• Westwood International

The PERMAH Model and Remote teams: What is it, and how can it help virtual leaders?

Updated: Jul 26, 2021

Positive emotion



Meaning, and



The five elements that comprise Positive Psychologist Martin Seligman's PERMA model define different life areas that can contribute to our overall sense of happiness and wellbeing. Maintaining a tangible sense of professional and personal self has been a challenge since the pandemic took hold, and connecting with all... or even any... of these five elements has become exceedingly difficult.

The things that once brought us a feeling of satisfaction and worth or that filled our cup may not be accessible any longer. Being unable to engage with some of these elements has left teams and leaders struggling to keep their heads above water and make this "new normal" work in a way that brings happiness and fulfillment to remote workers. Some employees are left feeling disconnected from their "team" altogether.

Authors Amy C. Edmunson and Jean-François Harvey, in their book Extreme Teaming,

see "[the] team as a process [my emphasis], rather than an entity." They believe that team is evolving to become more of a verb rather than a noun; flexibility and adaptability are the critical skills needed to succeed in business and build and retain engaged, satisfied, and motivated remote workforces. How do we develop these and find our way back to a mental space that helps us feel whole?

It starts at the top.

Addressing this may have been a struggle for some in face-to-face office settings, but with 75% of leaders admitting that they had never managed a remote team before COVID hit, this kind of positive mental shift seems nearly impossible.

So before you begin, take a look at yourself. Are you attempting to find balance and satisfaction in your personal life? Do you have the support that you need? If the answer was no, try taking the survey here developed by the Wellbeing Lab. Once you get a sense of where YOU are, you will better understand how the process works and feel more prepared to introduce PERMAH to your team.

Make time to connect with individual team members and help them understand their strengths and weaknesses and how they play a crucial part in the "big picture."

Highlight how their roles directly impact the success and growth of the company. Also, ask what is and is not working for them in this new WFH world. According to the PERMAH model, finding happiness and fulfillment is as unique as each person, so help get individuals on the right path to finding out what makes them feel accomplished.

When you start with that genuine connection, it lets the employee know that they are valued and heard. Through open dialogue, leaders can more clearly identify barriers in communication, overlapping areas of responsibility, and ways to become more efficient by consolidating efforts. Boundaries are then set, and doors are opened to exploring and applying the PERMAH model to help your teams find true meaning and motivation in this "new norm."

In his ground-breaking book Flourish, Seligman outlines the five elements (PERMA) that contribute to guiding individuals on the path to happiness, inner growth, and meaning. Michelle McQuaid from the Wellbeing Lab added the Health component to the PERMAH model after realizing that an individual's health plays a major role in how they feel and function. Expanding on this model, virtual leaders can take the quiz here or use the questions below to explore ways to support teams in transition using PERMAH as a basis for inquiry.

Positive Emotion- How can you inspire optimism about the new remote changes as the team leader? How can you highlight the positive impacts of these changes without appearing disingenuous? Hint: Soliciting positive and meaningful input from the team increases buy-in, strengthens perseverance, sparks creativity, and stimulates enthusiasm.

Engagement- Engagement is about locking in the focus and attention of the whole person---strengths, challenges, and talents---in a meaningful way.

How can you utilize the new virtual structure to facilitate the reduction or elimination of non-valued work and procedures, thereby more fully engaging your team? How can you maximize your team's intellectual and creative talents to invite deeper engagement?

Relationships- How can you increase virtual opportunities for meaningful and productive relationships with other departments? This might take the form of a mentor/mentee relationship or even informal virtual social interactions that can deepen trust, more creative outcomes, and ultimately better inter-departmental communication.

Meaning- Meaning, although different for each person, is about envisioning how one's input impacts the greater goal. Without a sense of purpose, positive emotions, engagement, and relationships suffer.

What activities can you offer your team to reflect on and uncover their internal motivation---their "why?" and how can you best model and thus foster a sense of fulfillment?

Achievement/Accomplishment- Achieving a goal helps build self-confidence and provides a deep sense of accomplishment. In a team, group accomplishment fosters cohesion.

As a remote team leader, how can you foster a sense of mastery and accomplishment in your team, both as individuals and as part of the whole? Has your team been informed of, and are they inspired to fulfill the daily (smaller) goals, as well as the overarching mission?

Health- How can you motivate your remote team to participate in physical and mindful activities that enable them to feel more energized and grounded? Can you lead by example, take 30min, block it off on your schedule for everyone to see, and take that time for a run or some quiet meditation? Lead by example. Show them that it is not only ok to do this for yourself, but encouraged.

Offering wellness options like 30-45 minutes a day where everyone logs off and goes for a walk or designating one day a week to share healthy recipes on a collaborative platform will motivate employees to stay active and eat healthily. It may also help create a community around the act of sharing what your walk was like or where you found that fantastic recipe.

*By adapting Seligman's model to the new WFH world, we set the teams on the path of a more profound sense of belonging to the whole, a greater appreciation of collective responsibility, a renewed feeling of personal fulfillment, and opportunities to be more creative. All of which ultimately contribute to increased productivity.

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