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Covid-19 Special Series Ep 2: Rehumanising Teams

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Covid-19 Special Series Ep 2: Rehumanising Teams – Amplifying Connection and Communication with Sue McDonnell, Paul Lawrence and Dan Newby

Covid-19 struck like a thunderbolt and has thrown the world upside down. Many are still reeling as we grapple to right side for a new order. All of us have been forced to wake to a new reality, to pause and immediately assume a virtual reality for most of the population. Teams have been beset too. Episode Two is an invitation to look at how we allow for emotional expression and how we use emotions intentionally in our conversations. The worldwide experiment in distributed work has put into question many of our old rituals and practices as work. How can we use the pause to reassess?

Show Notes

Podcast episode summary: To answer these and several more questions I interviewed Sue McDonnell, Paul Lawrence and Dan Newby for their perspectives. This conversation proved to be a very rich and varied conversation covering emotions, behaviours, perspectives, the opportunities to rethink and reimagine the future as well as the very real and positive opportunity for sustained interest in Climate Change, values based Leadership and the practice of reflection. The general consensus over the course of this conversation was the need to practice emotional agility, to allow space to think and connect and to give agency to every person’s version of empowerment.


Points made through the episode:

  • The mood is variable on teams. Some are thriving others are languishing in anxiety and uncertainty
  • The structure afforded in the physical domains of work is absent and contributing to anxiety and overwhelm
  • We live in various stories about this crisis. It has been described as apocalyptic and like a roller coaster, a tsunami of emotions. The question we can ask is how we want our stories to influence our actions? If you change the narrative, you can intentionally shift your emotion.
  • What will support you right now?
  • As a leader you can check-in with yourself and observe your somatic reactions. We are great at prepping for task related conversations and less good at the emotional conversation. As a leader ask how do you want to impact your team? How do we wish to leave the team feeling? And during the meeting check-in to see what is happening?
  • Huge tendency right now to max zoom meetings. Need to recognise that over stimulus is exhausting. Important to vary and shift orientation of meetings between Zoom, chat, email phone and use them purposefully for emotional conversation as well as task conversation.
  • Teams need space-create the space for teams to think together and work out or figure out how best to progress.
  • Irreverence as an emotion allows us to laugh. There is a difference between employing irreverence productively and mocking or denigrating others.
  • In the physical world of work, we moved around. In our homes we need to manage our boundaries and our energy. Energy can be accessed by having conversations for laughs. In Australia there is a practice called “Hanging shit on each other” a humorous and light way to connect with team members.
  • Remember as leaders that looking after your mental state is not an act in selfishness. Our moods are contagious so be careful with yours.
  • Ask what is giving you energy and what is draining you of energy?
  • For Leaders the pressure of believing you have to have the answers is being thrown into question In a distributed workplace. Those who hold on to that Leadership standard will find themselves exhausted and will frustrate the work of teams in this space.
  • Silos for example have collapsed. Our environment has changed such that silos cannot exist. Its usefulness is in allowing for Trust, Transparency and Empowerment to grow.
  • Some assumptions about Leadership have been disabused in this environment. The idea that any one leader can know in this environment is absurd. Instead allow for vulnerability and openness.
  • Encourage different perspectives and allow people to author their own version of what empowerment means.
  • Leaders need to be less directive and more enquiring. Curiosity as an emotion is undervalued or used in team dialogue. Two roles Leaders and team members can adopt. One of detective and scientist. The first allows for self -discovery and the second allows freedom to experiment and get things wrong.
  • Strong correlation between Psychological safety and innovation and performance. See real room for kindness, forgiveness, vulnerability and acceptance to pervade teams.
  • We often only get as far as naming emotions, but we miss a next step. The next step is to ask if the emotion is in fact of service. Humility for example is probably needed right now and it then allows a person to ask for help.
  • People are using the space and time to think to be creative. One leader has introduced videos, mindfulness, somatic practices and dancing as invited parts of his team meetings.
  • The space has been a great leveller and an opportunity to reflect.
  • The panel ended the conversation by hoping that this time for reflection and self -reflection will stay, that the introduction of distributed work practices may stay and  new rituals will be harnessed and that the permission to employ more heart thinking into conversations will also progress.


Resources: the following include the resources I alluded to in this episode.

  • Sue McDonnell:
  • Dan Newby: and The field guide to emotions: A practical orientation to 150 emotions by Curtis Watkins and Dan Newby
  • Paul Lawrence: The Tao of Dialogue: Lawrence, P. Hill, S. Priestland, A. Forrestal, C. Rommerts, F. Hyslop,L. & Manning,M. (2019), The Tao of Dialogue, Routeledge. UK

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