How to Reconnect as a Team After COVID 19?

As we begin the process of returning to work many of us are asking, “How do we reconnect as a team?”. “How do we get everyone working together again after being away from each other for such a long time?”

It is true for most of us, regardless of who you were as a team before COVID 19, this experience has probably shifted and changed things. None of us is the same as when we went into self-isolation. For many of us, having this time at home stripped of the noise of “normal” life has given us a new perspective on what is important to us.

We are the product of our experiences and this experience will have changed how you think, and feel about yourself, your life and your priorities in some way.

Alert Level 3 is weird in many ways. We are gearing to get ready for “normal” to return. But it can be a demotivating place to be – almost as if we are stuck in some sort of holding pattern. And as much as many of us would like to “get back to normal”, the truth is that “normal” is going to be different. The anticipation of what the difference might be can be unsettling and even frightening.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

Pushing the Reset Button

So what does that mean for ourselves as teachers and leaders who are part of a centre whanau?

Some of us might have grown from this experience. Some of us might have not coped as well as others mentally and emotionally. And some of us might have had a shift in values and priorities.

Depending on what you have been thinking, watching, reading, listening to or the webinars you attended over this period, this too might have shaped your thinking as an individual.

For most of us, going back to our centres this will be a period of adjusting. Self-isolation has been a good time for “zooming in” and reconnecting with ourselves and our families. However, it is now time for many of us to “zoom-out”, to extend our bubbles, and to think about how we can reconnect with our wider centre whānau. This an exciting time and the adjustment period might include reflecting on how our new priorities and values might “fit” now that we are back together.

This might be a bit of an uncomfortable experience at times. It may challenge us in ways that we might not enjoy. However, growth does not happen in the comfort zone. Change need not be a bad thing, it can lead to amazing new possibilities.

The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.

– M Scott Peck

Creating a Culture for Change

The foundation for all change to occur is through the relationship. After months of distancing ourselves from others, it is now a time to reconnect with each other one person to another. We need to ensure that together we weave a whāriki that is big and robust enough for us all to stand on.

In order for us to be able to feel that we are able to contribute, communicate how we are feeling and express our ideas or explore together as a team, we must first feel that we belong and that our wellbeing is taken care of. This highlights the need for us all to be part of an environment of physiological and emotional safety.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE

 Psychological safety is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.”

Amy Edmondson

When we have psychological safety we make space for being human and acknowledge that human emotions are part of this. Many of us don’t see vulnerability and professionalism as being part of the same story, but then wonder why we can’t relate or feel so disconnected from each other.

Just as how our children are unable to eat, play and trust a caregiver if they don’t feel safe. It is exactly the same for the adults in our places.

Leaders Belong Here Too

Many leaders that I speak to, to some extent feel that they don’t belong, that they are an outsider to the team. When I was a centre manager, I too felt like this from time to time.

Many leaders who have moved from teacher to leader in a centre, have spoken about the hurt they feel when they are no longer invited to be part of social events or excluded from group chats. It is almost like this is the accepted norm.

I have often wondered if this is a role that we cast ourselves in as leaders if this comes from our team or a bit of both?

I was really inspired by a Vince Gowmon’s workshop – Creating Healing Cultures on The Conscious Collective’s, Play to Heal the World Festival.

Vince spoke about how anything that we want to create on the outside, we must first create on the inside first.  You cannot create a culture of true belonging and safety if it does not feel true for you too.

Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

How many of you when looking for connection and belonging, as the leader but also as part of a community, get stuck like in disconnection from the past and hold onto this as evidence as to why you shouldn’t trust and be vulnerable in the future? We allow our fear of what might happen, as well as our distrust in ourselves and our own abilities, stop us from realising our potentials. And, as a result, we shy away from the very thing we are wired to do – connect… Do we hide behind labels, titles and roles as a way to keep ourselves separate and safe; in case we will need to have a difficult conversation with someone in the future? Frightened by the messiness of human relationships, we isolate ourselves behind our “management” armour and keep our “professional distance” denying ourselves the joy of whole-hearted human connection. Consequently, our centre cultures and children’s experiences are poorer because of it.

Weaving Your Leadership Whāriki – Tanya Valentin

How many of us in leadership positions have the courage to “buck this trend?”.

Do we feel that we are able to be vulnerable with the people in our teams and to express how we feel, to talk about our need to connect?

How do we go about breaking down some of these walls and together with our team to build an environment where everyone truly belongs?

What would these conversations look like?

What would the space look like, where we can all be vulnerable and brave?

What types of whole-hearted connections could be forged through this healing?

Tanya Valentin ECE

Going Forward

Now that you have had a bit of time and space between yourself and “business as normal” it might be time to do a bit of a stocktake of the last year. The team of the past.

It may be timely to assess what was working and you would like to keep. Or to decide what could be improved on. We could evaluate what was not working and we would like to leave in the past. We have a small window of opportunity here to pivot, change and reset if we so choose.

You have a unique opportunity here, especially if there was some conflict in the ranks before self-isolation, to bring everyone together through our collective traumatic experience – the commonality of what we are all going through. You have the opportunity to move people past the events of the past that caused a disconnect in your team and to inspire everyone towards working towards a common goal for the greater good of your learning community.  To create an “Us-ness” –  a deep-seated feeling of belonging for everyone who was part of this experience.

The guiding questions that stand out for me when going through this transition are “Who do we want to be?” as well as “What feels right for us”.

Some Practical Ideas for Reconnection

The Reverse Bucket-List

As a team chat together about the last six months, year (whatever period of time feels relevent for you). Talk about and list all the things that you have accomplished together as a team. Create a list of milestones and things that you can feel proud of as part of this team.

Create a Manifesto

A manifesto is a statement of what you value as a unit. It communicates, “this is who we are”. A manifesto provides an expression of unity and reminds us that we are part of something meaningful.

Some of the things you might reflect on are:

  • What are the things that we value?
  • What are the things that make us unique?
  • What are the things that we enjoy doing together?
  • What would we like to be known for?

Spot Each Other’s Superpowers

What we focus on is what we will see more of. When we focus on the annoying habits of others this is all that we will see. When we focus on strengths this is too is what we will see more of.

  • In your next team meeting, take a moment to list everyone in your team.
  • One by one name everyone on the list and discuss why you are grateful for this person and what their superpower might be.
  • Make a list of everyone’s superpowers and display this in your staffroom.
  • In the coming week take the time to notice when people are working in thier superpower and acknowledge them for this.

Play

As adults we too need to make time and place for play. Things seem so much better when marinated in fun.

  • At your next team meeting, brainstorm some crazy hair, pyjama wearing, cape brandishing opportunities and how often you will have these. (You might want to get ideas from the tamariki in your setting too).
  • Number the ideas and put all the ideas in a container.
  • Ask everyone to pick an idea out of the container – the number indicates the order in which the fun will occur, and the person who picked the idea out of the container will be responsible for making it happen.
Tanya Valentin Professional ECE Services

Make Time for Gratitude

Let gratitude become the new norm in your place. Create a team ritual where you notice and speak to each other about the good things that happened in the day. Gratitude helps our body to release oxytocin that helps us to build and strengthen relationships and build trust.

For more connection ideas check out my books 3 Good Things for Teams and 3 Good Things for Children .

I would love to hear what has helped the people in your team connect in the past.

Arohanui

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