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COVID-19: How can leaders inspire digital teams?

2nd Jul 2020
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We put the question: How can leaders inspire teams in a digitally connected world? to Dr. Karina R. Jensen - Practice Professor of Global Innovation and Leadership at NEOMA Business School, France. Karina is an expert in this field, and is also Practice Director, at NEOMA's Centre for Leadership and Effective Organizations. Here are her thoughts:

Do you want to Zoom, Skype, WebEx, Teams or WhatsApp me? The transition to an online work life has brought new opportunities for leaders to re-connect and enjoy relationship-building with colleagues and team members around the world. Yet, the 24/7 virtual life has also left team members isolated with less access to human interactions enjoyed through office meetings, water cooler exchanges and café updates. Leaders and teams are facing changing contexts while adapting to new technologies and modes of online interaction.

Today’s business context is placing leaders within a global network of collaborators where change and innovation are the key drivers. They are facing demands to facilitate knowledge-sharing with cross-functional and cross-cultural teams. Leaders are challenged with competencies for virtual collaboration with team members across geographies. Yet there are few leadership models that address behaviors and practices based on the current work context - one that is global, multicultural, and digitally connected.

How can leaders build strong team relations in absence of physical space and the need for social distancing? Research and practice have shown that trust-building and relationship development are most effective when leaders and teams can interact in person. Whether you’re leading teams on-site or online, a human-driven focus through inclusive leadership is increasingly needed for a changing business landscape. An increasingly team and project-driven environment that is remote requires new roles for leaders as knowledge facilitators. Consider three leadership behaviors that help create powerful connections with teams around the world:

Harness the collective wisdom within the organization

The coming year will present business and market challenges that require collective problem-solving from creative minds across the organization. Consider how team leaders can make time for spontaneous ideation sessions and hackathons in an online environment. The opportunities lie in a leader’s ability to connect teams and develop interactive networks. Leaders will need to encourage new ideas and initiatives from their teams through inspiration and guidance. Rather than focus on a select group of executives or decision-makers, leaders will need to emphasize strategic co-creation with cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural teams of collaborators who bring relevant knowledge and experience. Executives need to move from an exclusive mindset to an inclusive mindset where ideas and solutions can be found anywhere within the organization.

Facilitate knowledge-sharing for a team and project-driven environment

As the current pandemic crisis has demonstrated, the future will emphasize online team collaboration for a new generation of tech savvy and culturally diverse leaders. With the development of virtual networks and eco systems, new skills are required for facilitating collaboration and innovation around the globe. Serving as knowledge facilitators, leaders will need to inspire and empower teams to initiate ideas and share knowledge, from concept to execution. This will require new ways to design and facilitate team collaboration using a blended mode for online and on-site project collaboration.

Optimize technology platforms that drive collaboration

An open and interactive communication process with easy access to information and resources are critical factors for global and local knowledge-sharing. This requires online collaboration with digital platforms and tools that adapt to diverse communication practices. Leaders can use this opportunity to empower human-centric design through an emphasis on the employee and team experience. It is important to consider how communication and exchange is built into the project process. Regular online team meetings combined with spontaneous pop-up meetings for quick updates and exchanges can strengthen connections and relations. In starting with social design, project leaders should consider the team communication process and how technologies can facilitate and support engagement. This leads to the IT design in identifying platforms and tools that support team interactions.

Leadership behaviors and practices in an online environment can positively influence team engagement with attention to knowledge-sharing, co-creation, and collaboration. Team leaders will need to strengthen their relationship-building and knowledge facilitation skills in order to accelerate team performance and project success. There will be a greater need for trust-building and knowledge-sharing throughout the project collaboration process. Consider how teams connect through the digital network, how they can share knowledge and optimize learning for project success. It’s time to consider and adopt leadership practices that contribute to team empowerment and engagement in the digital era. Are you ready to lead in a global, multicultural and digitally connected world?

This is part of a interview series focuses on how COVID-19 is impacting on HR, management and leadership practices.

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