Photograph of Ujima Donalson

A Message from Ujima Donalson
Assistant Vice President, Total Talent Management

We are in the midst of dual pandemics, both of which are transforming the nature of our society. COVID-19 has upended how we work, commute, cook, dine, socialize, celebrate, shop and vacation, while isolating us from family and friends and creating economic insecurity. Many have been ill themselves, had illness in their households, family, or social circles, or have lost loved ones. Racism — brought to the forefront by racial violence — has challenged many of us to (re)examine our history, personal responsibility, societal structures, organizational policies, workplace dynamics, justice system, and government and has sparked a new civil rights movement around Black Lives Matter and antiracism.

Through all of this, the amount of angst, uncertainty and distress that people are experiencing cannot be overstated. The pace of change is rapid and the future continues to unfold in unanticipated ways. As leaders, we may feel as if we’re blindly steering a ship through a storm in uncharted waters. Meanwhile, our crew is looking to us for answers. I believe what many people need more than anything right now is a safe harbor. So, my answer is to be gentle and kind, with yourself and with others, and in the words of Dory from Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming.”

Have grace with your employees and yourself. Of course, members of your team should still be expected to accomplish tasks and meet deadlines (or to renegotiate tasks and deadlines as needed), but when that doesn’t happen, remind yourself of the myriad challenges they could be facing. For example, many might find problems or challenges in their personal situations —such as experiencing anxiety or depression, juggling multiple priorities, or dealing with food or housing insecurity — gravely exacerbated by current conditions.

Check in with employees who appear to be struggling, but do so gently. Also, give yourself a break if you find your own work is slipping through the cracks or falling behind: What expectations can you renegotiate for yourself?

Sow patience. We are now almost six months into the new now, and it’s easy to feel frustrated when things aren’t operating as smoothly or efficiently as they used to. We must keep in mind, however, that when the quarantine began, the assumption was that we’d be working remotely for a limited time; therefore, many stop-gap measures and piecemeal processes were put in place to simply get us through until we could return to business as usual.

This summer, a new reality has sunk in. We may be in this largely virtual environment for many months to come and some of the ways we work may be forever changed. Many operational functions and processes are being revisited to improve efficiencies for the long haul. You can model steadfast patience as you and your team work to adjust, yet again, to the new normal.

Foster teaming. According to Bruce Tuckman’s well-known model, teams typically go through these stages of development: forming, storming, norming and performing. Most of us are working with teams that are not new; however, teams are working under a new reality and are likely accomplishing work in much different ways and with different processes than before. Meanwhile, how team members interact with each other on a daily basis has also changed.

For these reasons, I encourage you to treat your team as new (or newish). This website offers a quick primer on the stages of team development. You can probably identify the “forming” honeymoon stage that occurred when we shifted to working remotely and people were excited about a number of new possibilities and opportunities, followed by the “storming” once the weight of the new reality and its complexities sunk in. Where is your team now, and what can you do to help guide them through whatever stage of development they’re in?

Laugh. In POD, we take care of business yet also create moments of laughter and joy. We’ve shared silly memes on MS Teams, used funny backgrounds in Zoom team meetings, and celebrated birthdays and other occasions with props, music and even a group Cupid Shuffle. These are serious times, but shared laughter is truly good medicine.

Remind of resources. Whether one-on-one or during a team meeting, take time to remind your employees of the wealth of resources that the University offers to support them.

I am so proud of UWHR’s new DEI site as well as the accelerated pace at which we are reviewing policies and practices to create an antiracist culture and organization. I am also proud of working with a team in POD that is diverse in many respects. We are by no means a homogenous group and every day I see how our different backgrounds and life experiences contribute to a richness of innovations and ideas. The future is uncertain in many respects, but by working together, showing grace with ourselves and each other, and holding space for others, I am confident we will triumph. Be well, laugh often, and be at peace.

Summer 2020 | Return to Issue Home