Building stronger teams

Published on Tuesday, 30 June 2020
Last updated on Wednesday, 21 October 2020

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A torrent of fast-moving changes and workplace upheavals caused by the Coronavirus pandemic has put many early childhood employees under tremendous stress, both personally and professionally. To ensure your team is resilient and in the best possible position post COVID-19 it may be helpful to revisit and revitalize your patterns of team engagement.

Many early childhood staff went above and beyond to offer exemplary support to families during the COVID-19 enforced lockdown, while still managing families and commitments in their own lives. Their situation was complicated by unclear messaging around the legislative requirements for early childhood services, financial concerns, and the practical difficulties of maintaining social distancing when dealing with small children.

Make no mistake, it’s been a stressful time for many in the early childhood sector and it’s natural and normal for staff to be feeling anxious, confused and unfocused. Clear, consistent and calm leadership can make a huge difference in times of difficulty and can work to promote the overall effectiveness and wellbeing of teams. This article considers strategies for rebuilding and consolidating your team.

Despite the current crisis some of the most essential characteristics of an effective team remain as:

  • A shared vision and philosophy with clear, achievable goals
  • Clear policies and procedures
  • Open lines of communication
  • Climate of support, active participation and trust – respect for diverse viewpoints and backgrounds
  • Strong leadership

Here are some simple strategies to strengthen commitment, clarity and belonging in your team.

Double down on empathy

Kindness and empathy in leadership is more important now than ever, due to the complex variety of stressors being managed by people as a result of COVID-19, and its fall out. 

Leaders and individual team members can promote kindness and understanding and there have been plenty of wonderful community initiatives shining through that reveal hope, support and the strength of the human spirit in us all.

Creative ideas like the ‘bear hunt’ have captured the hearts, and imagination of young children around the world. Many early childhood centres embraced this campaign with teddies peeking from windows and doorways. Care has also been demonstrated by the great number of amazing early childhood services that went above and beyond to build bridges with their communities through a range of generous and imaginative initiatives.

Set the tone in your service by promoting a culture that is fully present, authentic and nurtures hope. Look at ways to celebrate the valuable work your team does in their community and highlight positive feedback and the worldwide coverage showing how early childcare and schools have been recognised for their generous and tireless efforts. Honing empathy skills through listening, perspective-taking, and compassion leads to better outcomes for teams and can improve resilience and wellbeing.

Ensure and promote a safe workplace

Health and safety are important for those who are required to be at work and all early childhood centres have a legal duty to ensure so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of their staff. This includes high standards of hygiene and infection control with the use of daily cleaning using hospital grade products.

Additional measures could also include:

  • Limit drop-off and pick-ups to one parent only and ensure this is done in less than 15 minutes
  • Ban all non-essential visitors
  • Touch point cleaning at least every two hours, increased to every 30 minutes during peak times
  • Temperature checks on parents as they come in and staff to undertake general wellness checks for all children.
  • Self-isolation for staff and children displaying cold-like symptoms.

Open and honest communication

Ensuring open, consistent and honest communication is the most powerful strategy in addressing any workplace uncertainty.  Transparency from management is important and regular open discussions with your team will help to build trust and reduce anxiety and fear.

In times of crisis, all employees need to be informed, reassured and listened to. Check in with people to ensure they have what they need to do their job, provide opportunities for staff to ask questions about working arrangements, employment and mitigation strategies, and for staff to share information about their concerns. Support personal situations and mental health individually through private meetings where possible.

Workshop issues as a team and empower each other to draw on collaborative potential to create a safer, less stressful and calm environment for your community.

Promote social connection and belonging

People who feel as though they belong and perform better, are more willing to challenge themselves, and are more resilient. With the health concerns and disruptions caused by COVID-19, now more than ever, is a time for connection.

Fostering social bonds is a technique for building connection that can still be applied in this new environment, it just needs to be more creatively applied. Try and connect over things that aren’t just work related, messaging groups can be a fun way of sharing funny videos and uplifting stories and photos. 

Manage stress with proven strategies

Don’t forget that stress is contagious and it’s important to stay on top of your stress levels using evidence-based strategies. Consider signing your team up to a webinar on resilience or stress management or run a morning mindfulness practice for all staff.

Encourage your team members to try the steps below to maintain their physical and mental wellbeing.

  • Get enough sleep
  • Stay active and make time for exercise, even walking has benefits
  • Make healthy food choices
  • Take a break; while it’s important to stay informed you could be overwhelmed by the amount of information available in the media and on social platforms. Try journaling, puzzles or embrace a new hobby
  • Stay connected; reach out to family members, friends and colleagues regularly via phone, text, FaceTime or other virtual platforms – you could even take up the old tradition of letter writing! Check in on those that are alone
  • Laugh and maintain optimism; many of us tend to hold stress in our face. Since our emotions and facial expressions are interconnected, laughing or smiling can relieve tension.

References and additional resources

Learning and teaching practicalities: COVID- 19

Blackdog Institute Coronavirus resources for anxiety, stress and wellbeing

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