01.05.20

EXPERT TAKE

Tara Brannigan on Leadership and
COVID-19

Tara J. Brannigan is Behaviour’s Director of Community and Player Support. Among many other duties, she leads our international team of community managers, player support, and influencer management leads. 

Leadership has its challenges at the best of times, but a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic can reveal strengths many leaders never knew they had.  

For Behaviour’s Director of Community and Player Support, Tara Brannigan, she’s had to dig deep to lead her team via webcam, something the self-proclaimed “hardcore introvert” has always quietly dreaded.  

In these anxious times, managing the emotional stress that your team members may be feeling is just as important as managing their workflow and output. Doing so, Tara says, means your webcam needs to be on. 

“There’s a lot of emotional labour for leaders right now, for lack of a better term,” she says. “When you’re in the office, you can gauge quickly if everyone’s okay, so you have to have these face-to-face moments so you can read people’s emotions. If you don’t have that online connection, it’s really easy to miss something. And that emotional support is key, especially right now.” 

Tara says simply asking each team member how they’re doing, asking if they need to talk or if they need your help can make a big difference. 

Providing that support means staying in “really heavy” contact with people and Tara says most of her time these days is dedicated to that. The introduction of a daily team work session and 30-minute play sessions are fundamental to keeping her team connected, and calm. 

“It’s about trying to maintain a baseline of ‘we’re all in this together, let’s work together and keep people from spiraling out’ – that’s probably my biggest focus right now,” Tara says. “Community and player support is really high in empathy and right now there’s a lot going on in the world that’s drawing on that.” 

With community managers (CMs) located in Russia, Japan and China, the daily chats mean Tara’s team is more connected than ever. In that sense, she says the lockdown has proven a blessing in disguise. 

“We have more interaction and engagement with our regional CMs than ever before and I don’t think that will change when things go back to normal,” she notes. “We’ve got a lot of fantastic ideas out of that crew and it’s kind of changed our communication flow.” 

Leaders also need to set a good example by taking breaks and making sure team members also disconnect. 

“You have to proactively say, ‘hey guys, I’m taking lunch – I’ll be back at 1:30.’ That’s critically important,” Tara says. “If you see people answering chats when they said they were taking lunch, tell them to take their lunch!” 

Tara admits it can be a challenge for introvert managers to step up and step out of themselves, but overcoming those inhibitions is essential – and what good leadership is all about. 

“Talking to people might take a lot out of you but you have to be checking in on your people, on how they’re doing, not just check on their tasks but how they’re doing as a human being,” she says. “You have to give them that psychological safety where, if they’re having a really hard time because they went to the grocery store and it freaked them out and they need 30 minutes to calm down, that that’s OK right now.” 

“It helps to build a lot of trust and we need trust more than ever right now. People need to know their team has their back – that’s the only way we’re getting through this is if we can function as a whole.” 

Tara J. Brannigan, 
Director of Community and Player Support.