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Re-energising teams (part 1 of 3)

Lessons from supporting NHS staff and teams, at scale.

Since the start of COVID, we have been directly supporting national NHS teams who are leading innovation, change and primary care. Alongside this, we have delivered which has supported over 1,000 NHS staff towards continued working, increased confidence and reduced anxiety. All of our work is research orientated and we are learning fast.

Our learning is proving effective in providing workshops and in developing our training model, for supporting people on a national level. We regularly hear now that time spent in our programmes is translated to increased energy, confidence and changes in leadership approach. The learning continues and will evolve with time, but sharing what we have learned now will hopefully benefit more than the organisations we are able to touch.

This piece represents the first of three. In the next two, I will address the energy of leaders themselves and the energy that organisational development can harness, through planning and systemic tweaking.

Team energy

The energy of many teams has depleted. It is fair to say that the energy of people has depleted. The impact of enduring lockdown and all that it brings is being revealed as we live it. There is no previous data to really indicate what to expect or how to survive it. What we are seeing is that the shifting nature of how we live is disruptive to our psychology and brings with it adapted approaches to work and living, that seem to offer solutions whilst also causing us to feel generally tired.

Beyond the common narratives of zoom fatigue, eye strain and schooling our children alongside work — are the more subtle shifts that seem more difficult to articulate. The absence of human interaction that allows spaces where we can relax and have fun. The environmental repetition of encased living with restricted exercise opportunities. The general sense of routineness and the completion of most days with more time spent sedentary than active. They are cumulative and strike as a new challenge at the very core of us as beings.

People are talking about fatigue, but also in the context of anxiety, low mood, concern about their health and a sense of cluelessness about what we are meant to do to combat it. There is a real risk that we develop a kind of learned helplessness, where control feels unavailable, wins seem on pause and we simply lay down and take it. The problem with learned helplessness is that once the control is given back to us, we may have lost the initiative to seize it.

I’ve read mention of Psychological Stamina and war-like mentality. But I really hear people referring to something more akin to living in an isolation cell, where we are tapped for our resource once in a while but provided little opportunity to refill the tank. This psychology is something leaders need to understand. We need to build approaches to address it. The risk of pushing for performance at this time is that we risk alienating those who feel too tired to push and creating a divide between those who feel they can push and are now carrying the team.

Leading towards energy

Let’s be frank. We as leaders are often tired too. For the first time as a leader of my own company and a Psychologist supporting others, I seem to be sharing the same challenges as all of my clients. I don’t have all of the answers, but this is ok — we have some, and I have learned to embrace uncertainty and to promote others to embrace it (I have written more on this here).

Some of the learning we are sharing with leaders at this time, which seems to help:

It is okay not to know the answer.

It is okay to say, “I don’t know” to your team, when questions are asked about the future. Modelling certainty can lead to proving that you are wrong or put pressure on you to be right. Teams often feel anxious but it can be validating for them to hear that this is a shared experience.

Encourage ‘teaming’

Rather than offering solutions to unknowns, remind the team that you have confidence in them to solve the unknowns collectively. Invite them all to offer ideas and solutions, for a collective idea about what might be the answer.

Encourage errors