Cultivating a Present Culture in a Virtual World

Being “present” in life and at work is a challenge in ordinary times. When you add in the complexity of living and doing business in a virtual world, it’s easy to feel off-course, detached, and eventually isolated. Dr. Timothy Dukes and Michael Landers have combined their years of experience working with leaders who struggle with cultural divides – both physical and emotional – to support conscious leaders in their effort to better connect with their teams. Their work helps conscious business leaders create Conscious Cultures that lead to High Performance teams and organizations.Their book – Present Company: Cultivating Cultures of High Performance in Teams and Organizations – works like a roadmap to help leaders cultivate cultures of High Performance by illuminating the Four Powers of Presence: Induction, Awareness, Authenticity, and Connection. Specifically, they highlight where each power comes from, how to access it, and how it can have an impact on the individual, creating High Performance teams and organizations.

High Performing teams are characterized by the following characteristics:

  • They listen to each other with a degree of curiosity, letting go of knowing and opening up to inquiry.
  • They share and build upon a common language.>
  • They share how they’re feeling, they are able to be vulnerable with each other.
  • They recognize the different voices in the room – especially the quiet voices.
  • They have high levels of continuous engagement.

Timothy and Michael make a strong case that presence is a fundamental element across all High Performance teams. Interestingly, presence is not just about how you experience the world around you; it’s relationally-based, which means it’s about how other people experience you. They describe it in terms of our connection with the world around us, “It emerges out of the context of the connection with the other. Whether it’s your family, your teammates, the natural world…you have an impact on the life forms around you. In order to register that, to be empathically attuned to it; it requires a degree of presence.” Presence cannot take place in isolation, a lesson that applies to leaders as much as their teams. Many leaders may have learned this lesson when the Covid-19 pandemic struck and forced us – many unprepared – into virtual teams, learning to work and connect with one another from home while taking care of our families, and/or working in the basement, the garage, or any space big enough to fit a laptop. When we moved into these virtual spaces, we experienced more than a drastic change of scenery; we inherited some additional barriers that can make the relational element of presence even more challenging.Timothy and Michael highlight some of these barriers, for example, how people are missing the “incidental intimacy” that happens when you are in the same physical space with your team, or how relational cues are much more subtle (if perceptible at all) over Zoom.With these relational experiences diminished, it’s easy for individuals to feel isolated. We fall back into our own thoughts, we forget that we are talking to real people, and overall, we miss out on those fundamental connections with others that make presence and High Performance possible. Thankfully, there are ways to increase the relational experience for teams in both traditional and remote workspaces. Timothy and Michael share a few key insights to help conscious business leaders build more connected, more present, and more High Performance teams – wherever your team makes their office.

Invite vulnerability through induction.

An induction is “an invitation to step out of wherever you are to the next opportunity to do something together.” This invitation is critical to creating a safe and welcoming transition to the work your team will do together. When you begin a meeting with your team, you can support their transition from the space they were in before the call (e.g. teaching math to their 9 year old) to the current meeting by simply drawing an awareness to the transition. Timothy and Michael recommend paying attention to the space you share together (virtual or physical). You can do this by creating time for each member of the team to disclose where they are coming from. Invite them to share their real-time thoughts, experiences, and feelings. “Inductions can be brief and efficient and provide a conscious means for everyone to disclose where they stand psychologically, emotionally, and physically.”

Hold the space for presence.

Presence can’t be trained; we can only create space and allow for it to happen. Giving people space to connect with each other without doing “work things” allows them to thread stronger and creates cohesiveness. It may take some experimentation to find the right fit, but leaders can try building this space into their existing team calls or creating a new meeting to give your team space for presence together.

Give the team your full awareness.

One of the upsides of the virtual work experience is that we get to see ourselves at work way more than we used to, making it a lot easier to self-reflect. When we are in meetings – we can see the face we present to our team. Keep your video on during team calls and pay attention to how you present on camera. Give your full attention to the call; for example, do not look at other screens when you are on a call with your team. This is a hard habit to break for some people, so think of what this behavior might look like in a shared physical space. Would you open up a magazine in the middle of a meeting and start browsing through the pages? If not, then focus on giving your team your undivided attention in every meeting. Remember, the other tasks can wait. In this moment, your task is to stay present with your team.

Timothy and Michael leave us with a reminder that is especially critical as we continue to manage our way through an unpredictable, virtual world: High Performance requires constant work. Some days leaders and their teams will be more present than others. Cultivating Conscious Cultures of High Performance requires an understanding that there is always work to be done, and a willingness to do the work that needs to be done every day. Give yourself and everyone on your team the space they need to connect with themselves and with each other from whatever psychological, emotional or physical space they are in.

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In Present Company, Timothy Dukes and Michael Landers reveal how the art of presence can enhance your creativity, productivity, and engagement—ensuring that you enter any situation with confidence and a newfound awareness. As a transformative resource, the authors introduce The Four Powers of Presence—Induction, Awareness, Authenticity, and Connection—the key to cultivating cultures of high performance in teams and organizations.

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