In client, company, coaching, volunteer, and personal conversations, I hear a theme of emergence. How to emerge from full pandemic lock down. How to emerge into a new work model. How to emerge into a new career. How to emerge with a new business offering. How to emerge to affect meaningful change. How to emerge in more personal ways. How to emerge in a way that honors the pandemic experience.
As I think of emergence – becoming exposed after being concealed – it is both a physical and emotional act. In many ways, the physical is easy. How are you showing up and what actions make you feel safe? Where I hear and feel the struggle in conversations is on the emotional side. The exhaustion to emerge. The fear that lingers about emerging. The loss at a multitude of levels (death, long COVID, milestones, connections, health, goals, jobs, income, time). The sadness. The disconnect. The loneliness. The anxiety. The wariness.
People (myself included) are not good at talking about emotions and sharing troublesome feelings. The vulnerability required is not often provided in the room. It takes effort to make a sacred space for emotions to emerge. Sacred space requires someone to set that intention with time, with mindfulness, with sincerity, with openness, with trust, with active listening, with creativity, with honesty, and with hope. But most off, it requires space for meaningful conversations.
While all this may sound way more touchy feely than you or your organization are comfortable with, don’t fear – there are lots of ways to provide this kind of space. I recently designed and led two kinds of strategy sessions that might offer you a few ways to help your team or organization emerge with an eye on both the physical operations and logistics and the emotional underpinnings.
- Pondering – For a religious nonprofit, I led several two-hour “pondering the pandemic” sessions online with Mural with various groups. While several elements of the session will help with strategic planning down the road, there were no expectations of leaving the session with a “plan.” The sessions centered on reflection. I opened with a “Loving Kindness Meditation to help folks move into a people-centered pondering state. Next, I led discussions that centered on the physical, such “Who did we lose / gain?” “Where did the organization show up well during the pandemic?,” “What programs thrived, died, or sprouted?” To close the session I led the participants through some open questions such as “What has given you strength?,” “What was lost?,” “What are you mourning?,” “What would reset and renewal look like?” and “What do you need to leave behind to move forward?” Working through program-centered activities warmed folks up before the probing emotional-centered discussions. The final questions revealed the fragility of the people and that the organization needs to be vigilant on the nurturing the people and not just “flip a switch” with the return of old programing—and that new types of programs will be needed.
- Planning – For another organization, I designed and led a five-hour in-person “regroup workshop.” I opened with a mindful moment with deep breathing, silence, and a mood check using images of animals. The following sessions moved from fun (personal, work, and team superpowers), operations (who does what when), analysis (good, bad, opportunities), and strategy (what is needed to succeed), and tactics (actions for improvement). We closed sitting around the table talking about being together in person as a team for the first time, the exhaustion, and how folks cope with the transition to hybrid from a lens of introverts and extroverts. Again, the final session uncovered the emotions that can hinder or help the pace at which the organization can emerge.
For teams and organizations to emerge, it’s essential for leaders to focus on people in a new way. Both directly with constant time spent building relationships, collectively sharing, modeling, and making space to ponder together, as well as systemically with benefits, resources, and culture.
Here are a few things I do to try to provide space for emotional emergence:
- Set one-on-one “Connect Calls” – In the invite mention, “just setting aside time to connect as humans” with a focus on non-work topics
- Set four-person “Coffee Chats” or “Cookies and Conversation” meetings on-line or in person where the conversation focuses on folks stories such as “How did you get to your current position?,” “What excites you outside of the office?,” “What are your superpowers?,” or “What are you read/watching/listening to?”
- Open team meetings with either a mindful moment or open question.
- Watch how you answer the pervasive question, “How are you?” Fine isn’t a real emotion. To get off autopilot, pause, thank the person for asking, take a deep breath, see what your body tells you, and genuinely answer.
- Be present in the moment, if someone reveals something emotionally centered or personally vulnerable in a meeting don’t gloss over it, pause, hear it, and thank person for sharing – then ask how others “feel about it.”
- Offer a catch phrase folks can use to say they are overwhelmed and need space — but be sure to have a standard on when you can check-in or how they need to emerge; I’ve used “my basement is flooded” but then someone’s basement really flooded!
- Set a private standing meeting with a peer who can support you, give you space to process.
Emergence isn’t easy, so don’t forget to appreciate your hard work to help others while you sort through your own.