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Planning for Success

Hosted by: Ascend

Working in close partnership with Ascend, the talent strategy boutique, ChapmanCG recently hosted a vibrant Insight Lab for some of our close HR leadership network in the Middle East which topically focused on Planning for Success: Leading Successful (Hybrid) Teams Through Challenging Times. 

This unprecedented period of volatility and uncertainty has extended into both the business environment and the physical locations in which colleagues find themselves (whether that be the chaos of home, the eerily empty office, or a blend of the two). Now is the time to organise, make decisions and have the conversations that will give the team a fighting chance to deliver its goals in the coming 12 months.

What follows is an overview of some of the insights shared by Bill Lawry, CEO of Ascend, as well as thoughts and ideas from our attendees.

Where Are We Today?

It is clear that we are all caught up in the same colossal storm but that our boats are very different. For sure, this is the case when you consider different businesses, but even within the four walls of one organisation, colleagues find themselves in varying sets of circumstances and varying levels of discomfort.

Participants commented on their concerns surrounding:

  • Burnout and decreasing levels of resilience; team members are understandably drained.
  • The struggle for traction in a team which is geographically dispersed (so typical of this Covid, digital world).
  • The schism in adaptability within a single team; individuals are adjusting differently with some suffering from the absence of face-to-face contact while others embrace the use of technology (and enjoy it)

Bill shared with us the Six Dimensions of the Ascend’s Successful Teams Model, which we have broken down, one by one.

Six Dimensions of the Ascend’s Successful Teams Model

Internal Focus

Slick and efficient communication as an internal team is of paramount importance, especially in light of this new geographical distance between team members. Leaders need to properly consider how strong the communication channels are in their team.


  • Has communication improved since the rise of the virtual workplace?
  • Does each team member (at all levels of seniority) have a clear view of collective goals and priorities?
  • Is there a protocol heralding crystal clear decision-making (crucial in a virtual set-up)
  • Are there cliques within the team which are detracting from the overall sense of true collaboration?
  • Is everyone fully aware of their individual role and responsibilities?


  • Do people know what the priorities are today? There can be a tendency to live in the past during a period of such rapid change. Does the team understand the future?


  • Are there too many meetings? It certainly seems that meetings are increasing in number to allow colleagues to check-in and share successes or progress. We need to find a good balance.
  • We need to make sure that the meetings are efficient, truly needed and are set at times in the day which are manageable for all.
  • Most importantly, its critical to only schedule meetings which are really necessary and that there is a clear etiquette.

External Focus

As Internal Focus is about the communication within a team, this dimension looks into the communication outside the team within the business and with external clients.

  • With potential turbulence inside a team and a struggle to control strong internal interaction, how well is the team focussed on its external clients?
  • Good client management skills require regular interactions to achieve goals. Have these interactions been hindered in the new virtual world- or possibly even strengthened? Try to take a step back and consider objectively.
  • In the frenzy of the current moment, it is easy for the “Horizon Scan” to be neglected. It is critical that leaders still take time to consider the SWOT analysis. Not considering opportunities and challenges that will affect the business in the long-term could result in the slowing of future growth.
  • The consistency of messages to external clients is a “must”. There may be internal disagreement but there needs to be a united communication reaching the external clients.


Successful teams demonstrate mutual trust and respect among its members. This is not a time for cliques to develop which could lead to some colleagues feeling further estranged.

  • Both support and success (major or otherwise) needs to be recognised. Leaders need to foster a culture where such recognition is easy to voice.
  • Equally important to this is giving and receiving development feedback.
  • Constructive conflict should not be avoided. Does the team feel comfortable giving alternate views and having an open discussion?
  • There is a tendency for a “Social Cohesion” to be missing at the moment. If virtual meetings are consistently only about the task in hand, potentially that “tribe feeling” can be lost. How do you create this sense of belonging again?
  • Leaders need to also focus on the concept of empathy and inclusion. Currently, there will be many team members with tough personal situations to deal with behind the scenes. Knowing what home pressure they face is crucial. You may need to “cut some slack” without removing accountability.
  • Appreciation – neuroscience says we look for the negative. The current environment has a constant negative vibe. By contrast, praise and appreciation balances the chemistry in the brain, as long as this praise is delivered in an authentic way.


This comes up time and again and through the last year as tested businesses on many levels.

  • Successful teams have an ability to create innovative solutions in these unprecedented times.
  • Being able to pivot and persevere is great, as long as you make a conscious decision to do so (rather than drifting into it).
  • This is a time when taking calculated risk can reap reward.
  • The team must be encouraged to “press pause, reflect as it needs to, and then adapt”.
  • Psychological safety can promote this feeling of being able to take risk. This is a study conducted by Google that has been referenced in this area.
  • A good leader ensures everyone has an opportunity to speak, very much the facilitator of equality in conversation.
  • The team members need to be agile as individuals. This is a time to suppress egos and a time for acceptance. Life has changed, the day-to-day role may have changed but it needs to be done and done well regardless.


This is a testing time for all and one that can really highlight the strengths (or weaknesses) of a team. Can the members pull together when the going gets super tough? If so, the future looks rosy when things improve!

  • Leaders need to try and promote the concept of “bouncing forward”, rather than “bouncing back”. The former tends to be trickier when challenging times are upon us.
  • There can be a tendency for “burying heads in the sand” in the face of complete adversity. We need to ensure our mindset is set on facing reality and properly addressing the problem. Hiding from it can have serious implications to the broader business results.
  • Leading on from this, “the negative spiral” needs to be avoided. Potentially this can be done by balancing the positive with the negative.
  • Boundaries – do we have them?
    • The working days are arguably much longer now, especially without the breaks of a commute and the face-to-face contact with clients and colleagues. This can lead to burn-out – or waning energy levels, at the very least.
    • To try and counteract this onset of fatigue, leaders should be crystal clear on their expectations of working hours, both for themselves and for the team.
    • A culture where work terms are shared and 100% respected can make a significant difference to stress levels.
    • Ensuring that breaks to recover (be it with food, sleep, rest, or exercise) are important to maintain and encourage.


Vision. Direction. Purpose. These are all key aspects of a leaders role but today it is also so much more.

  • A team without a vision is most likely not a happy one. If a leader sets the vision, it needs to be communicated clearly and regularly.
    • Challenges need to also be a shared task. In the 2008 financial crisis the senior teams shouldered the challenges and did not communicate them. Today, by contrast, the challenges need to be shared very much as common goals.
  • Similarly, rallying through troops in a virtual workplace can be done by role modelling ways to effectively best communicate. Being engaged with the team on calls, sharing video, challenges and successes can all make a difference to this feeling of purpose and unity.

What Does It All Mean?

Our group of attendees shared thoughts as to what is playing on their minds at the moment, particularly being based amidst the nuances and challenges of the Middle East market.

  1. How do we create a determined response in a crisis?

It has been known that leaders in the Middle East can find acceptance of bad news difficult. As a generalisation, there is a tendency to sweep issues under the carpet a little. HR can play a pivotal role in guiding leaders who are unwilling to accept the challenges or difficulties of a crisis to avoid communications and trust issues within the business.

Guiding Leaders through this different lens (this is now “normal”) might help them to move forward. Certainly, the “new normal actions” need to be addressed and take effect in a new format.

2. How do we claw-back the disappearing “spirit” in our team?

Spirit can easily evaporate from teams without daily/weekly social interaction. New ideas can be difficult to really maintain with long-term success. Is the approach to look at smaller interactive groups rather than trying to get “everyone” together on copious calls and projects – or certainly a blend of the two?

3. Communication is generally positive at a senior level but isn’t replicated down the ranks efficiently (this problem is highlighted more in the virtual world, albeit has probably always been an issue across the region).  Could Townhalls provide a solution here?

4. Spare a thought for new joiners to the business. New collaborators can often find it hard to be brought into the fold. Without the much-needed face-to-face interaction, trust can be tough to foster. Can the onboarding process address this or improve/change in light of circumstances?

5. Leaders can be drowning in the need to deliver the measurable results and sometimes the team in the trenches feel “forgotten”, especially when there is missing interaction. Taking a step back, pausing, and reflecting on the team and how the results are being delivered is crucial in staying agile.

6. This is was an additional resource shared and may resonate with many today

Ascend is a boutique talent strategy and leadership development consultancy with offices in London and the Middle East.

We’ve been working globally in the field of behavioural change for over a decade, across all industry sectors. 

Our complementary areas of expertise are talent strategy, leadership development, building successful teams, executive coaching and supporting career transformations. We specialise in transforming leaders and teams to get them to where they need to be – firmly, confidently and for the long term.

Bill has worked alongside Olympic champions, executive teams and individuals in the field of organisation, team, and executive performance for over 25 years. Bill has a passion for supporting and challenging leaders and teams to make the mindset and behavioural shifts they need to make, in order to achieve individual, team and business success. He works in a collaborative way, introducing creative and interactive methods to achieve results. Bill works with global brands such as Aramco, Arsenal FC, Bank Muscat, Coca Cola, DEWA, Daimler, E.ON, Eversheds, HSBC, PayPal, PwC, Schroders and UAE Prime Minister’s Office, as well as a number of investment backed smaller companies.


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