How am I meeting my team members where they are instead of where I am at? During Zoom calls and when working in other collaborative environments, take an asking approach instead of a telling approach with team members to draw out individual experience, education, and expertise. This contributes to the collective IQ and experience of the group. Instead of being critical of others’ performance, demonstrate curiosity to discover alternative approaches for getting results in the remote working environment. Communicate, “I support you” and “The work you’re doing matters.” Ask, “How can I help you?” or “What would you like to focus on?” or “What is something that has happened or that you have accomplished this week or today that I/we can celebrate with you?” This can lead to greater appreciation and innovation. This too can drive fear out of the organization.
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 interviewingDr. Zachary Hamilton.
Zachary is a decorated U.S. Air Force Veteran. He holds a Doctor of Transformational Leadership and a M.A. in Civic and Social Entrepreneurship from Bakke Graduate University in Dallas, Texas. Zachary is a transition management specialist, community organizer, and trained coach. After several years in the coaching industry, in 2020, Zachary and his partner launched Department of Doing Good, a vehicle for them, and their colleagues, to deliver world-class coaching to individuals and teams, and management consulting to organizations who desire to do good, better. Even in the B.C. era (that’s Before Covid), Zachary had already developed extensive experience working with agile, remote teams across sectors and industries. Zachary is currently working remotely from Alaska’s Playground, the Kenai Peninsula.
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?
Glad to be here! I have not had a typical desk job since I graduated from High School. Somehow I have been able to provide for my family, and do most of the things I have felt compelled to do. For the past two decades, my daily work has been in the field walking alongside others helping them get from where they are to where they want to be, and in the trenches blazing my own trail. My trajectory has taken me from the military to community organizing to coaching and consulting and business ownership. I served as a catalyst for peer-based personal and professional development programs in several prison systems throughout the U.S. These programs continue to impact hundreds, maybe thousands of men each year. My family currently operates two sober living homes for men and women re-entering society from incarceration and treatment. I tend to lead and navigate change wherever I go. I have guided organizations through leadership change, natural disaster, and capital campaigns. I am in the U.S. but I have traveled around the world. Before Covid, and the 2020 election cycle, I had written and presented my dissertation about transitioning human systems in chaos. One outcome was the creation of the Department of Doing Good. Our aim is to help individuals, organizations, and institutions do good, better.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
The most recent interesting story that has happened to me since I began my career involved moving my family into the wilderness, in Alaska, during the pandemic. We were living in Michigan where I was working as an internal consultant for a nonprofit organization, and some partnering organizations. All of the sudden we were hearing about a global reset. We did some reflection, and ultimately decided that it was time for a personal reset. I have been a professional for almost twenty years. As a family, we are burrowing and continuing to imagine what the next 20 years might look like. We are asking questions like where do we want to be in life two decades from now and I am asking what do I want to have accomplished two decades from now? Because most of my professional work can be done remotely, this has been an unforeseen, and even sweet time despite all of the chaos around us.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Instead of being the most interesting person in the room, become the most interested.” I heard this exhortation on an episode of the Catalyst Leadership Podcast but I cannot remember who said it. I am a truth seeker. I am hardwired to care and to be curious. I enjoy meeting new people, hearing their stories, and even helping to make sense of them. The status quo is never good enough for me. I sincerely want to understand the “why” behind the “what.” I am tuned in when I am with others. This quote resonated with me instantly.
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?
As I moved from childhood to adulthood, my relationship with my dad underwent a dimensional shift. He continued to be my dad but we became friends and co-conspirators. We began working together to solve problems and eventually started several businesses together. He has mentored me in ways that are distinct from being my dad and I am grateful for his leadership and wisdom. Having a positive and professional relationship with my dad has afforded me opportunities I might not have had otherwise. It has also given me a head start in life, not just as a professional.
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?
All human beings share this in common, when our fundamental needs are not met, we operate in our stress behaviors. When these needs are met, we are enabled to become our best self. One of these fundamental needs is the need for human connection. This need is often initially met through our role and responsibilities within a family, and then belonging to an affinity group, or contributing to a high performing team. Human beings tend to crave presence and communion (community). Our daily work often helps to meet these needs, and when it doesn’t, we seek different work that does. Collective intelligence and creativity are born when people work together in solidarity, shoulder to shoulder, each doing their part. How we show up day in and day out, and where we show up, becomes not just our routine but an important factor for our identity formation. Quickly scan your contacts on LinkedIn. Most professionals describe themselves in the short bio section that shows up next to their picture as the one who does such and such job at such and such place with such and such people known as such and such company.
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?
How we show up online is going to be different from how we show up to the coffee shop or the conference room. The Internet, especially from the comfort and stress of our home, is a less formal working environment. We do many things online that we typically do not do at work. Most people have not learned how to compartmentalize and differentiate between the multitude of spaces we show up to online. There is greater margin for error when every interaction is recorded and stored digitally. This can be anxiety inducing for some team members. Our online interactions are based on more assumptions, more unknowns, and more variables. High performing teams may need to update their operating principles, which are simply guidelines for group interaction, to accommodate the remote working environment. Remote teams must also determine what actually helps the individual team members to be productive no matter where they are. How a team measures and ensures “teaming” is actually happening is another success factor. Individual pacing may need to adjust to a much slower or faster organizational pace in the remote working environment. High performing teams may need to build into their agenda planned times for interaction (ideation).
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.)
I’ll frame my “5 Things” as questions.
Number one: How am I answering the three unspoken questions my team is asking about me? “Can I trust you?” “Do you care?” “Can you help me?” These are the three unspoken questions that must be answered with an emphatic “yes” for relationships to progress, and in the remote working environment to ensure productivity and value creation among team members.
Number two: How have I clarified how decisions are to be made in the remote working environment? There are three levels for decision making — closed, consultative, consensus — and when remote teams understand expectations for making closed decisions without having to check in, getting advice when desired or required, and waiting for consensus among the group, it reduces friction and drives fear out of the organization when scattered. Don’t make decisions based on feelings and fears. Instead, make decisions based on faith in people and the facts.
Number three: How am I meeting my team members where they are instead of where I am at? During Zoom calls and when working in other collaborative environments, take an asking approach instead of a telling approach with team members to draw out individual experience, education, and expertise. This contributes to the collective IQ and experience of the group. Instead of being critical of others’ performance, demonstrate curiosity to discover alternative approaches for getting results in the remote working environment. Communicate, “I support you” and “The work you’re doing matters.” Ask, “How can I help you?” or “What would you like to focus on?” or “What is something that has happened or that you have accomplished this week or today that I/we can celebrate with you?” This can lead to greater appreciation and innovation. This too can drive fear out of the organization.
Number four: How can I best steward my team members’ time and energy for maximum productivity? Managers should want their remote teams to value remote meetings, but how do we make remote meetings valuable? Remote meetings should not just be information dumps but should include inspiration. The equation is information plus inspiration equals motivation. Do not have a meeting without an agenda. A general agenda I recommend is what I call the six questions for evaluation: “What can we celebrate?” “What’s working?” “What’s not working?” “What are we learning?” “What needs to change?” “What’s next?” This is an equitable process that can be utilized in any working environment.
Number five: What is my firing order? A counseling technique I learned several years ago has helped me tremendously with communication. There is a proper way to fire a gun. There is a firing order. Every person has a “firing order.” Most people have a FAT firing order. FAT stands for feeling, acting, and thinking. Most people feel emotions and desires, then act on them. Later they might think about what they were feeling and how they behaved, but maybe not. People who blow up on others and have to say “I’m sorry” often obviously have a FAT firing order. A better firing order, especially in the high stress environment of remote communication, is a TFA firing order. Determine to be a thoughtful person and fill your mind with positive thoughts. When you experience emotions and desires, weigh them against what you know to be true, and then take thoughtful action.
Has your company experienced communication challenges with your workforce working from home during the pandemic? For example, does your company allow employees to use their own cell phones or do they use the company’s phone lines for work? Can you share any other issues that came up?
We have experienced some communication challenges during the pandemic. For example, we have noticed some fatigue for online meetings. We decided to not have meetings unless there is something to discuss — a clear agenda provided in advance. Prior to the pandemic we had already adopted many of the “results only working environment” principles and practices. We are less worried about team members clocking in and out so long as the work is done well and within the agreed upon time frame. Operating in different time zones can be a challenge. For example, I am jumping on a call this evening at 10pm. It will be 9am for him, and the next day! My smartphone is now “my office.” When I am on my phone, I am “in my office.” My family is still adjusting to this.
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?
FaceTime is hard to beat. It is essentially free to use, easy to use, and there is no quicker way to access people using Apple products globally. Similar products feel duplicative to me. FaceTime closes the distance between individuals and teams by simply bringing people face-to-face. I was surprised to learn FaceTime supports group calls with 30+ participants. Smartphones have become an extension of the human body. FaceTime feels more authentic than similar tools to me.
If you could design the perfect communication feature or system to help your business, what would it be?
I need an AI feature within video calls that seamlessly chooses which person should go on speaking when two people begin speaking at the same time, accidentally interrupting each other.
My particular expertise and interest is in Unified Communications. Has the pandemic changed the need or appeal for unified communications technology requirements? Can you explain?
Larger corporations have certainly been forced to assess their communications software stack during the pandemic. There are several interesting Unified Communications-as-a-Service offerings in the market. For small and medium sized businesses and organizations, nothing more is needed beyond FaceTime, Zoom and a group texting app such as WhatsApp. What is most important is there is clarity among team members about what digital tools are approved for use and how they should be used. Clear communication, strengthening relationships and managing conflict are success factors we measure in regard to centralized and decentralized comms.
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 have been learning about Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) recently. I am extremely intrigued by the potentials and possibilities of world building and transmedia storytelling to create immersive experiences in the real world that actually shape perceptions and quality of life. I imagine there are multiple ARGs operating in the world today being run by various intelligence agencies, publicly traded companies and AIs, and other interest groups to shape public opinion, shift market supply and demand, and write the future. Some recent examples one could look at through this lens include the Q movement, Bitcoin’s rise and the emergence of other cryptocurrencies such as Ethereum, and the pandemic’s relationship to a planned Global Reset.
Is there a part of this future vision that concerns you? Can you explain?
As it relates to the emergence of ARGs, the fundamental questions for me are, what kind of world do I want to live in, and how can I and the teams I lead help to co-create the future I/we desire? I enjoy thinking about the future almost as much as I enjoy thinking about the past. It seems to me human beings can develop something like an allergic reaction to the rapid introduction of technologies. As for the ways humans will interact virtually in the coming decades, I believe some individuals and communities will prefer to interact with fellow humans in the most humane ways possible, and in-person when available. Some people will continue to prefer to speak with and relate to a fellow human, not a human-like chatbot or avatar. We should continually be asking ourselves, “Does this bring joy to my life and work?” I am of the mindset just because something is possible does not mean it is beneficial. There are numerous examples of how technology might solve a problem when at the same time creating unforeseen problems. Both the pharmaceutical and porn industries respectively are classic examples for reflection. Technological advancements tend to be synthetic versions of what is or should be biologically possible within and between human beings. Therefore, tools such as VR, AR and Mixed Reality should be used appropriately, in moderation, and within an agreed upon memorandum of understanding. That is my opinion. I am a cautious optimist when it comes to rapidly evolving technologies.
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?
75% of my meetings with customers are now happening via phone or video calls. I have conducted virtual walkthroughs over FaceTime. I have offered workshops on Zoom. FaceTime, WhatsApp, and Zoom are the main tools we use to communicate with customers. Having a structured work day has proven to be more difficult than it was pre-pandemic. I am virtually accessible 24/7 unless I establish boundaries. I tell customers I am working remotely from Alaska. I tell customers I am in the Alaska Time Zone, “four hours behind you.” I noticed a colleague had put in her email signature her “office” days. I keep meaning to do that too.
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?
In my experience, it is best to provide constructive criticism in-person, face-to-face mainly because of the reasons you just mentioned. With that said, what digital tools can help to simulate this? Again, I have found FaceTime to be valuable here. I used the Zoom app on my iPhone the other day to have a face-to-face conversation with a colleague. It also felt seamless. I recommend getting permission to share constructive criticism from the remote team member before jumping into it. What you are doing in that moment is communicating you have information that will help them if they are open to receiving it. You are promoting a growth mindset. Simply ask, “Do I have your permission to share some constructive feedback with you?” or “Do you mind if I share some feedback with you that has recently come to my attention?”
Can you give any specific ideas about how to create a sense of camaraderie and team cohesion when you are not physically together?
Get in the habit of talking positively about your team members when there is distance literally and figuratively. Good gossip has a way of getting around too. Recommend fellow team members to others for their experience, expertise, and interests. Develop insider language for celebrating wins and encouraging one another. For example, someone in our community started saying “I’m proud of you,” almost as a joke, but it caught on. Now we look for opportunities to catch each other doing good in our working life, and in general, so we can say or text this short exhortation. When you think positive thoughts or experience a wave of concern about a team member when you are away from work it is probably for a reason. Let them know in an appropriate way, and at an appropriate time.
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. 🙂
We are conspiring to harness the power of doing good within institutions, corporations and communities to unlock their potential to do good, better. Our Big Hairy Audacious Goal is to embed at least one self-replicating Department of Doing Good within every independent sovereign state on the planet over the next two decades, effectively creating a global ecosystem for doing good, better. This network would not simply seek to reduce harm to human health and the planet (playing defense), instead this movement would “upvote” strategies that are intrinsically good, increasing the demand for common good approaches that increase joy in work, and life outside work. The world’s best athletes have coaches, trainers. The world’s best leaders in every industry have mentors, coaches. Imagine a world where every person on the planet has access to mentor-coaching.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Those who are interested can learn more about our work by visiting departmentofdoinggood.com.
Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.
Thank you so much! Likewise!