Covid-19 has had an impact on everyone in extremely different ways; understanding this, and subsequently approaching everyone’s challenges individually, is the starting point to getting your team back on track.
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Libby Kemkaran-Thompson qualified from the University of Cambridge in 2011, having previously been a business development consultant. While at Cambridge, she also undertook a degree in biological and biomedical science, specialising in neural mechanisms. She is now a certified Flow consultant and business psychologist, giving training on leadership, communications and change management strategies.
Key learning outcomes
After reading this article, you should understand:
How the brain responds to psychological stressors;
The importance of mind management to maintain a ‘can do’ culture in your team;
The different profile types of people, what is important to them and how to work with them;
How to maintain a positive ‘flow state’ in your team.
The return to ‘business as normal’ has never looked less like normality. With clients now being greeted in car parks and many team members having worked from home for the past few months, we must consider the challenges we face in reintegrating and negotiating the ‘people side’ of our life in practice right now. More importantly, we need to establish how we will make it through this next phase and manage the needs of all our team members successfully.
Before we can do this, we need to understand some behavioural psychology principles.
Fifteen years ago, the introduction of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) gave us a huge insight into how the brain works, and subsequently led to increased research into the impact that stress has on people’s brains.
Following a shift in environment, or during a psychological crisis (such as stress), we know that certain parts of the brain physically shut down as blood flow is rerouted to regions that will be more useful for dealing with the situation, effectively switching on our body’s ‘fight or flight’ mode. As the Covid-19 crisis has been a long, sustained period of uncertainty, unfortunately our brains have been functioning in these panic pathways for a long time and this is beginning to take its toll on us. This has a huge effect on your personal wellbeing and on your perception of what happens to you, particularly at work where the likelihood of stress is usually highest.
Creative thinking stops when your brain is in amygdala overdrive (a cortisol flood and stress circuits overload), and you become very focused on short-term survival instead – that current feeling you might have of being a bit flakey, inconsistent and unable to focus on long-term plans, is in fact all down to your brain biochemistry. Likewise, the crushing tiredness that you might be feeling during these bizarre times, is due to a chemical exhaustion of being in such an ‘alert’ state for so long. This can affect your ‘perception of effort’ (ie, how much effort you think you’re putting in to your work).
An ‘alert’ state is powerful for a reason; it was initially designed to help us fight physical beasts, such as a sabre-toothed tiger – but the trouble is, Covid-19 isn’t a physical beast one can escape.
When faced with a novel threat, such as the current pandemic, understanding the need to work with our brain biochemistry is the first step to help move us back into a healthier, and happier state.
We must be aware of the costs of not considering the mental wellbeing of the team, particularly when vets in practice face the challenge of business survival like never before.
Practices must develop agile management techniques to adjust to the ‘new normal’, and mind management will certainly be a huge part of this. It is not enough to just have the right systems in place – the people running these systems will determine whether a practice survives or thrives. Therefore, we must develop the skills and the knowledge to manage our mental state in this changing world, and to create engaged teams, particularly as presenteeism (ie, your employee is present but may as well be absent, as they are disengaged and unhappy) hits businesses hard. The impacts of presenteeism include:
Work-related stress; 60 per cent of lost work days each year can be attributed to this (360 Steelcase 2014);
Costs to the business as a result of disengagement; presenteeism costs almost four times as much as absenteeism (Medibank 2011);
In the US, absenteeism and presenteeism costs a staggering US$ 227 billion per year (Benz Communications and Virgin Pulse 2015).
Conversely, organisations that implement health and wellbeing strategies see significant benefits:
A reduction in employee stress and health risk factors by up to 56 per cent (McCarthy and others 2011);
Increased employee engagement by more than 40 per cent and creativity and innovation by more than 50 per cent (Sims 2010);
A 12 to 30 per cent increase in performance and productivity (Wesley Corporate Health 2008);
They are four times less likely to lose talent through people leaving the organisation due to stress (Sims 2010).
Teams and businesses will see huge advantages when individuals are educated and empowered to take charge of their own brains and learn to manage their own mental state, rather than looking to somebody else to motivate them.
Neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to reorganise itself and adjust to new environments – is an important part of the toolkit needed to create lasting change in an individual’s beliefs, behaviours and, ultimately, their communication. Indeed, in a healthy and engaged team, the positive dynamics start with the individual – if we know better, we feel better, and we can do better, and from there we can implement the same culture throughout the entire practice. Moreover, if we understand why it is that we do something, it sets us in good stead to be able to alter our actions when necessary.
The Covid-19 pandemic will certainly impact individual team members differently, and understanding that they will also have different coping mechanisms to the ‘new normal’ is essential in maintaining this ‘can do’ culture in practice.
Understanding different types of people
Different people will have reacted to the events of the past few months very differently, depending on their ‘brain type’. I use that phrase loosely, as we all have access to all parts of our brain; however, there is a lot of data suggesting that we tend to use one or two of our ‘frequencies’ or energies more easily, and that these tendencies in turn dominate our thinking style and reactivity. This is based on brain dominance and neurological preference, meaning that some people are able to adapt to change better than others – a pretty crucial factor right now! The majority of people fit into one of four ‘types’: Dynamo, Blaze, Tempo or Steel.
Dynamo people are the ‘head in the clouds’ visionaries – they are people who are great at thinking fast, and coming up with creative solutions, but want to hand them over to someone else to actually get them done. Their key word is usually ‘what’, and you’ll often hear them asking the ‘what’s next, what’s new’ questions in a team. Although they can effectively relay messages when they need to, dynamo people may also sometimes come across as too direct or too loud when addressing other types of team members.
The key word of blaze people is usually ‘who’, and they may ask questions such as ‘who’s on my team and who can do this best?’ These are the talkers of the team who love to openly motivate and encourage others and will probably be the first to invite you to a pub reunion when they’re open again!
However, blaze people also get stressed with isolated situations and struggle when disconnected from others. The challenge for these people right now is learning how to still feel connected when so far apart – new processes are tricky for them, so getting these team members on board with any decisions or changes early on will be critical to maintaining a good attitude throughout the team.
Tempo people are all about timing, and they champion consistency, connection and customer service. These individuals provide a sort of buffer for the dynamos in a team, and are always very proactive in solving problems before they even appear. Their key words are ‘when’ and ‘where’, so often they dislike unannounced change, as they need time to decide what the right thing to do is in a certain situation by weighing up the pros and cons – the unknown of the current pandemic will have been particularly cruel to these types of people.
Steel people rely on process and precision, and they usually run the show from behind the scenes avoiding the spotlight, working quietly by themselves and getting things done. Their key word is ‘how’ and they love to build a robust plan for everyone to follow, making sure all team members comply with it. They thrive in times of change because they are given opportunities to ‘fix things’ again, and will be core team members during the challenges that practices are facing, and will continue to face, in the coming months and years.
With a better understanding of the different energies surrounding different types of people, we can really begin see what is important to individuals, and profiling your team like this can be invaluable (see further resources). It is important to remember this ‘new normal’ will affect people differently – by managing expectations better and improving our communications with our teams, we will be having a direct impact on our own mental health and wellbeing.
The faster we can move our team towards a better understanding of each other, the more valuable this knowledge will be. Once everyone in the team has a basic understanding of how to manage people who are not like them, they are much more likely to focus on team flow rather than just on themselves and how they feel.
We can all intrinsically communicate with people who are like us, but we rarely make the effort to understand the needs and wants of those who aren’t. Steel people need data and detail, blaze people need story and social proof, dynamo people need bullet points and tempo people need the timeline. Therefore, if your practice communications include all of these aspects, you will get your messages across more effectively.
Trust and flow
Different profile types add value to the team by what they can be trusted to do; when given this trust by other team members, our job gives us purpose and autonomy that creates passion and engagement in a team (Pink 2009), as well as taking us nearer to our ‘zone of genius’ where we get to operate more in our ‘flow state’ (Fig 1) (Csikszentmihalyi 1990).
Flow is distinct for the different profile types, and is about the psychology of reaching optimal levels of performance. If we can find ways to keep our profile in flow for 80 per cent of the time, we will attain high levels of productivity:
Dynamos can be trusted to innovate and create, they shouldn’t project or people manage;
Blazes are good at people management and will be a cheerleader driving people on, but should not run the timing of who does what, and when;
Tempos can be trusted to hold on to the timing and the when and where, but not to brainstorm new ideas on the fly;
Steels can be trusted to be risk averse, to be critical of any new ideas and take a process down to its constituent parts to make it as streamlined and perfect as possible; however, they are also perfectionists and so often delay outcomes until completely satisfied. They are also not particularly good negotiators, so should not be expected to have difficult conversations with clients about topics such as money issues.
Division in a team occurs when the different profile types don’t value each other’s input. Following the easing of lockdown restrictions, and the ‘new normal’ becoming more established, remember that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to mind management. As your practice works back up to full capacity, take stock of the scope of the challenges ahead, and identify and work to people’s strengths; you should avoid assigning people tasks that fall outside their ‘flow state’, as this will only serve to highlight their weaknesses in an already stressful time.
Top wellbeing tips
Of course, there will be times over the coming months when stressful and challenging situations will be unavoidable and our brains will once again revert to a panic pathway. In these moments, the following tips may help you to overcome these feelings:
If you are feeling overwhelmed, try performing six rhythmic breaths – this switches your brain from panic circuits back into a parasympathetic mode, enabling you to think clearly again. Breathe in for two seconds, hold for four seconds, then breathe out for eight seconds (repeat six times). You can do this in between consults, during a tea break or even in your car;
Start and end each day with specific, positive psychology exercises. Ask yourself questions, such as ‘What am I happy about? What am I proud of? What am I grateful for? What energises me?’ You might feel a bit silly doing this at first, but there is a lot of evidence suggesting positive psychology massively impacts your performance;
Don’t be afraid to make team changes to fit the profile types – if you can see someone is uncomfortable with certain aspects of their role or a particular job, be brave enough to shuffle tasks to better suit their nature. Positive team engagement directly leads to improved mental wellbeing and productivity, subsequently improving practice profits and survival.
By having a better understanding of mind management and the different types of people within your team, each member will have a greater appreciation for those unlike themselves. It takes people from all of the profile types working well together to make a successful team, and when people are in a state of flow and know that they are trusted and valued, they will have higher engagement and subsequently a positive impact on both wellbeing and productivity. These are strange and unprecedented times for us all and so stressors will be high in the workplace; understanding how people can be affected so differently by these stressors is the key to supporting them through the challenges that lie ahead.
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