a strategy for building teams in these challenging times


COVID-19 has affected just about every aspect of society. 
Not to be minimized is the outbreak’s impact on our work teams and employee cultures. 

A June 2020 study in the United Kingdom found that a third of all workers feel less connected to their workplace culture and colleagues, and we can be sure the situation is similar on our shores.

For healthcare, the landscape is even more complex. Our bifurcated workforce—one on the front lines and another sent home to work remotely—has the potential to create an even greater sense of separateness. One wonders how those cohesive workplace cultures we nurtured for so long will survive.

It’s time to think seriously about changing the way we lead. Entrepreneur, author and executive adviser Glenn Llopis advocates an approach called personalization. His writings on the topic are remarkably timely. He believes that a tailored approach to leadership and team-building is essential for today’s workplace, and the past several months have only reinforced his ideas.

In a nutshell, personalization requires leaders to step back and look at a workforce as individuals with a diverse set of talents, desires and needs rather than an entity. A leader’s ability to inspire individuals within this community is the key to the high-performance teams we all want. 

I know that applying this individualized approach to the workplace has its hurdles, especially for those of us who cut our executive teeth on W. Edwards Deming’s principles. We were taught that standardization and “tidiness” were most effective in managing employees, less so about relationships and individual needs. 

However, our workforce—along with all of us—has already embraced personalization in other aspects of their lives. As consumers, we demand products and services—apps, smart technologies, even cars—that recognize our unique preferences and requirements. There is a disconnect in coming to a workplace that has not evolved for the times.

For me, a serious workplace crisis illustrated the power and importance of personalization and of creating a work culture that embraces it. This spring, my new chief of staff became one of the first COVID-19 cases in our county; he went from an active father of two to ventilator-dependent in just a few days. Together, our team was forced to consider the unthinkable: What if he didn’t make it? What if others were infected? We were sad, fearful and unmoored. 

Like businesses everywhere, we attempted to Zoom our way to normalcy. However, it was evident we needed more. We also made our sessions personal, sharing reflections and encouraging one another to speak up when we needed help—not just to get the work done but for spiritual and emotional support. These expressions were deep and powerful, solidifying our connection as we leaned on one another.

These actions strengthened our work community and reminded us that, as healthcare professionals, caring for the individual is our priority. It also made our celebration even more extraordinary when our colleague rejoined the team.

Stories like ours are happening at workplaces across the country, some with different and tragic outcomes. Most organizations, including those in healthcare, will never go back to the way they were. As leaders, we are stretched, trying to protect our employees and buoy morale amid uncertainty and loss. As with all challenges, we can decide if we will allow them to disrupt us or transform us. Real leaders will embrace transformation. 

Personalization is a strategy for the future, and the urgency to adapt has never been greater. In late 2020, we find ourselves at a turning point.

Yes, we are faced with many obstacles in our path, but this is also a time of tremendous opportunity. It’s a time to consider how we can lead more effectively in our new reality and plan for the future. Years from now, when we look back on this chapter, our teams will remember the strong, genuine and personalized leadership we demonstrated and the way we made our people feel.

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