It is hard to fathom that three years have passed since COVID-19 flipped our world upside down. As the world slowly recovers and moves on from the health crisis, it’s easy to rush back into business as usual. However, a key step in moving on is reflecting, acknowledging, and celebrating what we lived through and how we have grown. If leaders want to help their teams truly transition into our new reality, it is important to debrief the last few years. Below is a simple process to help do just that.
In March 2020, one day, everyone was sitting in meetings with coworkers, laughing with peers over lunch. The next, they were in isolation, cut off from family and friends. Everyone had to rethink how they worked, parented, and connected as they faced a threat no one fully understood. Essential workers covered in PPE kept hospitals open, food on tables, and trash off the streets. Everyone else quickly learned how to conduct business remotely and educate youth online. People battled loneliness, burnout, and loss. Loss of freedom, connection, and, for many, loss of loved ones. Uncertainty and panic made life exhausting. For three years, people adapted, pivoted, and navigated in extraordinary ways to get through one of the biggest challenges of our era, but now the worst is over.
While the pandemic’s kickoff happened overnight, its end has been a series of false starts, followed by a gradual, often unacknowledged return to normal. As a result, some employees moved on a year ago, and some are still operating as they did in the middle of the pandemic. In his book Managing Transitions, William Bridges shares, “Change is situational, transition is the psychological inner reorientation and self-redefinition that you have to go through in order to incorporate changes into our life.” If leaders want to start getting everyone on the same page and moving into the new reality, they must first acknowledge it is over by taking time to debrief it.
“Transition is the psychological inner reorientation and self-redefinition that you have to go through in order to incorporate changes into our life.”
Why is talking about the past few years important?
According to Professor of Social Work and Trauma Expert Rebecca Brown, shared experiences help us connect, better understand each other, and offer support. “We’ve all been through a lot, and talking about experiences helps us move forward and learn from them and create shared meaning.” As we move forward, we can acknowledge our experiences, reflect on new or altered insights, and create the kind of workplace culture that supports us to be at our best.
Disclaimer: These conversations are not intended to be therapeutic and should be optional. For people who express or share experiences of distress or report mental health symptoms, prepare to connect people to behavioral health resources or treatment with a qualified professional.
Having the conversation
Below is a simple framework for groups to consciously reflect, celebrate, and capture insights after navigating a global pandemic and more.
1. Pick a date and time for your event, and invite your team. Block out 1.5 to two hours for this conversation. Meet in a comfortable location free from distraction. If you are not meeting in person, you can do this via your organization’s virtual meeting platform.
2. Email each team member a copy of the reflection questions (Listed Below).
3. Set the tone for the session by introducing the purpose of the activity and the process.
4. Present each of the below questions to the group. Give participants a few minutes to reflect after each one, then open the floor for people to share. Make it clear from the start (especially for the personal questions) that no one is required to share if they don’t want to. As people share, capture key lessons and accomplishments for your team in a shared document.
5. Afterward, go through the shared list together and celebrate the amazing wealth of growth and learning! Follow up with a social hour together!
Tip: Are you in healthcare, customer service, or a field where it is hard to get your whole team together for two hours? Introduce the idea and post one question a day on your bulletin or message board. Have people share their responses and discuss them on their breaks, and then have people share their lessons with the group in a shared document or morning stand-up.
Possible Introduction & Purpose:
“Thank you, everyone, for joining today. As things return to normal, it is easy to slide back into business as usual and forget to pause to acknowledge, reflect, celebrate, and learn from all that we lived through over the last few years. Back in March 2020, I don’t think we could have predicted how the next few years would unfold. From the pandemic uncertainty to politics, the racial justice movement, and more. As it was often said, we were all in the same storm but experienced it from different boats.
Our purpose today is not to dig into the many critical and challenging experiences from the past few years. We intend to acknowledge that these experiences have had impacts, and we don’t want to ignore how we and our workplaces have changed. Although these last years were extremely challenging, we got through them together, and it is important to acknowledge that.
Today is about taking the time to really get present and celebrate how much we have navigated and grown as a team.”
Possible Reflection Questions
- What moments define your experience of the last few years?
- How were you and the team able to do all that you did?
- What did people not see about what it took for you to do what you did?
- What are you most proud of the team or organization for?
- How do you feel the last year impacted how you see your job?
- What do you feel you need people to understand about what the last few years were like for you?
- What support do you feel your coworkers need most right now?
- What lessons from the last few years at work do you want to ensure you never forget?
- What do you love most about doing what you do?
I want to thank everyone for sharing today and all it took for you to navigate these last few years. (As a leader, share something you are proud of the team for, lessons you took from the session.) As we return to more structured and stable routines, it is important to keep reminding each other that we are still transitioning and to practice empathy.
Tip: Create a Physical Representation of your Transition Capture the lessons, moments of pride, and memories from your group, and create a poster, picture, or plaque to hang in your office to mark the transition.
Navigating through a global pandemic has been a challenging experience for everyone. However, by reflecting, celebrating, and capturing insights, we can learn from our experiences and move forward together. By capturing the lessons and memories from this experience, leaders can mark the transition and recall it as a time of growth and resilience as they face the challenges ahead.