Leveraging this Adaptive Workplace Moment


Leveraging this Adaptive Workplace Moment

Nearly two years into this pandemic, COVID has stretched our patience, tested our resilience, demanded our creativity, and dared us to be kind. Boundaries between home and work have blurred. Our responsibilities at home (young kids, aging parents, puppies) have blended and compounded with our responsibilities at work. We don’t get a break and we feel overwhelmed. The overwhelm seems endemic.

In addition to this general sense of overwhelm, specific challenges in the workplace are trending: whether and how often people work from home, how to create and maintain connection with teammates in various locations, and how to measure productivity without surveillance (otherwise known as “how can I trust you to be at work while wearing your pajamas at home?”)

We are asked to solve these challenges in our own workplaces and assist clients in finding solutions in theirs. While there is no single recipe to address these challenges, there are some strategies that organizations can take to tap into and reinvest in the organization’s social capital — interpersonal networks, reciprocity, mutual support, and trustworthiness. Workplaces must find creative and adaptive ways to reinvest in its social capital rather than deplete it, especially right now.

So how do we reinvest in our social capital during these uncertain and unpredictable days? How do we support people to bring their best selves to work — despite the chaos of COVID? We can focus our attention on two strategies: 1) motivate individuals to actively engage in their work teams, and 2) create structures and practices that support contribution and connection. We invite people in and make it easy for them to say “yes.”

Motivation can be triggered externally with goals and rewards, and internally through igniting a sense of purpose, mastery, and autonomy. Ideally, we want to both inspire and reward the behaviours necessary to create the culture we envision to maintain a healthy balance of our social capital. Finding these motivational levers requires us to be curious about people’s purpose, skills, and abilities. A cookie-cutter approach cannot be applied. Amy Edmondson, Professor at Harvard Business School, popularized the term “teaming” in her 2012 book of the same name.1 Edmondson posits that through curiosity, passion, and empathy, a culture of teaming can emerge. Within a teaming culture we can leverage individual motivation in a collective fashion.

What structures (e.g., polices, hierarchies) and practices (e.g., routines, habits) can we put in place to encourage meaningful contribution and connection now? Consider the practices of meetings, exchanging information, measuring performance, and making decisions. How might these practices be updated to meet the current needs of our workplaces?

Meetings: we love to hate them. Yet, meetings can serve an essential role in connecting people to their work and each other. Good meeting practice is to keep them short, frequent, and relevant to a specific objective. A 10-minute daily “huddle” can be a great way to connect and focus. If the meeting objective is to discuss progress on a project, then bring the timeline and the metrics to review the progress. Celebrate the wins; craft a plan to mitigate any risks. An action-oriented project meeting can be completed in 30 minutes, and having a clear sense of progress is motivating.

This is an adaptive workplace moment, a test of our resilience. And these are fertile times for iterative learning and growth. Whether organizations, including law firms, thrive as we ride the waves of this pandemic will depend on how effective we are at motivating the people around us to play an active role in this journey.

1. Edmondson, Amy. Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy. (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2013). |