Apr 22 , 2020
Trusting your Team in the Remote, Isolation of Space

Can you believe that a month has already gone by as we adjust to our new reality of working and living remotely in self-isolation? For some teams like ours, this has been a natural, creative and fun space to continue to evolve into future work practices while for others, the experience can be likened to being put in a holding cell with 4 walls on a completely different plant. Wherever you may sit on this paradigm, we can all agree that COVID-19 has brought about uncomfortable challenges as well as some brilliant opportunities to recalibrate, adjust and change. And for a business like Earth2Mars, this is simply our fire-drill for our vision of one day working on Mars.

We have kept closely tethered to our clients over the past few weeks. Many have expressed the loss of physical access to their teams and each other, which is bringing to surface a lot of holes in the hull when it comes to trusting our leaders, our teams and our colleagues to show up in new and meaningful ways of work. In fact, this very morning, I was speaking to a coaching client whose boss has set up a zoom meeting every hour to check that their team is working and she was wondering whether she should cascade this approach or not during the lockdown with her own team. Which made me wonder… if the work environment of COVID-19 can be likened to a SpaceX or NASA run business in the remote isolation of space, would they do the same thing?

As an independent consultant looking at it, it is easy for me to see how outdated this model of management is and our current climate has simply beamed the light on an approach that simply has not evolved since the Industrial Age. In the Industrial Age (and even to some degree in the Information Age which is long gone), this was a VERY effective and appropriate way of ensuring consistency of goods and services across a production line. However, in the Age of Connectedness, a lot has changed to make this old-school style of leadership: 

  • The democratisation of technology where the vast majority of us have powerful cloud access and processing power in the palm of their hand via our mobile devices.
  • Abundance of collaborative and analytical tools, robotics, chat-bots and artificial intelligence mean transparent, in the moment and insightful feedback which makes the role of the proverbial boss/manager redundant.
  • Liberation of knowledge, learning and information thanks to an internet connection.
  • The power of crowdsourcing, creative solutioning and community as we have seen with social media layers within and without our organisations.

Quite simply put, there is no place to hide anymore for both leaders and their teams when it comes to delivering work thanks to collaborative and connected technology and cultures we are seeing at clients who are getting this right. We now have all the processes, structures, and technology to work collaboratively and transparently without the need for an hourly check in by an intergalactic boss baby. And that is exactly how it works in space where astronauts are thoroughly screened, assessed and qualified at the recruitment phase and are then trusted to collaborate with each other with very limited communication and physical oversight by HQ. The oversight is all taken care of because the focus is monitored by technology and artificial intelligence through various data input points, Internet of Things (IOT) sensors and pre-emptive alerts. And when something goes wrong, the system creates a red flag that alerts all crew members transparently as feedback and recommends an adjustment on the go, in the moment feedback and learning is available. In space, trust is a life or death non-negotiable in crews, regardless of positions and hierarchies. All astronauts need to do is show up and do what they say and say what they do to foster a culture of trust. Technology takes care of the rest and highlights where the gaps are so that group pressure ensures accountability in an environment where everybody understands how their role impacts each other and the mission objectives.

Having been a change manager for almost two decades now, I have spent the bulk of my time assisting organisations to globally invest in and implement technology not too far off from what we have envisaged in our space example. Microsoft 365 for example is so much more than just cloud versions of Powerpoint and excel if you fully hardness its intelligence and build a culture of trust and collaboration. So why when COVID-19 hits our planet like an asteroid, asking us to step up and leverage the return on our technology investment, do a lot of us feel like we have been caught with our pants down?

The problem isn’t the technology, but rather a carcass of a leadership culture that has now risen to the surface and is infecting performance and collaboration in the Age of Connection. So when I hear stories of leaders having to micro-manage teams in this day and age, 9 out of 10 times it has nothing to do with the processes, technology or even the physical location of work, but rather a reflection of that leader’s model of the universe. A wise leader once said to me trustworthy leaders attract trustworthy teams and perhaps being untrusting of your team reflects your own limiting and outdated models of what leadership truly is. In the Age of Connectedness, leadership is about creating an environment that is psychologically safe to collaborate and create. I don’t know about you, but I have never felt safe with an authority figure breathing down my neck, virtually or in person.

In a previous blog, I mentioned that when we point fingers, there are always three fingers pointing back at us, so if we cannot trust our team, perhaps we are projecting our own fears and wounds around being trustworthy. And with COVID-19 bringing this to the forefront, what a perfect opportunity to reflect and evolve into new models of influence and power. By becoming an example of trustworthiness as leaders ourselves, we automatically set a course for our teams to follow and model. Or we can continue to blame others or make excuses to justify our dinosaur age perspectives until eventually, we ourselves become redundant as technology continues to demand new leadership and team behaviours. 

I put this choice forward to a digital company we provide business coaching to and I was looking for a simple model to help leaders and teams (myself included) reflect on where they are at when it comes to trustworthiness and where there are areas to improve. A few years ago, I came across a formula which still stands true in today’s climate, thanks Trusted Advisor’s Trust Equation. A couple of questions to ask yourself:

  • Am I Credible? – how believable are my words from my team’s perspective? According to Trusted Advisor this has to do with the words we speak. In a sentence we might say, “I can trust what she says about intellectual property; she’s very credible on the subject.”
  • How reliable am I as a leader? – do my actions match my words and my words match my actions? How consistent am I as a leader? According to Trusted Advisor it has to do with actions. We might say, “If he says he’ll deliver the product tomorrow, I trust him, because he’s dependable.”
  • Do you create an environment, culture and energy where it is psychologically safe to be real? – According to the formula, this “refers to the safety or security that we feel when entrusting someone with something. We might say, “I can trust her with that information; she’s never violated my confidentiality before, and she would never embarrass me.”
  • Am I only focussed on my own interests? Or am I doing this for my team? – The formula “refers to the person’s focus. In particular, whether the person’s focus is primarily on him or herself, or on the other person. We might say, “I can’t trust him on this deal — I don’t think he cares enough about me, he’s focused on what he gets out of it.” Or more commonly, “I don’t trust him — I think he’s too concerned about how he’s appearing, so he’s not really paying attention.”

COVID-19 has presented many challenges, but trust and culture were probably inherited from BC (before COVID). As COVID-19 keeps us in suspended animation, isn’t now the time to work on your trustworthiness and show up in new and helpful ways for our teams now that they need us the most? Self-reflection and responsibility can be a bitter pill to swallow and by washing your hands of excuses and blaming, results and benefits will see you through this epidemic with a team culture that is immune to any challenge in the end.


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