We are igniting momentum during COVID-19

Who will drive an organisation’s momentum in this moment of crisis: individual leaders, or teams who self-lead?


Rather than pause our series of co-hosted HRD dinners in the current climate we decided to experiment: and so last week, we hosted a group of HRDs for our first virtual dinner to debate that question out. We had industry leaders around the table – the group included HRDs from one of the big four supermarkets, an iconic airline and a global energy company.

Though the food wasn’t piping hot, the debate was just as high quality and even more lively. And the chance to connect with peers felt even more rewarding and timely.

Thriving (not just surviving) during COVID-19

As you’d expect, there was of course the need to roll around in the big issue we all face. The shared sentiment was together ensuring we turn this moment of crisis into one of opportunity. How do we lead effectively through ambiguity and uncertainty? How do we radically shift ways of working and what that can do for equality and agility in the workforce? How do we innovate and adapt, and how do we fuel our teams with whole new levels of resilience, tenacity and belief? It isn’t going to be easy, but the payoff could be huge.

Ultimately with the world turning on its head, we need to make sure we’re set up to harness the opportunity to move fast and innovate. We need to bottle up the ingenuity we’re seeing all over our organisations to come out the other side far stronger.

Individual leaders vs. teams who self-lead

To thrive during these strange times, it is clear we need a step change in leadership. So our starting question came into sharp focus. Two cases were put forward as provocation:

The Alexander Partnership case for individual leaders:

“Teams matter but the leader is the catalyst”

  • Emotion is contagious and starts from the top. Organisations become shadows of their leader, and the leader’s behaviour in crisis is fundamental.
  • Compassionate sense makers. Leaders set the tone; they can make it safe to be uncertain as well as provide structure and purpose to people’s work. All while maintaining compassion for the situation and the impact it is having on their team.
  • The power to unleash potential. It is critical that leaders give up more authority than feels natural. Fighting through complexity requires quick and informed action at the edge.

The businessfourzero case for teams that self-lead:

“Leaders play a big role, but teams are the fundamental unit of productivity in an organisation and the key to accelerating change”

  • Discretionary effort. If you identify as part of a team you are twice as likely to be fully engaged. And highly engaged people deliver better business performance.
  • Adaptive/non-linear thinking. These strange times need real creativity and diversity of thought. Teams bring different values and perspectives and the ability to argue things out properly.
  • Strong relationships. Teams are formed around a common purpose, with shared standards and hold each other to account. That brings greater resilience to uncertainty and stress, and fun and freshness when it’s needed most


As a group we concluded it isn’t either/or. We’re living in an era of both/and. You need a great leader and a great team. Leadership lives through the organisation, and teams bring that leadership alive. The leader needs the team to deliver, and vice versa. Leaders emerge from the top and the bottom, it’s happening in front of our eyes.

We ended with two pertinent questions.

  1. When COVID-19 is breaking down hierarchies, forcing us to work in new ways and creating new networks that challenge the notion of team…Do we need to reimagine teams or is it actually more about getting disciplined about the little things we know help supercharge teams?
  2. With difficult and unknown challenges ahead, and an unprecedented operating environment, purpose is more important than ever…How do we engage our teams twice as deeply with purpose – and use that energy to double the pace of innovation?

Author: Theo Keane, Client Development Director

We’ll be hosting a series of virtual dinners for HR leaders over the next few months. If you’re interested to join us please contact Theo Keane (theo.keane@businessfourzero.com) for more information.

We’re also initiating an open community for HR leaders to share stories, insights and advice on how to thrive during this period. No obligation, just a great place to ask questions and connect with peers for inspiration. All you need to do is drop Theo a line.