Developing wellness and wellbeing within a team

For many of us in teams at work, the last 12 months have been an interesting mix of emotions: fear, uncertainty and the excitement of new discoveries. It’s been dubbed the Covid Roller Coaster for good reason. As a team coach, I have worked with people in teams who have found the experience of working and living in a pandemic both exhausting and exhilarating, a perfect reminder of the polarities of life.

One of my favourite quotes for surfing these ups and downs is from Maya Angela, the American poet, memoirist and civil rights activist who said: “Where there are clouds there are also rainbows. Look for those rainbows. They can be found in your community; organisation, team, friends, family and within you.”.

Whether you are leading a team or you’re a team member, find your ‘personal rainbow’ to help improve the quality of your working life through these strange times.

remote team working effectively

Connections are important and definitely worth paying attention to in teams.

Connections are essential to what makes us human beings

Since March 2020, more so than ever before, I am aware that connections are essential to what makes us human beings. Since our earliest evolution, we have looked for connections with others in order to hunt and survive, reduce the exposure from being a predator’s lunch, to share experiences and stories, to pass down collective wisdom, and reduce the burden and challenges of raising our young ones. I read recently that we are wired for connection – it reduces our stress response and leaves us feeling less anxious and threatened. Research using fMRI scans has shown that, when we are with other people, the neural networks that processes our social thinking lights up and, interestingly, when we are not with other people that same part of our brain gets active looking for social interaction, as if preparing for the next meeting. When this aspect of us is not fulfilled, we get anxious and there is a great deal of research out there about the direct link between the lack of connections and loneliness and other adverse physiological effects.

I think that’s enough evidence to say that connections are important and definitely worth paying attention to in teams. Many months of living in a pandemic, working remotely, means that as this continues, we forget to connect. Do you remember the energy we put into Zoom sessions, the quizzes, coffee sessions, after work drinks that we all had in March and April of 2020? How many of you are still maintaining that level of connection with your teams? We normalise situations. That’s normal, forgive the pun, but is it right? What will be the impact on the mental health of our team members, families and the extended ripple effect?

Keeping connected through COVID-19 disruptions to working life

So, based on my experience of working with teams closely over the past year, I would like to offer some tips that will help to keep connections at the front of your mind. I hope they become a daily mantra for checking in with your fellow team members and improving the quality of your connections:

  • Put your own oxygen mask on first: To be of service to the people that you work with, you need to take your own advice: look up regularly to change your neurological response to a constant threat response. When the working day stretches further than a pre-Covid day, it’s important to balance the uncertainty with healthy habits, so look up. Looking up changes your physiology biochemically and fools your brain into producing good hormones that will energise you and make you feel well.
  • Get physical: I have noticed that a common factor that is mentioned in people who are feeling overwhelmed is the lack of balance in working and physical health. Move around every twenty minutes. Mix it up with sitting, standing, walking as you talk. Take care of that back and your shoulders. Stretch. Just walk a bit. These simple things put us back in control of a world where we may feel powerless.
  • Relationships: Enjoy knowing your team in a different way. We see so much more of each other’s personal space now as we peer into their homes: see children as they want attention; partners bring in drinks; cats walking across keyboards and dogs barking in backgrounds. I have really enjoyed the humanness of working. I hope that we maintain this as we transition to living with Covid.
  • Check in: Start every conversation with a genuine inquiry as to “How you are?” Listen. Observe. Turn up the brightness of the spotlight that you put on the teams you are working with. Notice the deflection of “I’m fine, thanks” or “Good”. Delve deeper – be inquisitive. Make it okay for someone to say, “You know what, I’m having a terrible day.” Ask what they need. Who is being quiet? Are cameras on or off? Encourage them to be on. Seeing other humans is important. We have mirror neurons in our brains that are scanning to make connections, to find our tribe, finding where we belong so we need to see facial expressions and body language as well as hear tones of voices. Ignore protests about not enough wi-fi bandwidth. Turn your cameras back on.
  • Check on the wider family: Be understanding of the balance between the humanistic and the productivity metrics of leading successful teams. Empathy, compassion, time and space to decompress, talk, be heard are all ingredients that help bake well-being into teams. You don’t want to be that team that puts the health of people at risk because workloads demand it! Listening first will always help a solution to be found to that deadline. Listening is under-rated, and questions are often a powerful key.
  • Gratitude: When we focus on what we can do and what is good, then we are creating more hormones that help the brain to fire and to find solutions. When we find our minds chasing the tail of what is wrong, what could go wrong, then we produce cortisol, the stress hormone and with it comes that brain fog, poor decision-making and eventually depression. So, write down 3 things every day that your grateful for – and share them with others.
  • Trust: Believe in the fact that fundamentally everyone is good. We are all resourceful and we all want the same thing. When we trust people, we can move mountains and we have seen that in the pandemic where organisations have moved with such agility lives have been saved, literally.
  • Well-being: Well-being used to be a topic that was considered to be the right thing to do in organisations. Now it’s an imperative. Well-being for a team leader means having clarity to make decisions; to notice what is happening in the team; to have the courage to approach a person and ask how they are doing with a genuine duty of care. In northern Natal in South Africa, the tribes greet each other with “Sawubona”, which means “I see you”. The reply is “Ngikhona” “ I am here”. This literally translates as “until you see me I do not exist”. Take time to notice. Fact: 1 in 3 people have a mental health issue and if you notice the signs early enough you can help that person before they become ill.
  • Breath: Pause and reset during the day. Regularly. Be present to what is happening in you right now. Take your attention to the contact of your feet with the floor. Feel that connection. Breath in through your nose into your belly and out through your nose. And again, deeper, more slowly. Repeat with a normal breath. Now, look around you: What can you see? Choose an object to look at. Notice what you are feeling. Are you aware of any smells or tastes? Paying attention to what is here right now will help clear your mind so that you can make better decisions.
  • Stop: Take frequent breaks. Create new habits that keep you and your team well.

Closing reminder

Remember, life is about change. Nothing is static. Remember, this will pass, and you need to swim with the current not get swept away by the storm. Be curious about the lessons that you are learning. Remember those lessons and use them to make choices that connect and move you, and your team, closer together and forwards.

Team coach.

Carroll is a team coach and leadership developer with teamGenie®.   She also leads the teamSalient® Community of Practice (CPD).

Putting insights into action:

How well is your team coping through the COVID-19 disruptions to working life?  Wellbeing and resilience are measured in the self-management driver within the teamSalient®diagnostic assessment tool. If you’d like to find out more please get in touch.

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