Marshall Rosenberg already described in his well-known book Non-violent Communication that people are social beings who are oriented towards togetherness. This would suggest that cooperation is relatively simple because we can do that from our biological structure. That is, unfortunately, a fallacy.

Working with others requires a range of skills.

– Expertise: We apply technical and professional skills. We have developed them during our professional training (as engineers, financial experts, business economists, accountants, etc.)

– Process competence: On the one hand, this competence cluster distinguishes between methodological competences (the instruments applied in each case) and social competences, which describe the behaviour of people in this process. Developing these skills set is an ongoing process.

Many teams currently must work in shifts. This means that one week is the “morning shift” in the office, the next week, the afternoon shift. This model is a must for many companies due to the Corona pandemic. Here we would like to take a closer look at some of the challenges that have arisen as a result and which need to be overcome:

The social togetherness

Teams working in different locations quickly lose their sense of belonging. Some managers try to counteract this with star-shaped communication (starting with the manager). The result is that the manager gets the impression that he is in contact with everyone, which is right. However, the cooperation of the team members suffers because the direct communication of the team members decreases and is often limited to pure work-related topics.

Our tip:

  • Whether you have a self-organised or a managed team – create opportunities where everyone can see each other and get in touch: The short morning meeting or the joint “virtual coffee break” is an excellent way to do this. Above all, regularity helps to compensate for the lost direct social contacts.
  • It is helpful to create institutionalised overlapping periods between the shifts, in which communication can also take place across changes. Virtual meetings are also beneficial here in Corona times.
  • If half of the team is working “simultaneously” in the home office, we strongly recommend switching to a hybrid format for mutual communication and training in the use of this format. The primary concern here is that the people who are physically present should give colleagues who are connected enough space to be heard. If the company does not offer good room cameras for working in a hybrid format, the better option is to switch straight to virtual meetings.

Information flow

Managers who have been working with the model for years describe the challenge of maintaining the flow of information in the team as the biggest problem for themselves because they never know exactly who has the knowledge and who doesn’t. This quickly leads to dissatisfaction or the feeling of being left alone.

Our tip:

  • Think with the team and within the team about what information is essential to whom and create formats that make personal delivery of general messages obsolete. The executive as a “source of information” is a relic of the 60s that has lasted too long.
  • Exchanging and distributing information and knowledge within a team is a significant challenge when working in a distributed manner. Here, too, virtual tools such as news tickers, wikis, clearly arranged task boards etc. help. to facilitate the topic. We work with Microsoft teams, for example, about task planning:
    • We use the chat function for fast communication and
    • the Planner Tool to distribute tasks or control task-related communication
    • With the team collaboration software Miro, we develop ideas together in a virtual (and meanwhile, more and more physical) context.

Liability for the provision of services

Team members, who have been managed very “closely” up to now, find it very unpleasant to suddenly no longer have any guidance. The biggest challenge here is to increase the process competence of the employees to such an extent that they can work independently, equipped with clear goals. In some cases, it is also possible to work together virtually.

Our tip:

  • Organise the cooperation via virtual Planner Tools, were task-related communication is possible.
  • Plan working hours in such a way that people who need to work intensively together work in the same shift, if possible, to enable face-to-face meetings (physical or virtual).
  • Introduce short review loops so that employees who are still unsure what to do, do not run in the wrong direction for too long.

Agree on rules of cooperation

Implicit rules of cooperation practised in analogous teams quickly lose their meaning when working in a dislocated manner. Suddenly other issues become necessary, such as reaction times, escalation paths, etc.

Our tip:

  • Agree with the colleagues with whom you need to work intensively on how the communication should run. Important factors are involved:
    • What is sent via which channel?
    • What reaction times have been agreed?
    • What happens if there are problems?
    • How should conflict situations be resolved?
    • When should the supervisor be involved?
    • How can transparency be created? Who is working on what (planner) to avoid having to ask questions always?
    • Agree on a tool that everyone can use, and in which everyone can “lookup”.  

The same applies to project teams and interfaces or in regular communication with customers.

Our experience is that the increase in complexity is easy to manage if you are aware of the issue and take the time to adapt the communication processes to this situation. It is not helpful to carry on as before and assume that the employees can somehow cope with it.

With this in mind, we wish you all the best for the Corona Autumn and will be happy to be available for further discussions on this topic.

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