Lessons from the Pandemic

Published: August 17, 2021

Granted, it’s not over. The delta variant appears more contagious than the alpha. Businesses are rethinking the wisdom of requiring workers to return to the workspace. Many industries are requiring full vaccinations and/or repeated proof of negative COVID tests to stay employed. Those of us in client-facing roles are reinstituting masks and social distance. As we brace for another wave of adaptation, let’s take stock of what we’ve learned.

Lesson #1 (Investment): People see the same picture very differently. As the middle ground between the polarities disappears, teammates are more challenged than ever to understand those with diverse perspectives. When was the last time you heard someone ask, “Can you help me better understand why you feel the way you do?” It’s much easier to hear an opinion that differs from your own when you aren’t spending all of your energy on seeking corroboration of your existing biases.

Lesson #2 (Trust): ‘Truth’ and ‘fact’ have been redefined. Trust in news sources and major institutions has eroded. The basic ingredients of trust – respect, accountability and connection – are fragile. As is true in healthy interpersonal relationships, trust can be repaired after it has been broken. In most cases, the repaired alliance is stronger than the original bond.

Lesson #3 (Innovation): Creativity is the competency leaders value most. The rules of the game have completely changed. Looking backwards for historical themes is no longer as effective. Looking forward for solutions to unprecedented problems is crucial. Creative teams live in the future. Imagining new approaches is in their DNA.

Lesson #4 (Distancing): We all could use a breather. The effects of prolonged stress have taken their toll on everyone. This has been a long haul. Even those with the most developed coping skills are tired, but resilience has a formula. When the adversity is not permanent (time), is not of your doing (blame), and does not affect all aspects of life (scope), we have a better likelihood of bouncing back. Although it seems like forever, we will eventually beat this thing. Although we all haven’t made consistently good choices, it’s not entirely our fault. Although its impact is far-reaching, not every aspect of life is affected. So step back, get a breath, and allow your coping skills to do their job.

Adversity is a great teacher. Hardship causes stress. Stress triggers learning. The trick is turning insight to action. Most of us know what to do once we’ve had a chance to recuperate. As we enter what might be the most difficult phase of this crisis, remember to keep your mind open, repair damaged trust, embrace creativity, and recharge your battery. You’ve got this!

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst University where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.