3 Steps to Rebuild the Team Post COVID Vaccine

leadership May 26, 2021

            A “new” normal is forming. In this series on life post-COVID vaccine, we have looked at who is coming back to work, how to reacclimatize your team back into the cognitive and emotional space. Here you are. A leader who has the “band back together”. You’re ready to hit the ground running, right?

            Maybe not.

            How do you reacquaint team members with each other, so they are performing as well or better than before the pandemic?

Reuniting Might Be Hard to Do  

            After all, returning to the physical workspace is not like Day 1 when you first formed your team. Nor is the team reuniting after people have taken time off during the holidays or over the summer. Everyone has been working for the past year…but they’ve been working remotely. Team members might have forgotten how certain co-workers talk too loudly in their cubicle. Or maybe they’ve forgotten how the overly friendly, too talkative officemate sucked up so much time.  But even after a year, team members should remember everyone’s face and name.

Rebuild Teams Post COVID Vaccine  

            Leaders must intentionally plan for team re-building. The team will revisit the team development model: forming, storming, norming process. As you plan on how to bring the office back together, you must also consider how you can re-form the team, so they are ready and focused on the mission.

            As a leader, it is your responsibility to help individuals come back together, and guide them through the uncertainties of coming back to the office. This past year was a year of crisis. Between the global pandemic and social justice issues coming into the foreground, your employees faced a lot of uncertainty and trauma. This is not the first time businesses have faced stressful events: 9/11, The Virginia Tech shooting, Hurricane Katrina are all different events, but leaders faced the same question: how do we rebuild the team after they’ve suffered through a crisis?

3 Steps to Rebuild the Team Post COVID Vaccine  

            After studying the aftermath of these events, there are three things a leader should consider when reacclimatizing your team.

Talk less, listen more. H3  

This sounds simple but it allows your team to share with you their thoughts and emotions.. This gives you a pulse on what is on each team member’s mind.  This shows that you care about their feelings and allows them to process what they are going through. If you listen generously, your employees will feel fully heard and supported and believe that their leader supports and understands them. In turn, they will be able to better contribute to the work. 

            In the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shooting, leaders paid attention to employees who seemed more distraught or distracted. The leader offered to bring in counselors to lead the group in sessions or do private counseling sessions. Managers also paid attention to when an employee was having trouble concentrating. Effective leaders suggested they go for a walk to clear their heads and rebalance their energy.

            Listening does not mean you should not speak up or provide guidance when appropriate. However, if you focus on listening to employee concerns, they will feel more appreciated and understood and be able to focus on the business.

Create Time and Space for Team Building Fun 

Once you understand what the team needs from you, the next step is to start the forming process with the team.  Your people need to reacquaint themselves with one another. Review schedules and work tempo. Designate time and space for team-building activities (both virtual and in-person). The effects of the pandemic dramatically shifted or altered how people look at the world and their lives. The people you used to work with shoulder-to-shoulder are just not the same people.

            Before the team can perform as they did prior to the pandemic, leaders must work to rebuild connection, trust, and morale. Team building activities can re-establish both. What if your team was not very cohesive? This is even more of a reason to schedule team-building events. In our work with leaders and teams, we find this is an invaluable investment of time and energy. Trust is intangible but critical.


            Team building exercises build trust, a spirit of unity, and are fun (or at least they should be!). These activities allow employees to get engaged with each other in a relaxed environment. In turn, this will allow the team to feel more comfortable expressing concerns and needs, which leads to more effective communication.


            Activities can be as simple as “two truths and a lie.” The team sits in a circle and tells two truths about themselves and one lie. The group has to guess which statement is the lie. This is a fun and free activity where team members can be silly and learn about each other. Another simple activity is the “egg drop.” Divide the group into teams, give them thirty minutes to create a contraption around an egg using basic office supplies (paper, tape, etc). The goal is to build a structure that will prevent the raw egg from breaking from a high drop. The team whose egg can be dropped from the highest mark wins. 


            Activities can be more elaborate. If you have a budget a bit more expensive. This could include an off-site game of paintball, bowling, or an escape room.


            Do not forget about the team members that are still remote working! While it might be challenging to have a hybrid of virtual and in-person team-building activities, you can still make it work with activities like trivia, charades, or have each person in the office and online do a “show and tell” of one item on their desk.


            Team building activities should be fun but also serve a purpose to have the team learn about each other, strengthen their communication skills, and build trust.


Exercise Patience  


            Finally, as a leader, keep your expectations in check. Remember that bringing the team back together is a marathon, not a sprint. It will take time for employees to get back into their rhythm. Perhaps your first quarter’s goals will not be met. But continue to celebrate milestones and victories with your employees and the company.


            Learning will occur for both you and your employees. Do not expect everything to get back to “normal” (were long days and short deadlines even a good normal?—more on that next week). As you lead, support, and navigate your team through uncertainty, be open and honest with the team. Transparency goes a long way, especially after a crisis. By acknowledging challenges and allowing the team to see you maneuver through obstacles, they will see your compassion and commitment. Your team will pick up on your example of transparency and emulate it. Transparency will build (or rebuild) relationships and trust.


            Recognize that when your team comes back into the office, it will not be the same as before the pandemic. However, intentionally working to reacclimatize them back into the office will get your business back on track quicker.


Jenny DuFresne is the CEO, Leaders Transform. Our mission is to develop leaders who grow, inspire, and evolve people, culture, and impact. Our team supports executive and mid-level leaders with executive coaching, leader, team, and culture development in mid-market companies. Learn more at www.LeadersTransform.com

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