When osmosis is no longer enough

Building a culture of deliberate conversations in your team.

Over the years, many teams have achieved a lot by osmosis. The benefits of co-location have meant that critical information about changing project timeframes was shared around the coffee machine. Realisations that key stakeholders had inadvertently been left out of a consultation process occurred as we walked by a colleagues’ desk, at just the right moment. Awareness of the need to integrate two seemingly disparate pieces of work hit us when we picked up our document, along with someone else’s from the shared printer. We had the luxury of allowing happenstance to happen!

So, what happened when the majority of the workforce transitioned to working from home earlier this year?

That beautiful organic process of learning things through osmosis (where particles move from an area of higher concentration to lower concentration via a semi permeable membrane) disappeared. Those who know me well will know that I love science. From studying high school chemistry and biology to taking on a health science degree part-time for ten years (just for fun) to my side passion project of writing a science fiction novel, I think science has so much to teach us, including in the world of business. But that’s not really the point of this article.

The point is that lockdown has forced us all to be way more deliberate about our conversations in the workplace. What we took for granted before, osmotic information sharing and learning, will no longer happen unless we deliberately structure it to be so – well, at least at first. Nearly all of scaffolding that we had in place in our workplaces to support communication and interaction has had to be re-defined.

For those teams who were already geographically dispersed, or had a relatively high proportion of people working flexible arrangements, you’ve already learnt this stuff. You’ve learned that if you don’t scaffold the right sorts of communication forums, at the right cadence, then people get left behind. And, when any individual in the team is left behind, the performance of the whole team suffers.

You’ve learned that you need:

- Forums for team planning and prioritisation
- Forums for thinking and problem solving together
- Forums to work deeply to resolve differences
- Forums to check in (one-on-one, and collectively)
- Forums to just spend time together, and have some fun

But I don’t think that being more deliberate is just about the number and types of communication forums you have in place as a team. Because of what we are all facing, across the world, I feel there is a sense of more deliberate practice in the quality and depth of our engagement with each other. Whatever you call it, through our shared vulnerability we have embraced our human-ness together, and it’s been quite humbling.

The other aspect that’s worth considering is how we’ve become more deliberate about our personal learning, growth and development. During this time, I’ve observed busy individuals carve out the space to build new skills, seek new experiences and foster new relationships. I’ve also seen organisations say “yes let’s” to new and different forms of development for their people, engaging with more integrated approaches which use everyday experience as the fertile ground for learning.

No matter where you are in the world, and what stage of lockdown you are in, my hope is that we can take our ‘deliberateness’ into the next phase of our working journeys together. A phase where we more consciously shape our interactions, relationships, growth, and ultimately, the organisations we choose to work in together.

About Fiona Stewart

Fiona Stewart is the Managing Director and Co-Founder of LTA People, a specialist Organisation Development consultancy based in Melbourne, Australia. Fiona defines the critical people levers that drive strategy execution, and translates these into actionable people and culture frameworks, plans and programs that are woven into the fabric of the organisation.

Intro image credit: webkinzluva1598 from Pixabay

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