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15 Tips to Bringing Teams Closer Even During Tough Times

We are living through one of the largest collective challenges the world has faced, so it’s the perfect time to tap into the experience of these 15 female leaders. They offer tips for bringing teams closer, and they share the impacts they’ve seen from using these methods. 

From focusing on the team’s mission and discussing emotions at work to hosting casual calls and conversations, the responses have a common thread: a company can only succeed when its individual team members do, too. Leaders can facilitate that success, which starts with viewing each team member as a human first and an employee second.

1. Listen and Be Honest

Jee Chang

Founder & Creative Director, UME

My Advice: Listen, be agile, and be courageously honest. Our team looks at what needs to happen now. Then we look at what we need to let go of. We have to be honest about what won’t serve us. Then we create space to think about what we want in the future, given where things are now. 

The Impact I’ve Seen: One of the biggest impacts I’ve seen from this work is our ability to expand our teams and rethink how we onboard and create space for past, present, and even future creative team members to be part of our First Thursdays program, which invites creatives around the world to connect. Rather than making it a one-time session, we’ve decided to create a book club, meeting every month to discuss what we’ve read and how it’s impacting us, and having open conversations about new ways we can contribute and make decisions personally and professionally. 

2. Normalize Being “Not OK”

Julie Mossler

C-Level Marketing Coach, Julie Mossler

My Advice: Normalize that it’s OK to be “not OK.” A few years ago I began kicking off team meetings by going around the room and asking everyone to share how they felt that day, rated 1–10. It proactively creates an atmosphere that both permits vulnerability and empowers teammates to subtly let you know when they need some sensitivity.

The Impact I’ve Seen: It’s been fascinating to see introverts and extroverts send signals to lift each other up. We also sit in shared excitement when someone shows up as a 10. It’s really boosted the EQ of the team as a whole.

3. Create a Mantra That Matters

Whitney A. White

Founder, Take Back Your Time

My Advice: Create a North Star that your team can look to when they are in need of inspiration or practical guidance. Developing your words is an exercise in getting to the core of your mission and goals. Then, it’s important to communicate them through consistent internal messaging, elevate examples that embody your guiding principles, set goals for living up to your words, and track performance with quantitative metrics. 

The Impact I’ve Seen: In my time managing ecommerce teams with McMaster-Carr, I found it incredibly helpful to give my teams a North Star that enabled them to draw on their own analysis and creativity to develop solutions that helped us achieve a common goal. My team’s words were “Get the Right Outcome for the Customer,” which meant going the extra mile to make doing business with McMaster-Carr as easy and frictionless as possible. This kept customers happy and coming back for repeat business.

4. Bring the In-Person Experience Online

Maggie Braine

VP of Growth, Swaypayit

My Advice: Be conscious of the missing in-person experience, both for company veterans and newbie hires. Schedule planned non-work activities, like listening to a podcast or reading an article and discussing it each week. Schedule “white space” Zoom meetings for bouncing ideas. They’re great for encouraging the collaboration and big-picture thinking that you typically get from round-table-style discussions. 

The Impact I’ve Seen: Non-work discussions about what’s going on in your industry or personal ways to decompress and control stress have made my team feel more comfortable, more open, and less trapped by an agenda. I find they’re more creative and entrepreneurial, as well. 

5. Create Space for Honesty

Olivia Bowser

Founder and CEO, Liberate LLC

My Advice: As human beings, we have thoughts, feelings, and emotions on nearly everything, and there is a lot going on in the world right now. While it’s important to remain professional, allowing your team to communicate how they’re doing and what’s going on with them will ultimately bring everyone closer. 

The Impact I’ve Seen: With an honest environment, my team has gotten much closer. We know if someone is struggling with their wedding cancelation or living alone. The team members support each other on a human level, and they are more flexible and supportive when it comes to schedule changes or off-days. This ultimately leads to stronger performance as a unit.

6. Focus on Transparency

Vivian Chen

Founder and CEO, Rise

My Advice: During tough times, transparency is more important than ever. Over the last few months, it’s been critical to have everyone on the team march towards the same goal. As a result, I’ve been sending weekly emails that put our metrics front and center. For every email, I list the goal we are working towards, followed by a few select wins, and then I’m really frank about our misses. 

The Impact I’ve Seen: It has been transformative for me as a leader to be so raw about the state of our business. I have noticed a shift in the team’s attitude as well: they seem to care more, do more proactively, and offer ideas on how we can move the needle. I have to credit Mathilde Collin, CEO of Front, as the inspiration behind these weekly emails. There’s pressure from this level of transparency, but it really works! 

7. Build Genuine Community

Kristina Libby

CSO, Hypergiant

My Advice: The only way that we make it through trauma and hardship is by relying on community. To do this, we must focus on finding out what team members need, show up for them, prioritize their health and well-being, and find ways to build communities that are authentic and genuine. Community is a two-way street: you must learn what others need and learn what you are capable of giving. 

The Impact I’ve Seen: When building more community in my team, one thing I do is spread surprise moments of love. During COVID, I sent surprise cupcakes and wine to teammates and then, in turn, they sent me surprises. Creating a little surprise chain of love helped link us together in ways I wouldn’t have imagined. We showed not just support for people’s pain and hardship, but also showed our capacity to make dark moments a little bit brighter. 

8. Get to Know Each Other Better

Tara Zedayko

Co-founder and CEO, DIG labs

My Advice: We create and share “about me” documents that help fast-track getting to know one another. These include communication styles, quirks, default modes, and ways of working. This way, the team can accelerate relationship-building, especially during tough times, and focus on achieving shared goals.

The Impact I’ve Seen: This tool has helped us avoid some common workplace conflicts that stem from communication gaps or gaps in understanding.

9. Allow All the Emotions

Marissa Badgley

Founder, Reloveution

My Advice: In tough times, providing space for your team to experience and express the full range of human emotions during work is essential. When we trudge forward through the muck without acknowledging hurt or anger or loneliness or fear, we miss powerful opportunities for human connection. Every team should have protocols in place to move beyond casual check-ins to ritualized practices where people are given opportunities to be seen, heard, valued, and loved, not only as workers but as human beings. 

The Impact I’ve Seen: Recently, I led a CALM (community, affirmation, listening, and motivation) session with a team that was experiencing deep-seated frustration and resentment. There were tears shed and laughs shared, and a few days later, the team leader reached out to say that the energy had shifted and people seemed to be closer than before the session. When we connect with other human beings in authentic, meaningful, and truly human ways, it almost always builds trust and camaraderie, which are prerequisites for productivity, engagement, and innovation. 

10. Lead With Your Mission

Trisha Okubo

Founder & Creative Director, Maison Miru Jewelry

My Advice: Focus on your North Star: What is the change in the world that your company wants to make? We all want to be a part of something larger than ourselves, so lead your team with your mission in mind. For us at Maison Miru, we’re all about jewelry for creative living, and our mission is to enable self-expression and creativity as a force for good. The day-to-day isn’t always glamorous, especially now that we’re all working in less-than-ideal conditions during the pandemic, but knowing what we’re working towards brings the team together.

The Impact I’ve Seen: Each of our team members is empowered to make decisions with our mission in mind. We end up moving faster and with fewer collisions because we’re all guided by the same North Star.

11. Support the Whole Individual

Michelle Penczak

CEO, Squared Away

My Advice: Take the time to ask how things are going personally for your team members, and give them grace. We are a zero-judgement company and we support the whole individual, not just the professional. Sometimes just genuinely asking them, and caring, about how things are going can make all the difference.

The Impact I’ve Seen: My team has opened up to each other even more during COVID. Most have their kids home with them and spouses working and deploying, so life is stressful. We support each other one-hundred percent, and the unification of our team is even stronger now.

12. Get Creative With Icebreakers

Marta Subko

Founder, subko&co

My Advice: During the pandemic, we shifted from an office-based to a fully remote team that works mainly through Hangouts, which made our way of day-to-day communication very transactional and goal-oriented. So I decided to create a special call where I used the Icebreaker software mixed with personal-discovery questions from the School of Life’s conversational cards. This setup let my team talk about their beliefs and share personal stories or memories from their childhood. 

The Impact I’ve Seen: This opportunity for reconnecting with colleagues nurtured the feeling of belonging my team needed in those difficult times, and it also helped them to better understand each other’s personalities, motivations, and conditioning.

13. Ask Personal Questions

Samantha Ogborn

Founder, once + more

My Advice: Get to know your team, and ask personal questions. As leaders, this should be an always-on mindset, not exclusive to 2020. It’s not that we should forget what’s happening in the world, and certainly we won’t, but as leaders, we can hold our heads high and know that our team is looking up to us. We set the tone for how our team thinks and feels every day. 

The Impact I’ve Seen: At the beginning of the summer, I hired six interns, who do paid client work remotely. I’ve loved getting to know them during our weekly calls. After one call, one of them even said to our group, “I feel so grateful to have you all,” and it made my day. I am lucky to be a part of these students’ positive experiences during 2020, and I can’t wait to see how I can continue to help them build their portfolios.

14. Create Forums for Conversation

Emily Hochman

CEO + Founder, Wellory

My Advice: Topic-based Slack channels that are both work-related and not work-related! It’s important to create forums that encourage open conversation and support and build community. 

The Impact I’ve Seen: This causes team members to feel more comfortable to bring conversations up among the team, ask hard questions, and know that our company is a safe space for them. 

15. Get in the Trenches

Sharon Harsa

Founder, Sharon Rose Consulting

My Advice: During tough times, my advice is be willing to dig in and work hand-in-hand to support your team through the tough stuff. They will appreciate your effort, and it will build camaraderie and teamwork.

The Impact I’ve Seen: I have seen this approach pull teams together in a multitude of tough situations requiring significant teamwork and fortitude.  Your team will rally when you get in the trenches rather than sit on the sidelines.

About the Author: All womxn featured in this article are members of Dreamers & Doers, a private collective for extraordinary entrepreneurial womxn supporting one another in achieving audacious dreams. Dreamers & Doers’ mission is to catalyze the success of womxn leaders and their ventures through community and mutual support. 

Gesche Haas is the Founder/CEO of Dreamers & Doers, a private collective that amplifies the entrepreneurial pursuits of extraordinary womxn through visibility opportunities, resource exchange, and collective support. Furthermore, Dreamers & Doers has built an entrepreneurial ecosystem of over 30,000 womxn globally.

Gesche’s views on the tech space and beyond have been featured on Bloomberg TV, CNNMoney, The New York Times, Huffington Post, Business Insider, Forbes, Fortune Magazine, Refinery29, Broadly/Vice, and other major media outlets, as well as at the United Nations, where she spoke during the sixtieth session of the Commission on the Status of Women. Gesche was also awarded “2016 Empowered Woman of the Year” by WWD/Variety/Ciroc, was named among “Best of Tech on Twitter” by CB Insights, and recognized as one of Techweek’s “New York 2017 Talent Cultivators”.

Prior to founding Dreamers & Doers, Gesche held senior positions at multiple venture-backed startups in roles covering growth, strategy, finance, business operations, business development, and more. She also spent five years as an investor at a healthcare-focused hedge fund (~$3bn AUM, SAC spin-off).

NOTE: GESCHE HAAS IS A GUEST POSTER AND ANY VIEWS OR OPINIONS REPRESENTED IN THE ABOVE POST ARE PERSONAL AND DO NOT REPRESENT THOSE OF 500 STARTUPS OR ANY OF ITS STAFF OR AFFILIATES UNLESS EXPLICITLY STATED. ALL CONTENT REPRESENTED ABOVE IS PROVIDED FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. 500 STARTUPS MAKES NO REPRESENTATIONS AS TO THE ACCURACY OR COMPLETENESS OF ANY INFORMATION CONTAINED IN THE ABOVE POST. NO LIABILITY CAN BE ACCEPTED FOR ANY ERROR OR OMISSIONS.  UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD ANY OF THE ABOVE CONTENT BE CONSTRUED AS LEGAL, TAX OR INVESTMENT ADVICE FROM 500 STARTUPS OR ANY OF ITS AFFILIATES. 500 STARTUPS DOES NOT GUARANTEE ANY FUTURE RESULTS FOR ANY DECISIONS MADE BASED IN WHOLE OR IN PART ON THE CONTENT OR INFORMATION CONTAINED IN THIS POST.

UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD ANY INFORMATION OR CONTENT IN THIS POST, BE CONSIDERED AS AN OFFER TO SELL OR SOLICITATION OF INTEREST TO PURCHASE ANY SECURITIES ADVISED BY 500 STARTUPS OR ANY OF ITS AFFILIATES OR REPRESENTATIVES. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD ANYTHING HEREIN BE CONSTRUED AS FUND MARKETING MATERIALS BY PROSPECTIVE INVESTORS CONSIDERING AN INVESTMENT INTO ANY 500 STARTUPS INVESTMENT FUND.

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