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Management Futures team standing in a circle in a field

When Teams Assemble...

Tim Cox
May 18, 2022

As Covid restrictions have eased and travel has opened up, more and more teams are again assembling in person. These assemblies can be wonderful and joyous occasions. Some of the team are connecting after two years of physical separation, others may be meeting each other in person for the first time after many months of meeting only online.

We’ve been privileged to play an active part in some of these occasions, designing and facilitating events for a variety of teams. We also hosted our own ‘Spring Gathering’ in the New Forest two weeks ago. In the light of this recent experience, we’ve been reflecting on ‘what works’ in creating successful team assemblies. Here are some of our learnings so far...

  • Whilst enthusiasm to connect will contribute significantly to successful assemblies, this alone will not guarantee success for the team and for individuals within it. Much thought is needed!
  • Beware the assumption that team life is just ‘getting back to normal.’ On the surface we may look like the same team. We’re not. After Covid, we’re not even the same people. We are all changed in some way, and some of us in significant ways.
  • Some teams have new members, or members who have only hitherto engaged virtually – even one new team member changes the dynamic to such a significant degree that it is wise to think of it as a new team.
  • Many of the time-honoured principles for design of team events remain constant. We still need clarity on purpose, timings, logistics, roles, communications, and expectations. Additionally, though, we offer eight new insights from our recent experience.
  1. Set the emotional tone at the outset. What feelings will you reference overtly? It is important to convey respect for what people have experienced, as well as excitement for what the future can hold.
  2. Be clear on intent - Be clear what you are, and what you are not, intending for the event – what is it really for? Strategy? Social connection? Information update? Creativity? Learning? Whatever the mix, ensure each component is clearly signposted both before the event, and as you go along.
  3. Signpost the behaviours that will make this event a brilliant one = for example, you may suggest deliberately reaching out to newer team members.
  4. Be mindful it’s a new team. Once again, it’s a brand-new team - not the old team with new people. Within this, beware of an ‘old crowd’/ ‘new crowd’ dynamic. We would suggest inviting significant contribution from the newbies right from the start – without over=pressurising them. Think about all the individual perspectives and needs.
  5. Provide respite and space - much more listening than talking from the front is advisable. Create space in the agenda for people to breathe, and even to retreat – even a few hours of assembly can be exhausting.
  6. Inclusive, inclusive, inclusive - Super focus on inclusive behaviours - everything you do should signal to everyone that everyone belongs in this team. Micro-behaviours like eye contact, smiles and affirming nods are important in promoting inclusivity. How will you ensure those who can’t make the date still feel included?
  7. Be present and mindful of individual social needs. Our individual need for, and comfort with, intimacy will be different - not everyone is relishing a return to in-person working. Whilst some will have ‘had enough’ of what they believe to be overly restrictive Covid limitations of physical contact and proximity, others may still be cautious. Cue awkward/comedy moments such as arms thrown wide for hugs whilst the intended recipient nervously raises an extended fist for a fleeting bump.
  8. It’s just one chapter in the teams’ story. This assembly is not a panacea, however much many of the team may have been looking forward to it. What it can do is create a significant blueprint for how the team is going to operate in future. The key is to then follow the blueprint with rigour and conviction, continuing to improve how the team operates in the months and years ahead.

In the words of one of our recent clients; “We managed to achieve a united team… now to retain it.”

This is some of our learning so far about teams assembling. What have we missed?

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