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Then it came for the teams

May 04, 2020

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Series edition 2/2

For some organisations it was business as usual.  Others adapted their way of working or faced obsolescence. 

And some waited.

In viewing the current challenge posed by COVID-19, the confluence of several influencers and factors point towards a new normal, possibly irreversible global change.  In our previous article, we focused on some immediate organisational considerations, as well as the world of work in general.  The effects of COVID-19 are by nature intrusive, which is why we have to consider not only how organisations overall are affected, but also how it impacts the lifeblood of modern work - the team. 

A Team of PwC employees sitting together in a meeting room

The impact on our teams

Check-in is open - individuals differ in their need for social interaction and contact.  Team members that thrive on social interaction may find that virtual contact may not be sufficient and that they cannot brainstorm or share ideas effectively.  This could impact the flow of ideas and creativity in a team, potentially affecting performance negatively. Find ways to engage and check in with each other. We have started Care Bear moments every second morning, led by rotating leaders, to allow our team to voice their concerns, share solutions and of course sprinkle some humour.

Virtually alone - the transition from being a team in the office to being a team in the virtual space requires a mind shift for teams.  Adapting to this new way of working will prove a challenge if teams are not open and adaptable to a change in approach. Set a working rhythm, set times to check in and have discussions.

Create the virtual coffee machine - virtual teams can become too serious and task focused. Allow for time in each meeting to check in, find out how people are doing so that you keep the glue in place that binds the team.

The tech side of things -  is the technology available to teams user-friendly?  Are team members well versed in using the full potential of technology not only to reach out to others but to use technology in a way that adds significant value for clients?

Protect your team

It is all about trust! - how much trust there is in a team is dependent on how much you are willing to trust. Presence in the office is different from maintaining an online presence.  It is important for teams to decide how this will be managed.  Establish norms and rhythms early on and help the team build trust.

Balancing the load - suddenly, remote workers need to convert spaces at home into office space.  The potential disruption of this process should be considered when managing the overall adaptation to a new way of working.  The boundary between work and home has been permanently disrupted and blurred.  Working from home, even though necessary, could be regarded as intrusive by some team members and may have an impact on work-life balance.

Constant and open communication - it is important that team members keep in touch with one another regularly and that leadership communicates any important changes promptly.  At no point should anyone be uncertain about team goals, individual responsibilities and where they can get support. Stay in the loop!  Counterintuitively people might be roped into too many virtual team meetings, also make space for natural socialising, otherwise things might feel flat and forced.

Changing habits - it is tough to exclusively work and manage remotely.  It is harder still to change, the habits of how teams communicate. If you truly want  to cultivate effective virtual teams, you need to be cognizant of how people can close the interpersonal gap that exists when they aren’t co-located. It takes time and practice, but by making an effort to build empathy with colleagues, create moments of connection, and cultivate team agility across a variety of situations, people can bridge this gap and improve team performance, no matter where in the world their co-workers are located.

Team leadership – team leaders should remain aware of the toll that the current situation can have on them personally.  Leading teams in itself can be demanding.  Leading virtual teams can pose different challenges to the skill sets of leaders. For leaders and the teams it is key to create empathy.


Teams are made up of people who need to be able to understand one another — and one another’s emotions — in order to effectively work together. Learning about one another is a great way to cultivate empathy. In fact, it can be as simple as sharing something about your current location, the view from your window, or a funny anecdote from the day before. Learning about others — their hopes, dreams, fears, and stories — activates the parts of your brain that are associated with empathy and can put you on your way to a better team dynamic.

What makes a performing team?

In their book The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High-Performance Organization, by Douglas Smith and Jon Katzenbach, the authors point to several fundamentals as a basis for performing teams.  In addition to the above we believe these are imperatives required for healthy teams able to perform above the norm.

Common purpose - created collaboratively to set the team’s aspirations and guide the work, provides an identity that reaches beyond the sum of the individuals involved.

Clear performance goals - Transforms broad directives into specific and measurable performance goals to provide clear and tangible footholds for teams.

Mutual accountability - Sincere promises to produce team results together, leading to team commitment and trust.

Complementary skills - The right mix of technical / functional expertise, problem solving and decision making skills, and interpersonal skills necessary to do the team’s job.

Shared leadership roles - Multiple team members proactively take the initiative to lead (seek opportunities/remove obstacles) towards the common purpose.  The leadership role shifts among the members as the situation warrants.


What can we take from this?  Teams need to be many things - tech savvy, adaptable, have a clear purpose, be able to share leadership and resilience in order to remain effective.  Team leadership may already be changing significantly due to the heavy reliance on technology for communication and work scheduling purposes, but there are also some truisms that seem to endure.  It is our job to weave both into a new way of working and managing teams.

COVID-19 has changed the landscape of teams and team leadership.  In our next article we will focus on the new business unusual leadership skills.

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Paul Kloppers

Paul Kloppers

Senior Associate, PwC South Africa

Tel: +27 (0) 41 3914561