Moving to Hybrid Teams

The day is coming where parts of my team will be returning to the office. However, the days of expecting everyone to be in seat 5 days a week are probably over for a while and the definite reality of hybrid teams is something we need to prepare for.

Hybrid teams have members working in very differing situations, with differing levels of autonomy, ability to socialize and access to the team leader. It will be a key activity to ensure that all team members are treated equally and fairly, regardless of their work arrangement, moving forward. Especially since everyone will be dealing with vulnerabilities, both those back in the office and those remote partially or fully.

Here are some key steps I am planning for, based on advice from this Forbes article.

Relaunching the Team with a Kickoff: As a leader who started remotely almost a year ago, I feel an acute need to meet my team in person and celebrate with them. This will also be an opportunity to kickoff this new chapter in the team’s life.

Level the Playing Field: Ensuring everyone has equal access to me will be key. Team meetings will be fully remote, with on-site folks logging in from their desks. I’m keeping a calendar to track how much face-to-face I get with people and I’ll be looking for opportunities to connect in multiple ways.

Over-communicate: I’ll be honest, I am a little tired from the volume of communication is going on now, but going hybrid means I will need to double-down on my efforts here. I’ll be keeping my consistency meetings, my team meetings, my skip-levels, the over sharing of things I find interesting. I’ll also be looking for ways to recharge myself so the exhaustion level feels a little less.

Understand the individual work styles: It is time to update the communication charter.

Establish New Hybrid Team Rituals and Norms: Learn from what has gone right and create some new rituals. I will be looking for some real innovation from the team here.

Deliberate inclusivity will be critical as we enter this new phase. Planning now as we get ready will lead to better results. Now is the time to start updating your team ground rules.

Here is my current agenda for the team kickoff, developed using SessionLab.

ActivityDescription
Breakfast 
IntroductionReview Agenda
9 Dimensions Team Building Activity9 Dimensions is a powerful activity designed to build relationships and trust among team members.

There are 2 variations of this icebreaker. The first version is for teams who want to get to know each other better. The second version is for teams who want to explore how they are working together as a team.
Break 
Team Self-AssessmentThis is a structured process designed for teams to explore the way they work together. The tight structure supports team members to be open and honest in their assessment. After reflecting as individuals, the team builds a collective map which can serve as the basis for further discussions and actions. The assessment is based around 6 dimensions. Each one encouraging the team to reflect and analyze a different and crucial element of their behavior.
Lunch 
SpyA simple game that will have everyone running within minutes. Very effective to fight the “after-lunch” dip.
Engineering Your Team OSThis is designed to work as a standalone workshop or as a companion to the Team Self-Assessment tool. Using reflections and insights on your working process, your team will ‘update’ its operating system by making deliberate choices about how to work together. The goal is gradual development, not a radical shift. You will design an ideal-state for your team and slowly work towards that.
Break 
3 Action StepsThis is a small-scale strategic planning session that helps groups and individuals to take action toward a desired change. It is often used at the end of a workshop or program. The group discusses and agrees on a vision, then creates some action steps that will lead them towards that vision. The scope of the challenge is also defined, through discussion of the helpful and harmful factors influencing the group.
Review Action ItemsEnsure actions are assigned and trackable
Dinner 

Team Ground Rules

All teams need ground rules. Ground rules, the agreed behaviors of the team, should be short, sharp, unambiguous, and unanimous. The best ground rules follow the goldilocks-principle – they exist but are not unrealistic.

Ground rules are worthless unless implemented. A light set of ground rules which have been fully implemented is always better than a heavy set of ground rules not implemented or observed.

This means that any violations must be dealt with early on, or else the ground rules are not worth the paper they are written on.

Psychological Safety, Reflexivity and Problem Solving

Psychological safety enables individuals to behave authentically, take risks and express themselves candidly. In the workplace, psychological safety captures how comfortable employees feel as team members. Timothy Clark gives four elements of psychological safety:

  • Being included
  • Feeling safe to experiment
  • Contributing
  • Challenging the status quo

This is done through four pillars:

What is psychological safety?

Psychological safety, Reflexivity and a Learning Culture

Reflexivity is the extent employees reflect upon the work tasks they have completed and identify ways of improving performance – it is the information-processing activity. Using reflexivity, employees develop a better sense of what is done, why and how, and can adjust their behaviors and actions accordingly. Reflexivity is a powerful process that can drive performance in a learning culture that  requires psychological safety to flourish. When employees reflect upon their work tasks, they need to have a deeper and better understanding of what they have done, what was done well and not as well, why they engaged in these behaviors, and changes and adaptations needed to result in better performance. People are not likely to engage in reflexivity unless they feel psychologically safe to take interpersonal risks, speak up, and admit failures without feeling uncomfortable or fearful of status and image loss.

Psychological Safety is the magic glue that makes transformative learning possible. Psychological Safety and reflexivity enables a problem solving culture.

Bibliography

Clark, T.R. 2020. The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety. Oakland, CA: Barrett-Koehler

Edmondson, A. 2018. The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation and Growth. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons

West, M.A. 1996. Reflexivity and work group effectiveness: A conceptual integration. In M.A. West (Ed.), Handbook of work group psychology. Chichester, UK: Wiley.

Zak, P.J. 2018. “The Neuroscience of High-Trust Organizations.” Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research 70(1): 45-48

Be the Leader Needed for a Problem Solving Culture

Leadership is a critical element of a problem solving culture and rightly is emphasized in frameworks like the Baldridge or standards like ISO 9001:2015. Leadership is best looked at as the process for determining a possible future state that does not yet exist. As we strive to build excellence we need a passion for this work and to believe it to be truly important. Sharing that enthusiasm is motivating for all people involved and is a way to leverage greater success.

Good leaders encourage behaviors to maintain and improve quality by means of sound decision-making and risk-based thinking.

All of these leadership behaviors stem from four building blocks:

The Value of Vulnerability

I’ve been thinking of the role vulnerability a lot in light of the current pandemic situation, and so I went back and re-read Professor Brené Brown’s Dare To Lead. In this book she lays out a framework for vulnerability, as a resource in leadership and within the workplace, which can impact the entire culture and creativity of a team.

Professor Brown defines vulnerability as uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure and lays out how vulnerability is essential to enabling collaboration. Leaders need to be transparent about their own challenges and encourage others to share their challenges with the group. Sharing vulnerability creates group cohesion.

At the same time I’m reading this book, I also started a new job and I’ve been in a lot of conversations about how we get folks comfortable with sharing their difficulties in their implementation around quality 4.0 initiatives.

Here’s the thing I want to stress, we can make vulnerability an organizational habit by instituting standard processes like after-action reviews and lessons learned. Building these processes into project lifecycle and our very culture provides a clear, designated space for sharing and vulnerability. By ensuring consistent application of lessons earned we can build this habit honesty, vulnerability, openness, and sharing of information. And through that we can help drive a culture of excellence.

Vulnerability can create space for “productive failure”, as Professor Brown terms it. A tricky thing for people to buy into but a way of thinking and working that turns failure into an opportunity to learn. When you know productive failure is a possibility you may be more inclined to be courageous and try and create something bigger and better despite the risks. When a workforce sees vulnerability named and shared by their leaders, and where they also acknowledge risks of failure but see it as an opportunity for learning they are likely to believe they can mirror some of that themselves.

There are a lot of reasons why organizations are bad at doing lessons learned, but I think at the core there is this unmovable idea that vulnerability is a weakness. It is probably for this reason that we see folks very willing to share their successes in case studies and at conferences, but not so willing to shares misses and failures. Even though we have a lot to learn from that vulnerability.

I’m curious. How is vulnerability expressed in your organization?