If we love and support our team, I know we can build a company and product that positively impacts millions of students all over the world.”
To the cynics in the room, I say, stop a while and think about this before you raise that eyebrow. In my experience, it really is the little things that can potentially have a big impact on team outcomes.
‘Soft management’ techniques, abandoned in favour of tough, tenacious management styles of the 1990s and the 2000s have made a comeback in post-pandemic management styles, ranking employee wellbeing and team culture above business needs (Peace, 1991; Reina et al., 2022). In their post-pandemic report on the future of work, McKinsey Global (Lund et al., 2021) predict a 25% rise in occupation transitions by 2030 due to digital disruption, but also due to employee job satisfaction. People Management predict that by the end of 2023, one in seven UK workers will “job-hop” in search of better conditions, listing empathy and adaptability, support for wellbeing and women’s health as essential behaviours expected from leaders (Birindelli-Fayne, 2023; Cholteva, 2023).
When reflecting on the criterion for the submission for the Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence (CATE), I considered the early formation of my team and I found that its every success was achieved, not through hard top-down directives, but through an ethos of mutual support, kindness and care towards each other.
At the height of the pandemic which occurred at the early stage of our team’s formation, it might have been so easy for things to fall apart, for self-isolation and self-absorption to permeate and disrupt. Instead, a shared vision and a strong sense of purpose spurred the team to adapt, learn and grow. Recognising and responding to students’ desperation at having to learn in isolation, our team strove to build new ways to interact and support students. At the same time, we learned from each other, developing our own skills through experimentation and play. Daily meetings became a highlight for everyone to meet up and share news snippets, to laugh at silly jokes and share sad moments together.
This became the glue that bound the team, instilling a sense of team culture that helped us to spread the workload and tackle tasks through a multidisciplinary approach. When institutional needs made new demands on the team, we rose to the challenge, working across the university, collaborating, learning, teaching and adapting to bridge gaps and deliver an exceptional service for students. In the years that followed we won awards for outstanding services to students and the institution, and we established ourselves as a mature and highly productive team.
Interestingly, if we hadn’t been nominated for the CATE award, these little but vital stages in the formation of the team would have passed by unrecognised and unmarked. It is only through having to reflect on our early years that we’ve become aware of the little things that grew to mean so much to us as a team, and that drove us to realise our great achievements.
When reflecting on the early days, team member Mike Alsford, Academic Skills Tutor, shared his thoughts: “Our emotional needs are very much a part of our work experience. People only invest in a relationship if they feel safe, valued and useful. In the same way, a team only becomes a team, rather than a group of individuals. Genuine commitment arises from the emotional connections between people, things, institutions and places. Without emotional connection students don’t connect with their studies and staff don’t connect with their work, they are fragmented.”
A similar theme is echoed by Pilato (2018) who advocates that the ethic of care and kindness creates relationships which ultimately result in students (and staff) feeling valued and in turn, value their learning experiences.
Winning the prestigious CATE award is an incredible experience for the team and we’re proud of this acknowledgement of our hard work. But really, for myself and my team, the real value of this process has been in recognising and celebrating our origins and the team values that have brought us to where we are today.
It’s so easy to overlook the soft side to work; the friendships, the fun aspects and shared moments – and often these are dismissed as unimportant at the risk of sounding unprofessional, touchy-feely, cheesy. But my invitation to CATE applicants of the future is to consider: “What small but cumulative events and celebrations have your teams experienced that make them the outstanding teams they are today? I’ve no doubt that there will be many.
Sharon Perera is the Head of Academic and Digital Skills at the University of Greenwich, supporting the university’s diverse and multinational students, promoting their access to and success in higher education. Working in collaboration across the sector, Sharon provides avenues to amplify the student voice in areas related to student success, academic integrity and digital capabilities.
Birindelli-Fayne, R. (2023, May 17). What employees want from the workplace in 2023. People Management. https://www.peoplemanagement.co.uk/article/1823104/employees-want-workplace-2023
Cholteva, Y. (2023, May 16). One in seven UK workers set to job hop in the next six months, research shows. People Management. https://www.peoplemanagement.co.uk/article/1822941/one-seven-uk-workers-set-job-hop-next-six-months-research-shows
Lund, S., Madgavkar, A., Manyika, J., Smit, S., Ellingrud, K., Meaney, M., & Robinson, O. (2021). The future of work after COVID 19. www.mckinsey.com/mgi
Peace, W. H. (1991). The Hard Work of Being a Soft Manager. Harvard Business Review, 40.
Pilato, N. (2018). Pedagogy of Care: Embodied Relationships of Teaching and Mentorship. International Journal of Education & the Arts, 19(1.9).
Reina, D. S., Hancocks, M., Adachi, Y., Kostoulas, J., O’Donohue, R., Vogel, G., & Mok, L. (2022, February 1). Predicts 2022: 3 Must-Do’s for CIO Leadership Responsibilities. Gartner.