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The death of the ‘office moan’ and what it means for leadership

For nearly two years, many of us lost the ‘office moan’. You know, the chit-chat at desks, offloading at the coffee machine or post-meeting huddles in an empty room. We lost the pub gossip. The rants on the way to the train station. The impromptu moment someone who is brave enough says what everyone else is thinking.

As many of us still spend the majority of our working week at home, there is a leadership risk that is emerging from the death of the office moan-fest.

There’s a gap – we have lost the vital criticism from all levels of the team that can spur resistance and questioning of strategies and projects that are frankly mismanaged or misguided.

What is causing it?

  1. Working from home has brought about the loss of informal discussion about things that aren’t working (the moan!)

  2. The increase of shorter, less collaborative virtual meetings squashes critique

  3. During a crisis, structures tend to get flattened as leadership communications tend to go from few to many (i.e. from the CEO to the whole organisation) rather than via team leads/line managers, where more debate takes place

If staff are working from home and without a forum to vent their frustrations, leaders are losing the ability to be informed by capable people around them.

What can leaders do?

Here are some top tips, given by leaders from across sectors that have been through Hack Yourself modern leadership programmes.

  1. Introduce virtual ‘Talking Shops’ on particular issues. These are safe spaces to debate and chat, so leaders can listen and learn

  2. Run open sessions to hear from different levels of staff. E.g. put in a Friday afternoon catch up with junior staff

  3. Ask for anonymous questions in advance of meetings, to increase input and quality of questions

  4. Ask two team members to buddy up to provide you feedback on a project

  5. Consider who you are speaking to less, but who you know works closely on priority projects. Call them. Listen. Ask open questions.

If we were to get technical, we could refer to ‘psychological safety’ to explore this further. Amy Edmondson, author of The Fearless Organisation, describes how psychological safety is present when ‘colleagues trust and respect each other and feel able, even obligated, to be candid…that’s when performance — at both the organisational and the team level — is maximised.’ It’s about creating an environment where people feel they can contribute.

As many of us return to the office at different speeds, it’s important to aim for complete safety across your whole team, no matter how hard that may be. And, given the decline of the much-missed office moan, aim to create environments for your team to chat informally about what really needs to happen to succeed. We know in a crisis we must be decisive – but don’t forget how valuable the input of people around you is.

A reminder – just because you are no longer hearing or sensing that negativity or criticism, doesn’t mean you are doing a better job! It’s time to proactively seek out that valuable insight. Jack

Ps. we have a whole course featuring creating psychological safety and preparing your teams to perform in an hybrid world. Get in touch today.


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