Keeping Your Team Connected and Motivated

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Find some recommendations below from SESYNC's Dr. Nicole Motzer for how to keep your team connected and motivated when collaborating virtually:

    • Remember your “why.” – Sitting at a desk and being glued to a computer screen (as is the case with most synthesis research) can feel unproductive or out of touch, especially when surrounded by political, economic, environmental, and social turmoil. Remembering your core motivation—your “why” for conducting the team-based research you do—is a powerful tool for reminding you and your collaborators that you are in fact making a difference that is meaningful to you, or that the project is something worth dedicating your over-scheduled time and energy to. If your project has veered off course from your “why” or others’, it’s time to re-route.  

    • Set goals for each meeting. – The importance of assigning clear, achievable goals to every virtual meeting, and ideally every session or section of a virtual gathering, cannot be overstated. There needs to be a shared purpose that focuses conversation, makes efficient use of work time, and elevates synthesis opportunities, just as there would need to be for in-person work. Use the co-creation of shared meeting goals as an opportunity to generate buy-in from your team and ensure all voices are being heard.  

    • Have concrete deliverables and requests, but calibrate your asks appropriately. – Being as specific as possible can be beneficial in an era that can feel nebulous and when many of us have been stripped of our organizing routines. Agreeing on concrete deliverables for everyone is essential to keep engagement high and accountability in check. That said, design your asks with kindness and compassion, and only after open communication. We are all living through unprecedented times but are not all affected by the current crises equally.

    • Set distinct milestones. – Demarcated project and personal milestones, however small, can serve as helpful indicators that the team is making progress. Milestones can be especially important in the early stages of a project when individual buy-in might be less and when group momentum is challenged by a lack of tangible results. 

    • Allocate enough time. – Give your team enough time to do the virtual work. When collaborating from home, you don’t leave behind distractions or commitments as much as you would when traveling to SESYNC. Being online for long stretches is exhausting but carving out too little time won’t do you any favors either. Two to three hours is a sweet spot of getting into the project groove, freeing the mind of residual distractions, and achieving meaningful interaction and progress while still remaining flexible enough to accommodate differing personal responsibilities, living circumstances, and time zones. 

    • Don’t leave the team out of “team science.” – Don’t forget the importance of maintaining a balance of both scientific content AND social connection. It can be tempting to jump straight to business, but we don’t have to cut out interpersonal connections just because we aren’t physically in the same space. If we do, the social bonds of trust and a unified team culture will take a hit and so will the science. Consider making time for a virtual happy hour at the end of the day where you can catch up as human beings or sharing breakfast together before any “shop talk” enters the scene.

    • Use activities to connect and insert levity. – Think about how you can adapt your favorite icebreakers to an online environment and do so again and again in a meeting. Making time for several fun or “non-science” activities throughout the day can be great for alleviating any tension that has built up or just giving your brain a break. The best ones tend to be those that insert a bit of humor, mix digital media with analog, and/or foster a sense of community and belonging. For example: 
          • Have team members use the annotation tool in Zoom to draw their response to a prompt. (e.g., “Draw the food you miss eating most while stuck in quarantine.”) I saw this go over really well with an international group of graduate students who are spread across three different countries.

          • Adopt Priya Parker’s suggestion (author of The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters) to bring a personalized offering to your meeting. This can be whatever your like, from a comic that made you laugh, to a personal memory, to a song, or a recipe in heavy rotation. Doing so helps build community and connect us during what can be a very isolating time. More than that, this act of offering is an opportunity to tell your team members more about you and what you value, and can illuminate how you might weave together your individual priorities and needs to collectively achieve synthesis in your research.

These tips originally appeared here.

Other Tips:

  • Co-develop or revisit a team participation agreement. – Such agreements should include language that will:
      • Clarify expectations and roles such as contributions, interactions, time commitments, and tasks.
      • Establish a plan for decision-making, such as what research direction to go in, to resolve issues when team members are absent from meetings.
      • Agree on how to award authorship on team products, including author order and inclusion.
      • Create a communication plan, including frequency of check-ins and communication platforms.

  • Build team redundancy. – Have more than one person able to accomplish critical research tasks. This will decrease burnout, account for life events, and increase progress toward your goals. Each team member will feel they have contributed to the products.

  • Break large goals/tasks into more manageable bites. – Small accomplishments keep momentum going between virtual meetings.