In our last blog we discussed the challenges of establishing a new team in a new workplace. Leaders are increasingly aware that there will be real tensions balancing the needs of the individual with the needs of the team and ultimately the business. Already we are hearing of difficult conversations happening in some large organisations where there is emerging conflict over what is reasonable to expect from staff – can leaders mandate the terms of the return to a post-Covid workplace?

There will be limits to the freedoms that leaders can support and these will vary from team to team. The solution will be a tricky balance between empathy for the individual and the collective requirements of the team. This will take sensitive leadership to get outcomes that work for all parties. Leaders still need to deliver team performance and team members have to recognise they have a contract with the organisation to play their part in that delivery.

So, performance management still matters, and we know that many performance issues were not dealt with during lockdown. As individuals come back to the office, in-team and cross-team conflicts that have remained buried in lockdown may emerge, as will some under-performance that has been overlooked on Teams and Zoom. And although leaders have made strong attempts to engage and communicate with their team, it is likely that difficult personal circumstances, hidden by the individual, may emerge affecting how some team members can contribute to the team. Leaders will need to be ready to listen and to hold some difficult conversations where necessary.

In 15 months of lockdown, the business and organisational context for most teams will have changed. The market will have moved on, competitors may have changed and new opportunities to develop services and to innovate with new services may now be possible. How can the team focus on its learning from working in the virtual world and how can the team be encouraged to collaborate constructively with other teams now that this is easier to achieve? This might mean changes of role within the team and possibly new ways of working. Targets set in lockdown may now be irrelevant when now focusing efforts on change. Leaders will need to agree the performance that they now want from the team and avoid using historical measures that are no longer a priority.

We know that measures drive behaviours, so this is a moment where leaders can consider the learning from the experience of lockdown. How can new performance measures create change across the team, e.g. an end to presenteeism? Who are the team members that will need to be encouraged to engage with their colleagues? And what are the outcome measures that will act as a motivator to tackle long standing team issues?

Nobody knows quite what the workplace is going to be like over the next months and years and so setting an expectation of change and experimentation is important. Leaders need to explain the need to prototype and explore new ways of working. At the same time, leaders will – as always – need to have collaborative conversations, listening and learning from their colleagues and team members to understand the best approach to managing performance.  Ultimately, the best way to encourage new behaviours, address outstanding performance issues and, most importantly, to exploit the opportunities of the new unlocked workplace, will emerge over time as a result of collaborative conversations held by leaders who are prepared to listen, respond and change.