How to successfully lead a hybrid team

I’ve heard lots of chat from clients about going back into the office, but one of the biggest concerns is if everyone is going in less, how will they handle being a hybrid team? A hybrid team, in case you’ve missed it, is a team operating between multiple locations meaning that, at any one time, some team members are likely to be connecting face-to-face whilst others are online.

The chances are, if you work in an office where they’re scaling back how often everyone has to come in, compared to pre-covid, then you’re now in a hybrid team – whether you like it or not. And if you’re the manager? Well, then, lucky you, because you are now managing a hybrid team, and they are not without their challenges. (And that’s a nice way of putting it.)

Through conversations with colleagues, as well as my own research and experience, the main sticking points can be broken down into 4 distinct areas:

  • It’s hard to make people who are working at home, as opposed to in the office, feel included.

  • During hybrid meetings, it’s more difficult to get contributions from those who are at home. This can exacerbate the feeling of being left out, and reduce the quality of decisions.

  • Office workers can feel jealous of those people who are at home clearly in their trackies having just come back from walking the dog or taking their kids to school, or a gym session, or having their hair cut.

  • A ‘them and us’ culture can start to exist, even if those in the office operates on a rotation basis, with faultlines opening up between different groups of workers based on where they are, when they’re in, and how they’re feeling.

None of this makes hybrid teams sound like a good thing. Yet, like them or not, hybrid teams are here, certainly for the foreseeable future. And if you’re going to lead them, and lead them well, you will need to know what you are doing. To help you navigate the challenges, and even to see them as an organizational advantage, here are five areas to think about when you are leading a hybrid team.

1. Build teams to build trust

Trust is an essential element of any workplace, but it’s so much harder to build it online. As a leader, you need your team members to trust one another, and you, and for them to feel that you trust them. This will take work. Build trust between team members by encouraging them to get to know each other – team building facilitates the development of trust between team members. Whether it’s a weekly online coffee morning or a ‘random chat’ Slack channel, find a way to make your team cohesive.

An important part of building trust is free-flowing and regular communication, but this is more difficult in a hybrid team, as is recognised by Smith, 2020: “Leaders on virtual teams need to go over and above the normal measures to build trust. Intentional relationship building. Proactive, broad and honest communications. Staying visible and keeping little commitments. These deliberate acts will help you build trust from a distance and unlock higher performance in your organization.”

2. Don’t undermanage, or overmanage

“Management is about balance. To be successful, leaders need to walk a fine line between providing structure and a clear sense of order and the creeping risk of micromanagement.” (Torchio, 2019)

Once the trust within your team is established, it is important to show your trust in them – whilst also being there to support. You’ll need to find the balance between undermanaging and overmanaging to achieve this.

Interfere too often, and you’re showing your team members you don’t trust them. As a manager, the buck stops with you, so the temptation is to be across every decision. But this can stifle employees creativeness, frustrate those you supposedly trust and take up more of your valuable time than is necessary. Check-in too infrequently, and before you know it, the whole team are heading aimlessly in the wrong direction and feeling as though you don’t care.

Being transparent with when you’ll check in with them, and when you expect them to check in with you, is the best way around this. ‘We’ll catch up every Wednesday and Friday morning because I don’t want to overcrowd you – I trust you to do your work and do it well. But if you’re struggling in between, let me know.’

3. Say the same thing to everyone

Create a communication environment that is easy to navigate, and make sure everyone knows where to go to receive messages and correspondence. The importance of getting this right is significant:

“When employees work from home, they can feel disconnected from their organizations, and nearly half (47%) of participants in our survey cited effective communication as crucial to their transition to remote work. Using natural language processing to identify key themes in responses, we determined that the most effective communication has five characteristics: It’s frequent, transparent, part of a two-way dialogue, easy to navigate, and consistent. These communication principles are useful in general, but they’re crucial when a company’s workforce is distributed.” (Sull, 2020)

With your colleagues scattered across the country, and sometimes even the world, the methods of keeping in touch will vary. But however you communicate, the message must stay the same so no one feels left out, and there’s less risk of misunderstanding.

For those working virtually, communication needs to be frequent, and for those working alongside one another in the office, communication needs to be just as frequent. Don’t assume that just because you are able to make eye contact with a colleague that a message needs to be any less clear or delivered less often.

4. Create rules of engagement

Fundamental to avoiding dangerous communication pitfalls is the establishment of clear ground rules. Brownlee explains that: “discussing ground rules upfront gently forces the team to address potential concerns proactively—before they become a true problem. This proactive approach can also help alleviate the anxiety that remote team members may feel about the disadvantages associated with not being physically in the office.” (Brownlee, 2021)

So think about what rules are most important within your company. Establish guidelines for situations such as team meetings. And ensure that these rules are consistent for those working at home and in the office, for example, don’t let those at home turn their cameras off during meetings so they can discreetly jump on the treadmill. But also, don’t be afraid to shake up the ground rules if you find that something isn’t working. Ground rules are not set in stone, as a leader, it’s your job to implement what works best for your team, so staying flexible is vital.

5. Look at how tech can support your actions

The technology you implement within your team can be the difference between getting right and getting lost in a sea of miscommunication. Jocelyn Lomer, Chief Executive, nuVa Enterprises explains the importance, but also recognises the challenges: “In order to provide the optimum hybrid working model for employees, business leaders need to ensure that they have access to the right tools. By managing technology properly, employees can gain access to valuable information and deliver better results in the longer term. Ultimately, if a team understands its end goal, it can tackle any situation that arises.” (Lomer, 2021)

From my work with hybrid teams, I’ve always found that simple consistency works best. Whether you opt for a single communication channel on Slack, invest in good quality conferencing software to host large team meeting or decide to roll out collaborative working software, the goal must remain the same.

“Give the full team visibility into everyone’s contributions and allow communication directly in the platform about individual tasks or overall as a group. That way, managers (and everyone else) can see the status of every project and individual team member’s contributions in moving these projects forward, all in one place.” (Guida, 2021)

The stakes are high in this one. The hurdles are big, but also, the rewards substantial. And none of the challenges are insurmountable. By demonstrating that you can effectively manage a hybrid team, there is an opportunity for you to carve a niche within your company as the ‘go-to’ expert on how to effectively coordinate and manage a hybrid team. I’ve just worked on team development with a team that are split between the UK and India, and by implementing the solutions listed above, they have made massive progress in team morale, trust, engagement and communication. It’s been a wonder to see. And the same can happen for you.

If you’ve read this article and it’s made you think you need some help with getting your hybrid team working, please be in touch – I would love to help.

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