling. Also keep in mind that this is an opportunity to show a little vulnerability on your part as the team leader. If you demonstrate it’s ok to be a lower number, people will feel more comfortable being honest about how they feel.
Why this exercise is useful
Knowing these numbers before starting your day means you will know who may need more care and attention and it will also influence how you respond to the energy in the room (your approach may be different if the average is a 3 or 4 vs a 7 or 8).
You will know exactly who you need to have a follow-up call with. Our rule is that anybody who is under a five should be followed up with at some point during the day.
It’s a quick and easy method and once your team gets used to it, it can become a regular thing you do in all of your sessions – it will become part of the way you work!
2- The two-word game
Another great little exercise you can do to connect with your team is Brené Brown’s two-word descriptions. This is where you ask the people in your team to give two words that best describe how they are feeling right now. We like to give one positive word and another more negative word. For example, “energised” and “tired” or “engaged” and “overwhelmed”.
As in the numbers exercise, including a negative word encourages your team to be honest with their answers.
These days people are exhausted. We’ve been in this pandemic for a number of months now and we have all felt it in some way so the words we’re hearing a lot in our workshops are “sad”, “exhausted”, “tired” and “overwhelmed”. When you get this data, you know you need to find out what’s causing these responses and do something about it. A lot of times the causes are from things we can’t even control!
For example, last week we ran a session on stress and performance with 400 people in California. At the start of the session we asked the participants a simple question:
What are all the things that are stressing you out in your life right now?
The answers we got were all based around the pandemic and we realised that every single one of the things people were worried about – the economy, the rate of cases, vaccination dates, etc – was out of their control! If you can’t do anything about it, should you be expending your stress and energy on it?
So, for a quick and effective check-in with your team, use the number exercise and if you have time, have them jot down their two words. Then, you will know who you need to have a proper conversation with and understand what’s causing them to feel the way they do. Is it something within their control or is it an issue they can’t do anything about? If the cause is out of their hands (and yours as their manager), you need to reframe your response to help them realise that they should put their energy elsewhere.
3- Focusing on the positive – getting rid of negative bias
This third exercise goes a little deeper – it’s about getting people to talk about the positive things that have happened to them rather than focusing on the negative. Before you start your session or meeting, on Zoom or MS Teams, put people into breakout groups to share and discuss three unexpected positives that have come from a challenge they each have been facing. I guarantee you they will come out of that session with so much more energy, focus and motivation.
Why does this work?
All of us have something called ‘negative-bias’ which means our brains are designed to pay more attention to the negative things in life because that’s what kept us alive as early humans.
Though we don’t have the same threats to our survival as we once did (like animal predators), we still have the same neurological and physiological response to life, which means we need to consciously put more effort into seeing the positive things in life.
For example, at the beginning of 2020 our team, like many others, went through a lot of challenges. Spain (where the core Symbia team is based) went into a draconian lockdown and no one (including our children) did not leave the front door for 45 days! Our business faced a big challenge too when our clients went silent for a number of months and, on top of this, each of our families were also affected financially.
But this wasn’t even the hardest part. In January 2020, Jodie’s father was diagnosed with cancer and passed away a few months later. With travel forbidden, she couldn’t get back to him and properly say her goodbye.
But the events and the situations in our lives are not what kills us, it’s the stories that we tell ourselves about those events and situations that bring us down. If we’re determined not to fall into the trap of the negativity bias, we need to consciously make an effort to see the positive things wherever they are. For us as a team, we all wanted to travel less, spend more time with our families and long talked about moving a portion of the business online – 2020 made all that possible! Albeit in slightly different circumstances than we had imagined.
We’ve now rebranded the company, expanded the business, expanded our team, released a podcast, AND Jodie’s written a book which will be published in May!
So there you have it, our three quick ways to check in on with your team!
To find out more about how you can better support your team, feel free to get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org