Leadership and teams post lockdown

by Richard Spilg - Coaching for Leaders
Monday , 3 August 2020 - under 5 minute read
A man gives a presentation in an office

Advertising is often a great yardstick for cultural trends. So if there was any doubt whether the move to remote working has accelerated courtesy of Covid-19, L'Oréal’s recently released ‘Your Easy Makeup Look for Work-from-Home Days’ - a guide to whether your video-call makeup should differ from your ‘in-real-life’ routine, would seem to dispel it. And with the inevitable increase in flexible/remote working, there will be a greater emphasis on effective leadership and team performance.

Styles of leadershjp

A favourite reference, ‘Primal Leadership’1 is a book that links EI competencies to six basic leadership styles. It suggests that while most leaders will generally have a dominant style, a good leader will be able to tap into most of the other styles as circumstances dictate. Given that remote working implies more delegation together with increased levels of trust, leaders should challenge themselves to see if they can combine styles to greater effect. For example:

  • To the extent that the pandemic has put businesses in a fight for survival, the typical leadership response may be a Directive or Pace-Setting approach. However, these styles aren’t typically effective if there is a lack of trust and/or an increased level of delegation. In this instance, adding a Coaching and/or Affiliative style of leadership into the mix will provide positive results
  • Staff working from home may be feeling a bit isolated, in which case an Affiliative style of leadership will be effective. A potential negative of this friendly style is the difficulty in holding people to account – without which delegation is ineffective. In this case, adding a Coaching style (and potentially a more Directive style) will provide the necessary balance

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review states that “…. a crisis can bring people together and facilitate a collective spirit of endurance – but it can also push people apart, with individuals distrusting one another and predominantly looking after themselves”2. Some of my coaching colleagues have recently noticed that pockets of conflict within teams that may previously have existed just under the surface are in fact starting to bubble up.

The new normal

The challenge for teams may be similar to that typically faced by families who have had to spend periods of time apart for career or work-related reasons. Routines and levels of inter-dependency and trust can easily change during that time, such that relationships may need to be re-negotiated once things return to ‘normal’. So, post lockdown, it will be critical for teams to check in on whether the levels of trust that existed before the lockdown have changed. And, if so, for what reasons.

It may also be that team members will want to bring very personal reflections to discussions around trust and values. They will hopefully be brought in good faith to supplement rather than replace values that may have stood the organisation in good stead over the years. To get the benefit of these insights, team members will need to be given the time and space to share their views without fear of being dismissed out of hand. A positive consequence may be a shift in the organisation’s and team’s values by virtue of these insights.

A new team dynamic

Thinking about teams, revisiting Meredith Belbin’s book ‘Team Roles at Work’ leads us to reflect on the importance of advanced teamwork, and of having the right blend of skills if a team is to be successful3. For many businesses, lockdown has provided people with the opportunity to demonstrate new ways that they can add value to teams. Some have proved to be innovative ‘Resource Investigators’, using the increased time at their disposal to explore new opportunities and develop new contacts. Some have become effective ‘Teamworkers’ by being cooperative and calming others in this time of stress. Others have emerged as ‘Implementers’, using their natural discipline to turn ideas into practical actions.

Once everyone is physically back together, there may be a strong temptation to jump straight back into task-oriented activities such as evaluating responses to the lockdown and setting new goals. Yet a more constructive initial approach might be to set aside sufficient time to check-in with the team to re-establish a strong foundation of trust - potentially using an external facilitator to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard: to use this time to revisit values and associated behaviours, and to ensure that subsequent discussions around tasks and issues are constructive. And where team members have demonstrated skills during the lockdown that weren’t previously apparent, to give them the opportunity to fulfil their potential by redefining their roles in your team.

As a leader post-lockdown, you’ll need to develop new ways to manage remote working and to re-energise your team. And if you find that you do need to expand and/or combine your range of leadership styles, the trick will be to do that in a way that remains authentic.

Richard’s career across financial and professional services has included involvement with start-ups through to the management of complex, highly-regulated, multi-jurisdictional businesses. His CEO and Board experiences in New Zealand, the UK, Australia and South Africa, coupled with his extensive coaching experience, provides him with a sound theoretical and practical approach to supporting senior leaders. www.coachingforleaders.co.nz


  1. Goleman, Boyatzis & McKee (2013). Primal Leadership. Harvard Business Review Press
  2. Pederson, C.L. and Ritter, T (2020). Preparing your Business for a Post-Pandemic World. https://hbr.org/2020/04/preparing-your-business-for-a-post-pandemic-world
  3. Belbin, R. Meredith (1993). Team Roles at Work. Butterworth-Heinemann

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