This article was originally published on 3 April 2020 as part of our Leading through Covid-19 series.
The response to Covid-19 meant people who may not usually work together – or even know each other – came together to tackle complex and urgent challenges, based on limited information and no real idea of what was coming next.
Taking up new roles, people who think differently, talk differently and work differently had to find ways to reconcile divergent professional perspectives. Among the pressure of the magnitude of the task, this environment was ripe for high levels of anxiety and burnout. Fortunately, people have thought about what can help temporary teams work together and support each other effectively.
'Teaming on the fly'
Harvard Business School’s Professor Amy Edmondson has studied hundreds of organisational responses to such challenges to understand the mindset and behaviours that allow diverse groups of people to come together with no prior plan, and to collaborate and learn as they meet the challenges before them. She calls this process ‘teaming on the fly’, and emphasises framing the challenges in positive terms and making learning a central part of the work.
One example was the San Jose mining disaster in Chile in 2010, where 33 miners were trapped 2,000 feet underground. They had two days’ worth of food and their chances of survival were put at less than 10 per cent. And yet 70 days later, all the men were rescued alive, thanks to strong teamwork and leadership.
Putting it into practice
Based on Edmondson’s work, we think there are three things that everyone, and especially leaders, can do to ‘team on the fly’ more effectively.
Let go of the need to have all the answers – freeing yourself from feeling you should know everything may free others to pitch in to collective problem-solving; this may help you all feel more in control.
Make some time to connect, even if it’s briefly, and get to know your new teammates, what they bring and how they can contribute – they may surprise you.
Be curious and welcome curiosity to make it easier for people to share their ideas and concerns, and worry less about hierarchy or what people will think of each other.