April 29, 2020
Creating a “We” Culture During COVID-19
Thoughts by Kristen Rhoads, People Engagement Manager
If you play a hand in leading culture development for your organization, you may also be feeling like this time is one of the most dynamic, interesting, and some days, terrifying times in your career. On any given day, I myself have felt a mix of all of those emotions. But I’ve also experienced more gratitude than ever before, because during those emotional days, there’s one feeling I’ve not experienced: loneliness.
At Aileron, everything we do, we do together. Our culture is steeped in collaboration and camaraderie, so in many ways, we came into this experience very prepared. Still, as the past two months have unfolded, we’ve approached the change and uncertainty with unity, and we’ve been very intentional about how we wanted to get through this time – even to the point that we created a cultural vision for navigating COVID-19:
We’re going to get through this together. We’re going to share information openly. And we’re not going to be tremendously formal.
These three main points are driven by our values of community, transparency, and being a “we” organization. By sharing this single vision, we’ve been able to make decisions that align with our desired future state, and we have something to fall back on when we’re feeling decision paralysis.
More specifically, here are some cultural practices we’ve taken on to navigate this time as a collective “we.”
We’re practicing intentional noticing and active listening.
We recognized early on that since our interactions with each other were going to be drastically reduced by not being physically near each other, we needed to be exceptionally adept at picking up cultural cues in other ways. We’ve heavily leaned into noticing what people are talking about, sensing the energy of our interactions, hearing what people are asking for, paying attention to the language they’re using, and collecting other emotional data that can give us insights into how our team is feeling about, processing, and managing this time. I’m excited to see how our new practices of being extra tuned in will continue to serve us, even when we’re back on campus together again.
We’re being intentional about gathering and communicating.
Through intentional noticing, we learned early on that our team was craving togetherness. We immediately created time and space to gather during our morning team huddles, which started out as a daily meeting and have become a three-times-per-week practice as we’ve been agile to meet our team’s changing needs. And since our values include transparency and community, we’ve also created space to be extremely candid about the state of the business and the future, knowing that sharing honest information and keeping people informed fosters community.
We’re making decisions as a “we.”
As we’ve evaluated our culture of decision making, we intentionally determined that as a “we” organization, it’s important that we practice collaborative decision making. This has been the most challenging piece to navigate, but we know that when we choose to operate as a “we” and not as singular individuals, we take on challenges that come with that choice – and we believe it’s worth the work.
At first, we played with making decisions as a single, collective unit – but as you can imagine, that quickly became unsustainable. Now we’ve shifted to a different model: our leadership team, which represents every discipline at Aileron, meets three times per week to discuss important decisions. While decision making resides in each functional area (i.e. our Client Services Manager is empowered to make decisions about service delivery, our Marketing Manager is empowered to make decisions about communications), those decisions are informed by the larger team. This approach gives us time to hear diverse perspectives and discuss how those decisions will impact adjacent teams. Another great by-product is it also builds trust because all voices are heard in the process.
We’re evaluating how we express our values.
The expression of values happens on a spectrum, and we’ve tuned into what healthy values expression looks like in the COVID environment. What formerly felt good might be an over-expression or an under-expression right now, so we’re re-evaluating what feels right for us.
For example, to exercise our value of continuous learning, we’re performing an activity on our morning huddles called the Client Red Dot. We each take a few moments to note where clients are (mentally, emotionally, financially, etc.) based on what we’re seeing and hearing in our interactions. An under-expression of this value might be assuming we know how our community is feeling; an over-expression might be learning just for the sake of learning, without having deeper context or a meaningful way to apply that learning. For us, the Client Red Dot is the right balance.
How we adjust to circumstance is changing by the day. We’re constantly talking about ideas, exploring new practices, and thinking about the future. I’m curious – what has your team experimented with to uphold or enhance your culture during this time? What’s working, and what isn’t? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.