About Visa

Learnings from Leading a Team in Lockdown

By Akshay Chopra, Vice President and Head of Innovation and Design, CEMEA at Visa.



I’m part of an awesome team of 17 people split between Dubai and Moscow. Like everyone, we’ve been on a learning curve on how to work in this new reality

As a team dedicated to finding innovative solutions to problems, the era of remote working has been another issue that we used our “book learning” with… Some of these ideas are working and some aren’t, and we wanted to share some of insights on the highlights in these last few months. This is not about trends and technologies, purely some thoughts on how we’ve been doing things differently.

1.      Culture, culture, culture

The maxim “culture eats strategy for breakfast” had its litmus test; it’s true.

No strategy written 5-6 months ago accommodated for COVID-19. But, if you have been investing in building a strong team/organizational culture, you’re probably reaping the benefits now. A team culture that celebrates agility and helping others will win in this climate.

I’m seeing this in my team. Not only have they brilliantly pivoted, they’re now helping clients and colleagues navigate. Which brings me to my second learning:

2.      Be there to help

People and businesses are hurting. Not just through the health and economic repercussions but even psychological and situational. This is a great time to go that extra mile to lend a hand.

We’ve reprioritized many of our projects to not just help us get through COVID-19, but support our clients and colleagues through our skills and networks.

A simple example being weekly region-wide speaker sessions where we invite folks to present fresh perspectives. Every week, hundreds of people dial in; it’s a welcome break and enriching at the same time.

If you’re in a position to do this at an organizational level, even better. I’m proud of how Visa has committed $200 million globally to helping small businesses navigate these challenging times. And nearly every meeting I have has an element of ‘how can we help’.

3.      Teams can really bond remotely

This one exceeded my expectations, as I was skeptical about how well teams can nurture bonds through pixels. I was wrong. My team has put in place a few rituals to keep the banter and bonding going, and it’s been really effective. Here are a few of those rituals:

·         Daily 15 minutes sub-teams morning huddle – 100% sub team attends

·         Weekly 45 min team huddle – 100% team attends

·         Daily 20 mins “Isolation Café’ hangout – approx. 30% team attends

·         End of week BYOB trivia hour hangout – 90% team attends, these usually go overtime because people are so engaged

The ground rules:

1.      Turn your video on

2.      Mic off when not talking

3.      No COVID-19/work talk in the hangouts

4.      Hangouts are completely optional

4.      Remote engagements will outlive COVID-19

Within weeks of lockdown, my team quickly picked up a host of new tools, tech and methodologies to engage our clients. It turned out way better than expected. The innovation & design team continued to deliver great work despite the innovation center being shut!

Especially for a team that serves 92 markets, the model of running innovation engagements & design sprints remotely is now here to stay. And we would have near-perfected the model by that time.

5.      Innovation centers will reopen their doors to a different world

When we reopen the centers and studios, the trends, technologies and narratives we’ve been working on HAVE to accommodate the great changes that COVID-19 has accelerated. We’re already working to think through what those may be. It’s key to be proactive on this one.

(Disclaimer: Views expressed are the author’s own and do not represent the organization.)

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