This article was originally published by ZhongWai Management Magazine

The characteristics of a high-performance team are like-mindedness and interdependence.

All industries have been hit to varying degrees by the COVID-19 pandemic.  For many entrepreneurs, the capability of leadership is crucial to business continuity.

With the ongoing threats from the pandemic, what are the most profound challenges for corporate leaders and entrepreneurs? What should they do and how can they make the team more resilient? In this regard, Wu Gang, Managing Director of Performance Consulting International (PCI) China, gave his answers when he participated in the “Managing the 100 Great Lectures”.

  1. Two profound challenges facing corporate leaders now

In today ’s turbulent environment, leaders are facing the same challenges, which have nothing to do with their industry. Among them, the first challenge is: “What is the mentality to face the crisis and turmoil?”

Facing an pandemic and other crisis, should leaders’ accept fear, be suspicious, or just trust themselves and their team? Should they bear it alone or choose to depend on each other in the company? These two different mindsets and choices will determine two different outcomes.  When leaders are afraid, the way ahead will be more difficult. Whereas the mentality of trust will enable leaders to see more opportunities and potential in the team.  Bearing everything alone, the pressure is huge, but when the leadership teams work interdependently, more possibilities will be uncovered.

The second deepest challenge for leaders is to figure out: “Why do we exist?” Most companies or organizations know what they are doing, such as the products they produce or the services they provide, while some companies or organizations do not know what they do or what they are doing in times of deepening crisis.  In this context, it is necessary for leaders to figure out “why they exist”.

A company’s mission, products, services, and business models are all clear, hence these things are changeable, and they only need to figure out the “why we exist” question.  Once this is clear, the mission and purpose of the entire enterprise also become very clear, and they will know what to do and how to do in the face of crisis.

So, knowing the two major challenges under the current crisis, what should corporate leaders do to continuously improve the enthusiasm and resilience of their organizations?

2. ‘Four steps’ to deal with the turmoil of the current crisis
The first step is to actively manage your mentality. An entrepreneur or leader working at this level is likely to be lonely because there are not many friends who can communicate and share their secrets. Coupled with short-term results and long-term performance pressure, all these lead to physical and mental exhaustion. Working long-term in high-pressure environments without relief will have a very adverse effect on health. Therefore, it is recommended to find an executive coach to help leaders face various pressures and jointly solve the challenges facing the current enterprise.

Working long-term in high-pressure environments without relief will have a very adverse effect on health

The second step is to solve the problem of enterprise survival. Here we need to ask ourselves “How do we sustain for the next 6 to 12 months in the current environment?” Once this is figured out, we will know what the bottom line of the company is, which is what they could bear. Knowing the company can persist for a long enough time, leaders will naturally become calmer and more stable.

The third step is to acknowledge the challenges facing the enterprise to the entire organization and leadership team, and invite the team to jointly explore future solutions. For example: “Under the current situation, it is necessary to carefully evaluate various risk situations and formulate counter measures to prepare us for a worse situation. At this point, I hope to hear more people’s thoughts and suggestions. “At this time, we need to exert the power of the team.

The fourth step, starting from the top, hold a conference on “Exploring the Road to the Future”. Use the “what if …” approach to creatively explore ways to deal with the future.

The first two prerequisites are you must manage your mentality and solve the survival problems of the enterprise before you have the opportunity to think about more things.

3. Four steps to explore the way forward

So, specifically, how to explore the road to the future?  There are also four steps here:

First, set company goals. Get everyone to think about how the company responds to the pandemic and how to respond to various business changes and challenges after the “resumption of business”, so as to set the target well.

Second, create an agreement for team work. Invite everyone to think about previous successful experience in similar situations, and write their ideas on the whiteboard or any visible places to ensure that the team stays aware. Sample agreements may include: courage, non-judgement, security, trust, etc. We must give everyone the mentality of mutual empowerment to do this.

Again, use brainstorming to produce ideas. Once the idea generation phase is completed, as a team, you need to discuss and review these ideas as a whole, decide which ideas can adopted, or if they should continue to explore more. The company is not a leader in a single word, as an executive team or a core team, they need to explore the future path together.

Through brainstorming, fully capture team ideas and lead everyone to discuss

Finally, develop an action plan. Be clear on details such as the task owner, target completion time, and how the team or the leader himself (CEO) understands the key progress and status.

4.  On the verge of using the crisis to create a high-performance team

When we know the two major challenges faced by current entrepreneurs, and how to improve the enthusiasm and resilience of the organization, it is then very important to build a high-performance team amid the crisis.

In fact, there are two elements that drive high performance. One is that the team or organization has a mission and dream. The individual’s mission and values are connected to the team or organization. The other is that the leader can establish a team to monitor the current performance.

Many leaders are conscious, but it is difficult to start something from themselves. It is also impossible to expect the team to work hard independently. Everyone should be made aware that work is a life skill.

The characteristics of a truly high-performance team are having the same goals, like mindedness and interdependence. “Interdependence” is the complimentary team members’ skills and responsibilities.The first step in creating a high-performance team is to create a team work agreement. The work agreement refers to the rules that the team members should follow when working together before starting work. Only by communicating well in advance can we ensure the maximum efficiency of teamwork. Problems can also be solved quickly.

There are five steps to creating a team work agreement:
i) Leader questions. For example: “In the future, how should we work together?” “What are the events that will affect our work rhythm? What are the mentalities that we should adopt in facing the challenges?” Etc.

ii) Through brainstorming, fully capture team ideas and lead everyone to discuss. “Which of these are applicable only to individuals? Which are applicable to the entire team?” “Which are necessary but not yet involved?” Here we want to allow everyone to express their opinions.

iii) Leaders supplement their requirements. “This are some of my ideas. Let’s take a look. Where do we need clarifications and where do we need revisions?”; “This agreement is an agreement that we all abide by, so please be sure to put forward the ideas in your heart”.  This is where the leader needs to invite everyone to put forward their own requirements with the mentality to explore more together.

iv) The teams’ discussion forms the final text, which is then officially released. “How do we fully implement this agreement? If these agreements are damaged, how should we respond and deal with them?” After the agreement is determined, how to implement it is very important.

v) Review regularly. “Where do we do well in our agreement? Which ones can be better?”; “How have we done to ensure that the agreement is followed by everyone?”. The agreement will change, because people and situations will change, therefore it should be reviewed regularly and adjusted on-time quickly.

In short, the leader first needs to ask questions, and then the leader guides everyone to express their ideas, allowing everyone to fully participate in the discussion, then the leader puts forward his own requirements by asking for opinions, and finally the team forms a final agreement and which will be officially released and implemented.  After being publicly released, it must be reviewed regularly so that there can be continuous revisions and improvements.

It should be noted that a working agreement can only make a difference  when it is established through full participation of the entire team, and with the mechanism of independent decision-making, as opposed to the kind of agreement made from top to bottom. As a leader, you may have questions: “What if my requirements are different from those of the team?” Here, the leader is required to adjust his mindset. That is to choose to trust his team and just be like-minded, it is only then that everyone can rely on each other.

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