Lockdown may be easing here in the UK, but things are going to be tough for a while for charities and non-profits. Some organisations have restructured their teams and services to meet emerging and emergency needs. Some people are returning from a period of furlough, into roles that have changed and require new ways of working. And others are being redeployed into front-line services or being asked to work in different ways. The initial fraught energy around moving to home-working has calmed, but the ambiguity around work has not settled.
The need for everyone to learn new skills, new methods and new principles is urgent – and is likely to be ongoing. Not only that, but many managers are also facing the fact that people in their teams are not all able to work in the same ways as they were before: parents still have children to care for, teenagers to supervise, and their own parents to worry about. Staff are working in mixed homes with flat mates who have different schedules and worries of their own. Team members are living alone, cut off from their social network. The capacity to get stuck into work with the same level of productivity that was considered normal in February is not realistic for many.
This means that managers need to be able accelerate learning, ensuring their teams can meet new challenges head on and quickly. Here are five ways in which you can boost learning in your team:
Focus on the results you need your team to deliver. If those results have changed, help them to understand why. Spend your time on helping them connect their work to the bigger picture – why things may have changed, why this team needs to do what it does, how this relates to your organisation’s mission. This kind of direction will help fill in blanks and ensure people are motivated to learn more. Don’t spend too much time on providing step-by-step action plans. If there are processes that must happen in a certain way, write them down. Better yet, get the team to produce manuals, checklists, documents for others to use. This helps the current team reflect on their learning as well as making it easier for new people to pick things up. Once the direction and necessary steps are clear, people can figure their own ways forward. People learn in different ways, therefore setting broad parameters lets them fill the gaps using their own resources.
In such uncertain times, you may not have all the answers. You may need to experiment and be open to creativity. Let your team know you are open to new ideas, fresh eyes, and multiple perspectives. As above, this means focussing on results – not rules. Combining direction with openness can also help you to achieve more flexibility in the team. People in the same team are working in different realities. Asking someone to be innovative and provide new ideas when they are under pressure or feeling exhausted is a bad idea. Maybe a parent can’t be available in the afternoons – but working in the late evening suits them better. Maybe a member of the team is living with several housemates and the broadband works best in the early hours, when the house is quieter, and it is easier to concentrate. People have different energies and different commitments, therefore being flexible gives them the room they need to make learning work for them.
Help your team to learn by building their confidence and self-reliance. Hold back from giving advice and rescuing them when an obstacle appears. Instead, encourage reflection and self-directed learning by taking a coaching approach. Ask questions to help them think through the problem and identify what skills or tools they already have that could help them turn the obstacle into a solvable challenge. Coaching is empowering and cements learning. Listen and reflect – this enables them to hear their own thoughts out loud, which is a powerful way to unlock thinking and see things in new lights. People think in different ways and get stuck for different reasons, coaching helps them break down problems and empowers them to find their own ways forward.
Learning is hard work. And can be very daunting. People fear making mistakes, fear the unknown and fear being judged. They may even fear you as their manager and the person holding them to account. There can be setbacks – remember the old adage if at first you don’t succeed etc. If you are experimenting with new approaches and ideas, these may not work. Expect some failure along the way. Give your team a boost by showing them you understand this, explaining you do not expect everything to be perfect all of the time. Be patient. Needing someone to learn fast does not mean whipping them to speed up. Instead use praise and recognition to help lock in learning, to show progress and remind them how far they have come. People need to be encouraged to keep going, and to see it is worth the effort.
As a manager, you are constantly on display – whether you are conscious of that or not. People look at you, what you are doing, what you are saying – and take their cues from you as to what they should be doing and saying. This does not mean you need to be perfect – as that is unrealistic for everyone. You are learning too and also need to do things differently. Talk about your learning, what you have struggled with and how you have overcome that. Don’t make out that you are finding things easy – be authentic and honest. But do not dwell on how hard everything seems – show what is possible and acknowledge learning is a journey. Get into the habit of reviewing and reflecting: asking what have we learned? How can we use that learning to help us with these new sets of challenges? People do as they see – show them how much you value learning.
2020 has been a rocky year so far, and we fully expect the rest of the year to be challenging for all. Being adaptable to ongoing changes requires rapid learning. By taking these steps, you will be encouraging learning and even more than that – encouraging people to learn how to learn effectively, accelerating the pace of learning.
For further information on how =mc can help with your management development, keeping your teams going and supporting them in these testing times contact Charlotte Scott on firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 7978 1516 to speak to one of our Learning & Development consultants. You can also send us a message via the website.
To find out more take a look at this online learning opportunity – Managing at a Distance.
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