Hybrid working has changed the culture of many teams. Before Covid, generally, businesses were almost always in the office and resultingly, employees shared a strong sense of culture. During the pandemic, for many teams, the strong culture remained as they navigated the new ‘working from home’ experience together.
Now, many companies have a flexible hybrid working policy. This is great for those looking to adopt different working patterns and a more flexible approach to work, but it’s no surprise that new-found flexibility creates a different type of team dynamic. Often, this can create different cliques: those who are mainly working from home; and those who are in the office on different days, which can not only cause problems for current employees but can also be difficult for new members joining the team.
Humans first, technology last
Firstly, recognised that this is a human problem, and not a tech problem. Too often leaders blame the tech for not being able to support the humans, but if human interactions aren’t working, then generally no amount of tech is going to provide a clean solution.
It’s a fact of our biology that we form cliques. People always have, and they always will. These little subcultures used to establish our tribes, keep us safe from predators, and allowed us to find friends and community. They still do. But when these cliques stop a team from being able to function and prevent a strong team culture from developing, they’re a real problem. I’ve seen them turn into open conflict more times than I care to remember, and so once again, it’s good you’re tackling it.
Experience (and excellent research by Lojeski and Reilly) tells us that you need to focus on two major areas: (1) helping team members to identify what unites them (rather than focusing on what makes them different), and (2) establishing rules of engagement. Only then should you start to look at the tech.
Encourage more social talk:
To help teams find uniting features and break down cliques, encourage more social talk, whether it’s online or face-to-face. You’re aiming to encourage emotional and mental connections – so empathy, a sense of being similar, trusting one another, and sharing common goals will all help. These actions can repair cracks, but also prevent them from opening up in the first place. Create common goals and highlight their importance; help people to find what they have in common through casual chat on your Teams channel, or five minutes chat at the beginning of a meeting; and create low-stakes tasks which are collaborative and require people from different cliques to rely on and trust one another.
Get your team involved:
A bigger act is to establish a Hybrid Working Agreement for your team. You’ll want to get your team involved in creating it. Hold a workshop to begin the ideation process. Start with broad questions such as why the team exists and what great looks like. By the end, you should have gone granular, covering how you communicate with one another, how you coordinate your work efforts on shared projects, and what your team standards are for personal appearance and home working set-up (e.g. internet, microphone and camera that works in a room that’s generally free from background noise).
If you can master these two areas, your new team members will come into an environment which is much more cohesive and displays its own culture and mode of operation for them to see.
Three resources to create a strong team culture:
- Google’s research on what makes a great team (including resources to make teams better): https://rework.withgoogle.com/print/guides/5721312655835136/
- Why shared values are so important for creating strong team culture: https://hbr.org/2021/05/high-performing-teams-start-with-a-culture-of-shared-values
- Lovely layout for a team values workshop, to help teams work out what is important to them:
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