What are the key considerations for a hybrid team leader?
The hybrid team model for work was already a growing reality and challenge for many companies over the last couple of decades. Businesses were looking to improve cost-effectiveness, improve client experience and provide flexibility and job satisfaction for their people. THEN the Covid epidemic “shoved all in” with this way of working, and the challenges of remote and hybrid working became everyone’s reality (whether they wanted it or not). Read the news, and you can see that many leaders are desperately trying to get back to the old model of teamwork where employees are all together and present with each other and their management (I’m talking to you, Elon). While big positives come from that model, from my seat, hybrid work is here to stay and will become the predominant and expected and accepted norm vs. “something we had to do for a while.”
The basics - a “hybrid team” has its members (your employees/teammates/bosses) spread across locations, time zones, and working situations (work from home, work in an office, work from a beach playing digital nomad, etc.). Every leader I know is searching for help in understanding, let alone managing effectively in this new construct. I will not try to cover all the impacts of this new way of working. Still, I did want to share some of what I believe to be some of the most significant considerations and suggestions for how the most successful leaders seem to be navigating the challenges of hybrid work. Everyone knows intellectually that this new way of working demands different things from them. It is difficult to unearth, let alone functionally adapt, how you interact with and lead in this world.
What’s become more difficult with the hybrid work model?
Um, virtually everything, according to people I talk to. Certainly, work-life balance seems a bit better, commute times are down, dry cleaning bills are lower, the ease of connection with friends and family has been a bit better, getting the laundry done and picking up things at the store is better, binging your new favorite streaming series is easier. Anyone in the Amazon box recycling business is doing way better.
At the top of most people’s list of what’s more challenging:
· Building trust and connection with others
· Ensuring goal clarity
· Managing team members who seemingly never have an unspoken thought
· Dealing with Zoom fatigue
· Ensuring appropriate progress on tasks
· Accurately and fairly assessing performance
· Providing feedback and coaching on said performance
· Motivation and inspiration
· Feeling comfortable in anything other than sweatpants
The Two Most Critical Parts Leading a hybrid team effectively:
It is more important than ever to be diligent in setting exceptionally clear expectations … yes with detailed measures, delivery dates, and check-in dates, and doing all of that while not making people feel micromanaged.
As you may have read in some of my other blogs, leaders being clear about expectations has ALWAYS been the number one place where things go wrong as people work together. That is triple true in a hybrid environment.
The initial work is to ensure your communications and expectations are clear and contain all the key elements defining success. Of course, experienced managers know that is only the start; then comes the actual conversations with the team to share your thinking and needs. The second big chunk of work is the subsequent back-and-forth conversation, thoughtful questions from you, examples, and establishing an initial check-in to ensure shared understanding. The intent here is clarity, alignment, and accountability. Each team member needs to know they will contribute, and their input and suggestions will refine the plans for better execution and buy-in. This clarity also helps foster trust and collaboration amongst the team, which is even more essential for remote team members.
Regular check-ins/reviews provide your best opportunity to assess how each team member performs against their particular objectives. A best practice is a combination of 1:1, small group, and, if necessary, because of team size, full group check-ins. If this sounds like a lot of work, you are correct, AND this is your work. “Fire and forget” is a fantasy in the workplace. Everyone wants to work with people you talk to once, and they take everything from there, and you all coast to success. Good luck with that.
Checking in to ensure progress, continued confidence, motivation, and alignment is critical because everything changes once people begin to work and run into challenges and unexpected happenings. Combining individual and larger group check-ins allows you to reinforce and solicit progress assessments, confirm a shared understanding, and even coach in different contexts, allowing you to play your role as the glue, guide, and supporter for the team. This communication was always important, even when everyone sat together and could talk in the hallways dozens of times each week. Still, in a dispersed environment, it is absolutely the most important interaction you have with them each week to ensure the likelihood of success.