I hosted one of a regular series of virtual action learning sets last week, with a very capable group based across Europe, the US, and India. We’ve been meeting for over 6 months, and as we were wrapping up the talk unsurprisingly turned to the question ‘what have you learned during lockdown?’. Their organisation has been generous, busy, and much more agile than usual in the last few months.
Some of the answers were to be expected; a site lead/manufacturing operations specialist said ‘I never thought I could work from home, and I’ve learned that I can. I’ll keep at least one day a week working this way in future’.
Others noticed how the culture has adapted; ‘what used to take us months or even years has taken us weeks. Fewer people are in meetings, there is less bureaucracy, and we make decisions far more quickly and easily.’
The insight with the most resonance however was profoundly simple, and deeply human, ‘when I hear the question “how are you” at the start of a call, the question seems genuine and there is a desire to really know how others are. It’s no longer a throwaway greeting. People listen carefully to the answer’.
I found this very moving. We have been reminded that there are lives, stories, and histories around the table, and that it’s OK to allow how this might be affecting colleagues into the workplace. That it’s important for us to understand what might be going on, and to show that we have empathy and compassion. Kindness has emerged as a transformational characteristic.
Kindness is inextricably linked with vulnerability. We know from researcher Brene Brown, and others, that vulnerability is a necessary component for trust-building. Maybe this mix of kindness and vulnerability, coupled of course with a high impact call to action, is why a large multi-national corporate can switch to a more agile way of working with such speed.
As the risks from covid slowly recede my greatest hope is that we continue to inquire about the lives, stories and histories of our colleagues, and that we listen well to the answers.