Have team members motivate each other. Another way to increase engagement is to have team members motivate and stay in contact with each other. When there is a sense of “we are in this together”, there is a higher level of support and less turnover. Communication can occur through a peer mentorship or buddy system. Or by rotating the assignment of “engagement lead”, where every couple of weeks a different team member is assigned to informally take the pulse of the group and work with the leader to plan meetings, activities or events for the team.
We are living in a new world in which offices are becoming obsolete. How can teams effectively communicate if they are never together? Zoom and Slack are excellent tools, but they don’t replicate all the advantages of being together. What strategies, tools and techniques work to be a highly effective communicator, even if you are not in the same space?
In this interview series, we are interviewing business leaders who share the strategies, tools and techniques they use to effectively and efficiently communicate with their team who may be spread out across the world. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Nicole A. Bryan.
Nicole leads The Change Doc, an organization committed to helping leaders change to be better, think broader and lead bolder. The Change Doc provides leadership advancement services and organizational change consulting to businesses focused on growth and expansion.
Nicole has over twenty-five years of experience leading change and people. In her most recent corporate role from 2017 to 2021, Nicole was the Vice President of Talent & Organizational Effectiveness (T&OE) at MedStar Health. In that position, she provided system-wide support in the areas of talent acquisition, talent management, associate experience & engagement, inclusion and diversity, organizational change management, organizational development consulting, and leadership and (non-clinical) associate development at MedStar Health.
Prior to joining MedStar, Nicole was the Head of Learning, Culture, and Organizational Effectiveness at T. Rowe Price from 2012–2017. Prior to that, she served as Vice President of Programs and Human Resources at CollegeTracks, Inc., a non-profit organization in the DC metro area committed to supporting first generation student access and matriculation through colleges and universities. Additionally, Nicole has held management positions at The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Phillip Morris Management Corp, and Citigroup.
Nicole earned her Ph.D. in counseling psychology from the University of Maryland, focusing on developing a diagnostic instrument for work addiction. She holds an M.B.A and a Master of Labor and Industrial Relations from Cornell University, a M.S.Ed in personnel and counseling services from Fordham University, and a B.A. in business administration from Michigan State University. Nicole has served as adjunct faculty at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland at College Park.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I am Caribbean American. Both of my parents are immigrants from Barbados ,West Indies and I was raised in Brooklyn, NY. From a young age, I was always interested in helping people. I was the kid from whom friends always sought advice and I was always the first to volunteer at school and church. Simultaneously, I also had a passion for learning new things — through school, reading books, listening to other people’s stories. So I searched for professions that allowed me to be my introverted self while learning and simultaneously supporting others on their own journeys. As a result, I’ve been a human resources professional, an educator/professor, a college access coach, a psychologist, and now a business advisor to entrepreneurs.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“To whom much is given, much is required”. I believe the origin of the quote is the Bible, but it was also my middle school motto and I’ve tried to live by it ever since. Essentially it is a reminder to me that we all have challenges in life, and we equally all have blessings. But that despite the challenges, every one has the responsibility to use their blessings and gifts to better the world and find ways to give back. Each of us is here today because others have come before us and contributed to the world as we know it. And thus, we each have a responsibility to pay it forward and contribute for those that will come after us.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Ah yes, there are endless people to whom I am grateful for helping me get where I am today. First and foremost, I would have to say my mother and my father (Velma and Keith) both of whom were born and educated in other countries. My father only achieved a 6th grade education and my mother was able to finish high school, after which both of my parents had to go to work to contribute to their respective household incomes.
From birth, they instilled in my brother and me the importance of education — through school and experience- as the single thing that would continously enrich our lives and once obtained, could not be taken away. It was them that made me believe that I could do or be anything I wanted.
If I had to choose someone who was not a family member, I would choose Elizabeth Sciabarra (affectionately know as Ski)– my high school competition cheerleading coach. She was a single woman, also from a family that emigrated to the United States, who dedicated her life to helping young girls embrace their power and potential. From Ski I learned how to advocate for others, to embrace people of all backgrounds, cultures, and nationalities, to be comfortable as a female leader being both fierce and empathetic to get things done.
Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The pandemic has changed so many things about the way we behave. One of them of course, is how we work and how we communicate in our work. Many teams have started working remotely. Working remotely can be very different than working with a team that is in front of you. This provides great opportunity but it can also create unique challenges. To begin, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main benefits of having a team physically together?
Teamwork is all about cohesion and working toward a common goal. Communication and common experiences expedite and deepen team experiences. So, it would make sense that having members of a team be co-located or share physical workspace would provide ample planned and unplanned opportunities to share information, talk, and work together organically. Being together physically as a team also makes it easier to monitor pace of work and level of engagement.
On the flip side, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main challenges that arise when a team is not in the same space?
If not approached carefully, a number of challenges can arise when teams are dispersed and work from multiple locations. These include, but are not limited to:
– people feeling disengaged and not part of a larger team,
– work productivity can decline making it difficult to achieve project deadlines,
– quality of work can also “take a hit” when employees face distractions in their remote work environments
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges? What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Communicate With Your Team Effectively Even If You Are Rarely In The Same Physical Space ? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1) Daily huddles. Working away from your colleagues can be isolating, and team members begin to feel disconnected from the company and team. Ways to prevent this would be to increase communication about ongoing work and projects through remote daily virtual huddles at the beginning or end of each day. A huddle should be anywhere from 5–15 minutes, at the same time every workday. This way team members know when it is, make it a priority to attend, and can count on consistently connecting with others.
2) Restating and Revisiting the Vision. Often, when employees become disenchanted or disengaged, it is because they’ve lost touch with the vision. The “why” behind all of the work they are performing. Part of the leader’s role is to ensure that people not only understand the vision, but also feel connected to it and can see a direct line between the work they do day-to-day and the ultimate outcomes.
3) Have team members motivate each other. Another way to increase engagement is to have team members motivate and stay in contact with each other. When there is a sense of “we are in this together”, there is a higher level of support and less turnover. Communication can occur through a peer mentorship or buddy system. Or by rotating the assignment of “engagement lead”, where every couple of weeks a different team member is assigned to informally take the pulse of the group and work with the leader to plan meetings, activities or events for the team.
4) Amplify the voice of the customer. Everyone gets excited when they know and can see that they are making an impact. Unfortunately, often teams are not positioned to experience firsthand how their work is being perceived or leveraged. A way to get around that is to invite the internal or external customer to speak directly to the team about why their work is so important and the positive results. This can occur at a team meeting, via pre-recorded video, etc. This usually makes a huge difference to groups and leaves them feeling a sense of pride with renewed energy and connectedness to their work, team and the broader organization.
5) Virtual Happy Hour. If the team is in need of down time or social time with each other, one way to make this happen is to host a virtual BYOB happy hour. This encourages group interaction, sharing with each other outside of normal work hours, and since most are already working from home, it is socially distanced and safe.
Let’s zoom in a bit. Many tools have been developed to help teams coordinate and communicate with each other. In your personal experiences which tools have been most effective in helping to replicate the benefits of being together in the same space?
All tools that allow employees and teams to replicate aspects of being on-site, together at work have been of great support. From the use of video (Zoom, WebEx, MsTeams) in remote meetings so people can still see each other and read non-verbal cues to having access to digital platforms that allow workers to share files and work products seamlessly without sending things through mail or e-mail. These softwares also have other capabilities that we have used a great deal like breakout rooms for small group discussions within larger meetings, whiteboards for virtual group brainstorming, etc.
If you could design the perfect communication feature or system to help your business, what would it be?
The perfect communication feature/system would be one that combined the best aspects of the in-person and virtual experiences.
The technology is rapidly evolving and new tools like VR, AR, and Mixed Reality are being developed to help bring remote teams together in a shared virtual space. Is there any technology coming down the pipeline that excites you?
I am excited by technologies like VR and AR that allow us to replicate in-person interactions and common shared experiences.
Is there a part of this future vision that concerns you? Can you explain?
Many experts have expressed concerns about the potential consequences of increased percentage of the workforce being doing their jobs remotely. Most of the concerns have been about the health and well-being of the employee — the mental challenge of being isolated throughout the work day, the strain on the body, eyes, and brain from staring at a computer screen non-stop for 5 to 10 hours per day, the increasing blur between work and personal life when one works from home regularly, etc. While I believe that all of these concerns are valid, I also believe that we all have the ability to adjust our mindset and behaviors to such new conditions and prevent significant negative impacts. And because it is always challenging to shift behaviors and beliefs individually and as a group, it will take years if not decades for society to wholly acclimate.
So far we have discussed communication within a team. How has the pandemic changed the way you interact and engage your customers? How much of your interactions have moved to digital such as chatbots, messaging apps, phone, or video calls?
All customer meetings are now via video — primarily MS Teams and Zoom, although a few still use Business Skype. MS Teams and Business Skype also have instant messaging features that we heavily utilize. To engage with our customers who have more limited budgets, we are using Google platforms (ie Google Drive, etc.). Finally, we also ramped up use of DocuSign for digital execution of our business contracts.
In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of working with a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote team member?
Honest and constructive feedback should always be provided, whether a team member is physically present or works remotely. It may feel a bit different for both the feedback giver and the receiver if they are not in the same space together, but here are a few suggestions to ensure that the remote discussion is set up for success:
- Make it a video meeting/call when possible. This will allow both parties to see, as well as hear, each other.
- Before the meeting (video or phone), communicate the purpose of the conversation so that the team member is not caught off guard. For example, a manager could send a quick email or chat message to the team member letting them know that they are going to schedule a few minutes in the next day to connect on X.
- During the discussion, allow the team member to express their opinion on the matter first. As a leader, you want to ensure that you are empowering the employee’s growth as well as potentially correcting behavior for the future. Before you provide the constructive feedback, ask him/her for their thoughts on the situation. (ie — “I wanted to talk about how things went with Project X last week. Share with me what you think went well and what you think could have been done differently”). Allowing them to express themselves first also provides the leader with more insight on the employee’s opinion and mindset, which may require the leader to adjust his or her approach.
- Allow the team member to ask questions of you based on the constructive feedback. If they don’t immediately ask, then the leader should suggest it. (ie “Do you have any questions for me based on what we discussed?”. If they don’t have any questions immediately, it is a good practice to leave the virtual door open for questions later if they arise after the employee has had time to process.
Can you give any specific ideas about how to create a sense of camaraderie and team cohesion when you are not physically together?
To create a sense of team cohesion for remote teams:
1) Have team members motivate each other. Another way to increase engagement is to have team members motivate and stay in contact with each other. When there is a sense of “we are in this together”, there is a higher level of support and less turnover. Communication can occur through a peer mentorship or buddy system. Or by rotating the assignment of “engagement lead”, where every couple of weeks a different team member is assigned to informally take the pulse of the group and work with the leader to plan meetings, activities or events for the team.
2) Schedule (Optional) Lunch and Water Cooler Time. Regularly scheduled, optional team gatherings, within the work day, is a great idea. Whether this is on the calendar a few times per week or few times per month, employees will be able to “count on it’ and join as a way to replicate the in person lunches and impromptu dialogues that used to occur when everyone was physically together.
4) When possible, have people work in pairs or small groups — and rotate the pairings and group assignments. Working closely with other co-workers forces individuals to come out of their silos and prevents disconnection. In this instance, the act of working on an initiative together is the glue for the group.
Ok wonderful. We are nearly done. Here is our last “meaty” question. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
The truth is that life is about change. As human beings, our minds, bodies and experiences change every day. Sometimes those daily changes are so incremental we don’t realize it until ten years later (ie, when we look in the mirror and notice the first facial wrinkle or grey hair). But other changes seem to happen in the blink of an eye (ie, COVID-19).
So despite people’s natural instinct to resist change, my personal mission has always been to help others embrace, accept and navigate change with grace and dignity.
If I could inspire one global movement, it would be #Eat2Thrive. Across the world we have feast to famine and everything in between. In some countries, gluttony is abound with excess access to fast food or over processed options. While in other countries, large parts of the population have extremely limited access to any food or clean water at all. Since each of us only has one body, and so much of our health and quality of life depends on what we feed our bodies, this is a global crisis that deserves more attention. Millions of lives would be saved.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Readers can follow TheChangeDoc on LinkedIn or Instagram or subscribe to our blog at https://thechangedoc.com/blog-2/
Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.