One of the features of the past two months have been the number of quizzes we have all got involved in (usually involving Zoom).

We British love a quiz of course and I’m sure all our knowledge has increased although I doubt if much of it will have any use in the future.

But there’s one thing that’s missing from our quizzes at the moment and that’s the collaboration you get in a team huddled round that table in the corner of your local pub. Sometimes it’s as simple as having a group of people with different interests. The teams that usually come last in those competitions are usually a group of people with similar interests and ages. 10 out of 10 in the 90s music round (three of the team knew all the answers) but 1 out of 10 on the science round (and that was a lucky guess).

If the two teams that came last and second to last swapped a couple of team members each, they would probably both do better. The most successful teams have a good mix of skills and knowledge.

And then there’s the questions where you work together to get the answer. “I think it’s the father of that bloke who used to present Question time”, “oh, I know who that is…”. None of the team on their own could have worked it out but collective brain power did the job.

But it’s one thing getting a group of six friends round a table in a pub to collaborate, it’s another thing entirely to get a whole country to collaborate. That’s the challenge for governments around the world currently.

Some have been really successful. China managed it because it has an autocratic government and everyone has to do what they’re told. South Korea managed it because they were unbelievably well organised, fast and technologically brilliant and New Zealand managed it because the whole country pulled together as it usually does. The United States is doing disastrously because everyone is doing different things and they have a leader who is more interested in manipulating the facts than solving the problem.

Many other countries relied on getting everyone to rally around a slogan. “Get Brexit done” (remember that?) metamorphosised into “Stay at home, Protect the NHS, Save lives”.

The advantage of slogans is that they act as a rallying call to a large group of people even if the slogan means slightly different things to different people.

The disadvantage of course is when there are too many interpretations of it (e.g. Stay Alert). A lot of time and energy can be wasted debating what it means.

When you run a small business, you don’t usually need slogans. You can get all your team together in one place and tell them what the company’s plans are and their part within in it. Or you can plan it all out and tell everyone individually what you require of them to make the plan work. Even if you are the only person who knows the plan, as long as everyone does their bit, it should work.

With really good systems, this approach can work even when your employee numbers are up into the thousands.

But as anyone with engineers on the road or running a professional services company will tell you, this approach soon breaks down when you can’t directly manage people because they have to make decisions themselves.

And sometimes those decisions are bad ones.

Sometimes those decisions are good decisions in isolation but not good for the company as a whole.

Sometimes those decisions are made by an individual purely for their own benefit regardless of the impact on the company.

Getting your team to work together even though they aren’t physically together is a situation that every company in the country is now faced with to some degree at least. As good as your technology is, having more than half your team working from their home means you can’t look over their shoulder anymore.

The last of the habits in Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is Synergize. The results that come from creative co-operation.

When the pause button was pressed on our lives and the economy, many people were under the impression that when the start button was pressed a few weeks later that everything would carry on in the same way it was.

But of course, I think we all know that’s not the case.

Every industry is different but for most of you it is unlikely to be business as usual. You may need to reduce staff, your product and service mix may drastically alter. Whichever it is, the team you start up again with and the relationships within it will need to form quickly. No so easy with a million other things on your plate.

But there is an upside to this and an opportunity.

Every business has a culture. Every business has its own collective habits. Some good ones, some bad ones. Ways of doing things that have built up over many years. Practices that have become out of date that you never had time to fix.

A culture that might not be the one you set out to create. A culture impacted by all the people that have worked in your business over many years. Including the bad ones!

This is your chance to re-set many of those habits and start afresh.

Over the past couple of weeks our technical emails have covered many of the issues you will need to address to get your business back up and running. Once you’ve worked out who will be part of your team going forward, you will need to find a way to communicate the new vision of the business to them.

Do you even have a vision of what you want your business to be? If you do, how practical is that plan?

A good place to start is to think about the following:

  • Where do you want to be in 5 years’ time? If that timeframe is too long pick a shorter one
  • Where are you now?
  • What do you need to do to get from where you are now to where you want to be?
  • What’s going to stop you?

If you need help on this, consider a strategic planning session with one of the Principal Advisers at A4G.

You may need to make some big decisions about who is going to return and who isn’t. It’s not going to be easy.

But once you’ve got this worked out, find a way to discuss it with your team. Zoom may well be your best bet for this but failing that find a large car park and stand in a big circle 2 metres apart. Whatever works.

Listen to people’s concerns about your plans. Your team will have some good ideas. They’ve had plenty of time to think about work! They may point out the flaws in your plan even if they don’t have the solution. Tell them about the challenges the business faces. Tell them more information that you’ve ever told them before. Ask for their ideas.

You might not agree with all the ideas. Some people are great at pointing out what’s wrong but terrible at identifying solutions. Embrace their input. They may be seeing the flaws in the plan but you might be able to tweak the plan to provide the solution. That’s creative co-operation in action.

Doing all of this might bring the change to the culture that you have always sought. Hopefully everyone will understand that their livelihood is at stake. This could be a great opportunity for a new start.

And after that?

Well I guess you just need to “Stay Alert”.

I knew it would come in useful somewhere.

Read our next article in our the Seven habits of highly effective people series: Raising the bar

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Malcolm Palmer


Managing Partner

01474 853856

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