During the last months, we have spent a substantial amount of time researching on the topic “The psychological and neurological effects of remote work”. What does it do to us humans and human systems to limit encounters to the virtual space? What does it mean when the basis of information we have available to place and form an opinion about others, shrinks substantially? What happens to our interaction when the image we see of each other is “cropped”, preventing us from seeing the person in his or her entirety?
This has especially been noticeable for me as I am 8 months pregnant. When I am meeting others virtually, my frame is limited to my upper body and everything beneath that is “invisible”. It remains private.
Suddenly, I realised what a relief it is to have this freedom of choice: Do I keep a meeting strictly professional or do I share something personal with my counterpart(s). Why, you may ask, is being pregnant something strictly personal and why do I value this freedom so much?
In September 2020 I joined our family consulting business, with the clear objective to take over all management and ownership responsibilities by the end of 2022, together with Verena Neumayer, one of my fantastic colleagues. Two weeks before the start of my assignment, I found out I was pregnant - unexpectedly. In our family history, entrepreneurship and having a career has never stood in contrast to having children, so me and my partner decided to make it work.
Nevertheless, over the last 8 months I have realised through many reactions and hints that the very prominent mental model in our society, namely, that women with children cannot perform as well as men, persists everywhere and all the time. The fact that I can can continue my work until I fancy to, without having to encounter doubtful looks, questions or comments, is something yet unheard of.
The digital space allows us all to be much more deliberate with what and how much we would like to share and with whom. We can choose whether to switch on our camera and what background to show. The reduced image quality means that it becomes impossible to determine whether someone is wearing an expensive Armani Suit or a basic M&S suit. The interaction in the digital space makes it impossible to say whether someone is wearing a refined perfume or has not showered in three days.
During the last year, we found out that personal bonding in the virtual space is more difficult, but at the same time more important than ever; As what used to happen during lunch, now requires active planning. We therefore advise our clients to make meetings as personal as possible when held in the digital space.
Nevertheless, the extent to which one can choose what and how much to share has increased tremendously. My sincere hope is therefore, that this is a ground-breaking game changer when it comes to diversity and equality. As what cannot be seen, cannot be judged!
Susanne befindet sich mit Kollegen in einem Raum - einem digitalen Raum - einem digitalen Outdoor Raum. Susanne, die für die nächste Aufgabe zum Teamlead ernannt wurde, hat einen Auftrag erhalten, den sie mit ihrem Team erfüllen wird: In 90 Sekunden müssen vier komplizierte Bergsteigerknoten in die Seilstücke aller Teilnehmenden geknüpft werden. Dafür gibt es eine Vorbereitungszeit von 30 Minuten. Tatsächlich liegt bei jedem Teilnehmenden ein Seilstück auf dem Schreibtisch, welches sie vor einigen Tagen zugeschickt bekommen haben. Susanne überlegt: Welche Ressourcen und Informationen gibt es im Team? Wer hat Ahnung von Knoten? Wie können wir die verschiedenen Teile der Anleitungen zusammenbringen? Wie sollte sich das Team in getrennte Breakout Gruppen aufteilen? Wie viel Zeit sollte für das Erschließen der Knoten und wie viel Zeit zum Üben verwandt werden? Das wird spannend!
So oder so ähnlich klingt der Beginn einer virtuellen Trainingserfahrung aus der Sicht einer Teilnehmerin.
Wie kam es zu der Entwicklung von virtuellen Outdoor Führungstrainings?
Im April ruft mich eine Kunde an: Alle Face-to-Face Trainings sind bis auf weiteres gestrichen. Gleichzeitig ist die Rückkehr zur Normalität ungewiss, und die Anforderungen für Teams und Führungskräfte in der virtuellen Zusammenarbeit sind enorm. Er fragte mich: „Kannst Du dir nicht Aufgaben überlegen, welche ähnlich spannend und lernfördernd sind wie Deine Führungstrainings am Berg?“
Ich bin skeptisch! Handlungsorientierte Trainingsmethoden -egal ob drinnen oder draußen- leben davon, dass sie Teilnehmer von einer Sekunde zur nächsten völlig vereinnahmen, das Spiel quasi zum Ernstfall wird und jeder mit Kopf, Herz und Hand voll involviert ist. Kann das im virtuellen Raum gelingen? Oder sitzt jeder nur mit einem Teil der Aufmerksamkeit an seinem Bildschirm und erledigt zeitgleich dringendere Aufgaben?
Da hilft nur ein Test. Ich übersetze recht hemdsärmelig eine meiner Interaktionsaufgaben in die virtuelle Welt und starte eine Testballon mit Trainerkollegen. Schnell merke ich: Mit der passenden Einstimmung, Moderation, und den nötigen Interventionen wird im virtuellen Raum der Schalter von Spiel zu Ernstfall genauso schnell umgelegt wie im realen Raum. Außerdem wird deutlich, dass in diesem Rahmen Skills gelernt werden, welche für „Remote Leadership“ besonders wichtig sind:
- Erzeugen eines gemeinsamen Verständnisses von Situation, Ziel und Aufgabe
- Klare Kommunikation, in der das Stellen guter Fragen besonders wichtig ist
- Gestalten eines fortlaufenden Lernprozesses im Team
Mit dieser Erkenntnis war der Grundstein für die Entwicklung gelegt und viele weitere Ideen für virtuelle Team- und Führungsaufgaben wurden geboren und perfektioniert. Als Trainer und Coach sind meine Aufgaben, mein Rollenverständnis und meine Interventionen nicht anders als beim Teamtraining im Gebirge oder auf der Wiese vor dem Seminarhotel.
Der einzige Unterschied besteht darin, dass meine Teilnehmenden nun vor ihren Bildschirmen sitzen. Deswegen war die Verbindung zwischen analoger und digitaler Welt für die Konzipierung besonders wichtig. Teilnehmer gestalten mit Ihren Händen etwas in Ihrer realen Welt und arbeiten dazu virtuell im Team zusammen. Es hat sich gezeigt, dass es sehr förderlich ist, technische Tools mit in die „Reise“ der Führungskräfte einzubauen:
- Inspirierende Videosequenzen, um eine „Background Story“ packend erzählen zu können und Teilnehmende somit aus Ihrer persönlichen „Home Office“ Welt heraus zu befördern.
- Breakout Räume, um auch mit großen Teams spannende Aufgaben effektiv bearbeiten zu können und Teamstrukturen und Dynamiken in Aufgabenstellungen abzubilden.
- Unterschiedliche Kommunikationskanäle, um Kleingruppen koordinieren zu können.
Wie in „Reallife-Trainings“ gilt aus meiner Sicht auch im virtuellen Outdoor Training: Lernprojekte und Team Challenges, wenn gut gemacht, sind effiziente Türöffner für die wirklich wichtigen Themen von Führung und Zusammenarbeit.
Die 30 Minuten sind schon vorbei, und der Test beginnt. Gleich wird der Trainer das Startsignal geben. Susanne ist gespannt, wie viele Knoten ihr Team in den 90 Sekunden hinbekommt. Es geht los - Die ersten 2 Knoten gehen schnell, der dritte ist schwieriger, der letzte bringt viele echt ins Schwitzen. Dann sind die 90 Sekunden auch schon vorbei. Susanne schaut auf den Bildschirm, jeder hält sein Seilstück in die Kamera. Wow, einer hat drei Knoten, nochmal drei - da hat sogar jemand vier hinbekommen.... Ein Jubel geht über alle Bildschirme, und die Gesichter strahlen. Das hat Susanne und ihr Team ganz gut hingekriegt.
Interesse bekommen? Mehr Informationen zur Buchung eines Virtuellen Outdoor Trainings hier
Autor: Jochen Haase, 09.12.2020
Organising a digital global HR Summit for the Südwolle Group, an international yarn production company
Like almost any other organisation these days, our client was forced to dramatically change their yearly global HR team meeting. Ordinarily, approximately 15 participants would have met for a lush two-day programme full of activities, dinners, and plant tours. Now they had to stick their (virtual) heads together in cyber space. Sure enough, the general agenda has always been about evaluating the team’s work of the past year and formulating goals for the coming one. But an equally important purpose of the meeting was to facilitate bonding between the team and the celebration of the achieved goals. This was all the more necessary since this team, working in different countries would only ever meet in person once a year. Strasser & Strasser was tasked to translate this event into a digital firework. Thus, the challenge was to create an environment where people could connect with each other and “feel the energy” while sitting miles away in their home offices.
What we know about effective distant socialising: a bit of theory
Human interaction in the digital space is inherently different from interaction in physical co-presence.
Human beings are experts in direct interaction. We can bond with each other and form effective communities to tackle problems together rather than alone. These communities are especially successful if all members feel connected to each other, that is, they know, can situate, and trust each other. This connectivity is frequently built and maintained by small signals such as keeping eye contact when communicating and closely observing your interlocutor’s body language, choice of clothing, and tone of voice. This works all very well when communicating directly.
However, digital communication is a form of indirect interaction which is mediated - or rather: interrupted - by technology. This interconnection leads to a loss of information: Eye contact is hardly possible, non-verbal information is limited through smaller camera frames and lower video quality, and physical interaction becomes completely impossible.
Over the last few months, we spent much time researching and experimenting so as to understand how we can “spread the energy” and create bonds between people in this new, digital work environment. The Global HR Summit was a fantastic opportunity for us to put our findings to a test.
Three important guidelines for successful digital team events:
Active appreciation of the achieved: Around 300,000 years ago, there were nine different species of humans walking the earth. Today, there is just one: the homo sapiens. The reasons why our ancestors were so successful was a sophisticated capacity for abstract thought and communication. The ability to strategize, plan, and cooperate as a team with a common goal was our ultimate weapon (Longrich, 2019). Therefore, one important and often underestimated way to create community spirit is to actively stress what was achieved as a team and prompt people to talk about their individual contribution. During our HR Summit, we asked two members of the board, including Klaus Steger, the CEO of the company, to deliver a keynote that stressed achievements and acknowledged the hard work that had made them possible. Furthermore, each member was given the floor to talk about their personal achievements over the last year, what they learned, and what they would like to improve. The appreciation from top management and the permission to talk about your own contribution - “something that makes you proud” - while others listened, created a feeling of community, belonging, and successful team work despite the distanced nature of the interaction.
Being “present” in the digital world: Being truly present is often understood as being “in the moment, in the room”. But how can this be signalled when there is no physical room and no common time zone? Let us share some developed techniques of showing “presence” during a digital meeting:
- Simple rule #1 - Not to be distracted: During our summit we implemented a strict no-email, no call, no admin work rule. Closing your email programme, browser, or chat is a simple way to ensure that you actively stay with the group during the entire time.
- Underestimated rule #2 - Verbal presence: Non-verbal signals are less visible in the digital space, leading to communication being more focussed on the verbal information. As nodding and keeping eye contact is not easily doable or effective any longer, verbal references become more crucial. In practice, this meant that we encouraged the team to pass the word to each other and to actively refer to each other’s comments. A “Thank you for your comment, Catherine, let me take your idea even further …”, can make an immense difference. Additionally, we moderated the meeting actively and strictly to ensure that questions were answered precisely, intervene when the discussion digressed, and give each team member the opportunity to speak. This created a fruitful ground for creative dialogues.
- Surprising rule #3 - Non-verbal reactions: One way to create connectivity between people in the digital space, is to bring their physical reality into the digital space. This can be done, for example, by holding “real” objects into the camera and, hence, actively acknowledging the reality of the other. During our summit, we used so-called “communication cards”. Before the meeting, we sent cards that showed a heart, a thumbs-up, or impressions such as “awesome”, to name a few. During the meeting we encouraged team members to hold cards reflecting their emotional reaction into the camera while others were speaking. We received the feedback that this had a much more intense effect than writing a comment in the chat or using emoji functions.
Being present in the digital space is very demanding and requires active management. Nevertheless, it is vital to ensure the feeling of “belonging” in a team.
The usage of digital tools:
With all fancy tools that have come up recently - such as breakout rooms, whiteboards, or digital polls - it is very tempting to indulge and use them without considering what they should achieve in each setting. However, each new tool carries the risk of distracting the group from the discussion. A simple screen share means that individual video screens become too small for cooperative interactions. In our meeting we considered carefully which agenda points were designed to create results, and which were important for human interaction and creative exchange. For result driven agenda points, we used polls, white boards and breakout groups. For creative dialogues we stayed in the plenum or even went completely “old school” and asked participants to call each other on their mobiles and go for a walk. To know exactly when to make use of digital tools depends on the setting of the meeting. Careful consideration of these questions is time spent valuably!
By applying, among others, these three guidelines, we have been able to make “distant socialising” a true team experience and bring the team members closer to each other. At the same time, the team achieved a great deal in terms of “measurable outcomes”: Ideas were creative, discussions fruitful, and next steps were clear. Our investment in long check-in and feedback rounds payed off and the CEO, Klaus Steger, congratulated us for a highly successful digital meeting.
Since the 1st September, I have been part of Strasser & Strasser, a change management consultancy founded and headed by my aunt. As she is planning her well-deserved retirement, I have come on board with the intention to take over. However, we soon enough realised that the way the business works today, is not viable for the future. My aunt and her team of senior partners are the heart and soul of the company, the unique selling point for every client and the invincible brains, cracking every super-complex change management case. How can I catch up with their thirty years of change management experience in less than two years? Impossible!
Nevertheless, me, Eva and Verena, Eva’s loyal super-hero employee, are determined to use our experience and skills, combine it with our passion and fulfil customers’ needs in today’s and future working worlds. We decided to build on the 22-year-old history of this company and create something new, something we can ALL truly stand for!
What we know so far:
- We are passionate about PEOPLE. The individual employee, the line worker, the crew, who keeps the business running. During large change projects, the work with the base is often sidelined. Top managers then wonder why all efforts towards agility, cross-functionality and digitalisation fails. Leaders push, innovate and provide freedoms, but no one moves. Whether a culture shift has been successful or not cannot be told by visiting a board meeting, but by spending time on the floor. We want to strengthen the crew to get the ship sailing into new waters.
- We love DIGITALISATION. The digital transformation is inevitable. Using digital solutions have already created unbelievable efficiency gains in companies and private lives. I mean, seriously, who could survive without Google Maps these days? However, during Corona we all felt the side effects of spending nine hours a day in video conferences: Loss of personal contact, the removal of boundaries between work and private life, operational chaos and the constant struggle with technical issues. We want to bring the human factor back into the equation and create a culture where people are as self-confident and excited about digital tools as we are, enjoy experimenting and love using digitalisation to its full potential.
- We have enormous POTENTIAL: Three women, three generations, unstoppable willpower. From the first moment I stepped into this office, I felt an immense energy. Eva, her partners and Verena have created a fantastic culture, where learning and development is in its midst. Our determination, our creativity, our willingness to listen to each other and finally our desire to have fun will lead us on an exciting journey to new projects. The experiments may begin!
You can probably tell how excited I am! I mean, who ever gets the chance to innovate in such an open space, with such inspiring people. I know, I probably have to give up all the beloved hours on excel sheets, but f*** that. Here I am, and this makes me proud! This is where I want to b