Having changed the way we do business on scales both macro and micro, there’s really no way to get around the major topic of 2020. The pandemic is forcing companies to adapt in ways they may not have considered before. Now, more than 9 months in, the toll is beginning to show. As expected, budgets are tightening and structural re-orgs are becoming increasingly common. Not to mention the challenges to team morale and individual mindsets. In an interactive session, Slack Product Director Ellie Powers addresses that toll, leading a presentation filled with brainstorming on how product managers can build resilience in times of crisis.

On facing the changes head-on

It can be said that the mental health of a team is the responsibility of its leaders, and product managers get unique visibility into how a team operates together. Naturally, being together physically aids in maintaining a strong connection. So what happens when we’re forced apart? How can product leaders boost morale when we are operating in a digitally distanced environment? Ellie speaks first about recognizing the changes and facing the differences head-on.

“This situation is not one that’s going to change soon. So I think it’s a great time to learn how to be more resilient, and how to keep moving forward.”

“First of all, I just want to start by acknowledging that everything is a little bit or a lot bit different. For a while now, a lot of companies are used to working in some remote aspect with global teams. However, it’s completely different to say that your whole job is changing and that everyone’s full job is changing. I think the best place to start is to recognize and acknowledge that things have changed. Then, we need to specify what it is that’s different.”

On the effects on product managers

“At Slack, we spend a lot of time talking about how people do work, and how we can help people do work better. One thing that we noticed during this change is a lot of the burden has fallen on product managers. A product manager’s whole job is about collaboration, which is one thing that’s changed the most.”

“Secondly, I think one of the reasons that we’re product managers and not an engineer or an analyst, is that we actually like people. Whether we’re introverted or extroverted, we actually get a lot of our satisfaction from relationships with people. As someone on my team put, it just feels a lot more transactional now.

“Finally, one of the most important things that a product manager has to do now, is lead without authority. How do you get authority? Well, you need to get buy-in from people. Getting buy-in with people is a little bit harder to do in a Slack chat on a PC screen. So, I just want to recognize for all of you, if you’re feeling like this has been a particularly hard year for you in making progress on your projects, or making a contribution to your team – you’re not alone.”

On resilience through positive psychology

Positive thinking isn’t necessarily a new concept, but one that is particularly applicable in our recent changes. There’s no doubt that isolation takes its toll. With communication and team spirit reduced to screen time and emails, maintaining resilience is highly dependent on positive psychology. Ellie addresses how employing positive psychology can aid in building resilience both personally and within teams.

“The specific thing is the most discouraging, both to people and animals, is to put them in a negative situation where they feel like they don’t have any control. I think that’s how the year has felt to a lot of us. Bad things just keep happening, and there’s not a lot that we can do to prevent it. So we have to first understand what people who are able to be more resilient are doing differently.”

“Positive psychology talks about the mindset of people who, when facing an uncontrollable negative situation, are able to keep going and not get discouraged. Put simply, they look at any type of setback as temporary, localized, and changeable. Maybe what’s happening right now is bad, but it’s not going to last forever. It’s only in one part of my life and there are still good things going on.”

Resilience Researcher Lucy Hone finds that there are a couple of things that seem to be in common with people who are the most resilient. First, they accept the suffering, they don’t try to argue with it, because suffering is part of the human experience.”

“Second, people who are able to be more resilient are able to think more about where they apply their attention. Rather than spiraling and thinking everything is terrible and hopeless, these people were able to accept what they cannot change and focus on what they can change.”
About the Video:

About the speaker
Ellie Powers Slack, Director of Product Member

Ellie Powers currently serves as the Director of Product at Slack. As a veteran in product leadership, her focus lies in the creation of products that delight users and enhance their productivity, while solving previously unmet needs. Her previous experience includes the role of Product Lead at Microsoft, where she developed strategy, designed user experiences, and championed accessibility through her expertise in international and U.S. law compliance. Additionally, as Google Product Lead, she led strategy execution for Google Play's developer products and the Google Play Developer Console.