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If it's time to move on... then how?

Julia Philpott
May 17, 2021

How do leaders, teams and organisations move forward, whilst also acknowledging and marking the testing times we have been through?

In the UK we’re moving into the final stage of PM Boris’s roadmap, and it feels as though we may be gradually returning to normal, whatever that might look like.

For some, coping with the multiple lockdowns has been relatively straightforward. For others, the strain of home-schooling or caring responsibilities, or worry about job security may have been profound. Some may also have lost loved ones to the pandemic.

Recognising challenging experiences

Human experience tells us it is helpful to acknowledge a difficult period or the disbanding of a group, to enable us to move forward positively. Tuckman recommends ‘adjourning’ at the end of a project; Bridges talks about ‘endings, a neutral zone and new beginnings’, although elements of these can occur concurrently.

Research on the subject of ‘closure’ has concluded there is no such thing. After a difficult experience or bereavement, what we need is to make sense of it somehow, not close it off, so we can accept it into our current world.

Even relentlessly positive Positive Psychologists recognise that acknowledgement of difficult experiences can be cathartic (Positive Psychology 3.0) – although strictly no wallowing allowed!

Research on post-traumatic growth also shows that challenging experiences can bring a recognition of personal strength, the exploration of new possibilities, improved relationships with others, a greater appreciation for life, and spiritual growth. It would seem crass, however, to focus only on the growth without acknowledging the stress.

Global impact

The UK experience is also of course not the only experience. Some countries are in the grip of a worsening situation.

How do we acknowledge and move on in one geography whilst others cannot? Even for UK centric organisations employees are likely to have family and friends in other regions.

There’s a risk organisations hurry back to ‘business as usual’ without allowing the challenges of the recent past to be expressed and acknowledged.

So how do we get the balance right? How do we focus on moving forward, whilst also acknowledging and marking the testing times we have been through? How do we do that when individual experiences will have been so… individual…?

It seems unlikely a one size fits all approach will cover it.

Shared insights

In a recent round table discussion we reflected on these questions. Below we offer insight on our musings.

We noticed and were intrigued by:

  • A reluctance to return to the rush of our previous existence
  • A collective emotional response to the idea of acknowledging the difficulties
  • How easily we  accessed something we wanted to acknowledge or have acknowledged, e.g. personal behaviours triggered by Covid that we were not proud of; people, connections and opportunities lost
  • The idea that, once difficulties were acknowledged, there was a natural and automatic shift to note the positives.
  • ‘Riding the cathartic wave’ - using acknowledgment as a springboard into more positive discussion is very powerful.
  • The idea of ‘letting go ceremonies’.
  • Bereavement counselling, in which the goal is to be able to bring forward the cherished memory of a loved one, whilst coming to terms with the loss.
  • Decompression training, as provided by the military after a tour of duty.

Recognising how powerful the process of sharing and being acknowledged can be, led to fruitful discussion of how we can help individuals and teams to acknowledge and move on, including:

  • With everyone’s experience through Covid unique, asking ‘Where are you on the journey?’
  • Experimenting – return to work will be anything but ‘business as usual’. It provides rich territory for trialling new approaches. It feels important to clearly communicate that experimentation to employees. Test, learn and adjust versus fixed position.
  • Creative ideas for acknowledging or ‘marking’ the Covid experience.

We leave you with some questions to prompt your own reflections

  • What would you like to acknowledge or have acknowledged?
  • What would you like to leave behind?
  • What would you like to bring with you?
  • How can we facilitate this process for our teams?

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