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 Feedback

Research on feedback in teams recognizes the importance of continuous reflection and feedback mechanisms to team success and generally finds that the feedback process is an ongoing dynamic system of performance management rather than an isolated event. Feedback is critical to teams learning.

Four characteristics make feedback effective:

  • Type of feedback: Feedback can describe performance or processes behaviors. Performance feedback contains information about individual or team performance to reinforce good performance or repair poor performance by identifying areas for improvement. Process feedback is information regarding the way one performed a task and did or did not reach expected results.
  • Feedback level: Feedback can target the team as a whole (i.e., team-level feedback), individual team members (i.e., individual-level feedback), or both. In the latter, team members receive information about how the team behaves as a whole along with information about their individual contribution.
  • Feedback valence: The positive or negative evaluation of one’s performance in relation to the goal or standard. In teams, potential benefits of negative feedback might be explained by the activation of goal-striving iterative cycles.
  • Feedback source: Objective (e.g., a measure of delay of delivery) or subjective (i.e., opinion of a source). Feedback-subjective sources can be classified as (a) sources from outside the team (e.g., manager, researcher, expert, and customers) and (b) sources from inside the team (e.g., the team leader debriefing about the feedback or team members who give feedback to each other).

Feedback quality is determined by how specific, well timed, regular, non-threatening, shared, directed at teams it targets, and fairly distributed among team members the feedback is. When feedback meets these criteria, it has been found to be most effective.

Most feedback models state that feedback can only be powerful when individuals attend to and perceive this feedback as being relevant, meaningful, and useful. Conversely, if team members perceive feedback as being unrelated to actual performance, irrelevant, or inaccurate, or do not pay attention to cues presented in the feedback, they are likely to disregard, discount, or reject this feedback. If feedback perception is favorable for team members, and if individual perceptions are externalized in the team and shared among team mem-bers (i.e., team perception), teams as a whole will likely engage in interactions during which they will collectively make sense of the feedback and plan changes accordingly.

We live in the age of culturally heterogeneous teams, defined as two or more individuals from different cultural backgrounds who pursue a common goal, work on interdependent tasks, require social interaction, share responsibility for a team product, and have clear differentiated responsibilities and roles. Teams with members from various cultures can provide a broader range of perspectives, task-related knowledge, abilities, and skills. However, culturally related individual differences in social behavior, communication, and cognition can greatly increase the complexity of intra-team dynamics.

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 – the 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.

Quality Culture is Fundamental to Actually Providing Quality

For all I love the hard dimensions of quality (i.e. process, training, validation, management review, auditing, measurement of KPI) I also stress in my practice how the soft dimension of communication and employee participation and teamwork are critical to bring about a culture of excellence. Without a strong quality culture people will not be ready to commit and involve themselves fully in building and supporting a robust quality management system. The goal is to align top management behavior and the emergent culture to be consistent over time with the quality system philosophy or people will become cynical. In short, organizational culture should be compatible with the quality values.

Quality cultural is justifiably the rage and it is not going anywhere. If you are not actively engaging with it you are losing one of your mechanisms for success.

Quality Culture really serves as a way to categorize an organizational culture that intends to enhance quality permanently. There are two distinct elements characterizing this culture:

  • A cultural/psychological element of shared values, beliefs, expectations and commitment towards quality
  • A structural/managerial element with defined processes that enhance quality and aim at coordinating individual efforts.

Schein’s model of organizational culture provides a valuable place to start in assessing quality culture:

  • Visible quality artifacts (e.g. quality assessment tools)
  • Espoused quality values (e.g. mission statement)
  • Shared basic quality assumptions (e.g. quality commitment)
Schein’s culture pyramid

The first basic quality assumption to tackle is to answer what do you mean by Quality?

Even amongst quality professionals we do not all seem to be in agreement on what we mean by Qualitity. Hence all the presentations at conferences and part of the focus on Quality 4.0 (the other part of the focus is a mistaken worship of technology – go back to Deming people!)

Route out the ambiguity that results in:

  • Uncontrollable fragmentation of quality thinking, discussion, and practices
  • Superficiality of the quality-related information and communication
  • Conceptual confusions between the quality results and quality enablers, and between quality and many other related factors
  • Disintegration of the foundation of quality

I like to place and front and center the definition of quality from ISO 9000: “degree to which a set of inherent characteristics of an object fulfils requirements.” This definition emphasizes the relative nature of quality (“degree”) that also highlights the subjective perception of quality. The object of quality is defined more generally than for the goods or service products only. The object has its inherent characteristics that consist of all of its features or attributes. “Requirement” means here needs and expectations, which may be related to all interested parties of the object and the interaction. This definition of quality is also compatible the prevailing understanding of quality in everyday language.

For an organization, the definition of quality relates to the organization’s stakeholders. With the definition, we can consider both the quality of the organization as a whole and the quality of the entities being exchanged between the organization and its stakeholders. Products produced and delivered to the organization’s customers are especially significant entities in this context.

Following through with ISO9000’s definition of Quality management implying how the personal, organizational, or societal resources and activities or processes are managed with regard to quality, we are able to the framework for basic quality assumptions in an organization.

Herein usually lies your True North, a term used a lot, that recognizes that quality is a journey: there is no absolute destination point and we will never achieve perfection. Think of True North not as a destination, but as a term used to describe the ideal state of perfection that your organization should be continually striving for.

In espoused quality values we take the shared concept of quality and expand it to performance excellence as an integrated approach to the organizational performance management that results in:

  • the delivery of ever-improving value to customers and stakeholders, contributing to organizational sustainability
  • the improvement of overall organizational effectiveness and capabilities
  • Organizational and personal learning.

We need to have a compelling story around these values.

A compelling story is a narrative that charts a change over time, showing how potential solutions fit into the espoused values. This story can generate more engagement from listeners than any burning platform ever will. By telling a compelling story, you clarify motivation to develop discontent with the status quo. Let the story show the organization where you have come from and where you might go. The story must be consistent and adopted by al leaders in the organization. The leadership team should weave in the compelling story at all opportunities. They should ask their teams constantly, “What’s next?” “How can we make that eve better?” “How did you improve your area today?”

Compelling stories often build on dissatisfaction by positioning against competitors. In the life science sector, it can be more effective to enshrine the patient in the center of the compelling story. People will support change when they see and experience a purposeful connection to an organization mission. The compelling story drives that.

Espoused values require strong and constant communication.

Espoused values are have more levers for change than basic assumptions. While I placed True North down in assumptions, in all honestly it will for a central part of that compelling story and drive adoption of the espoused values.

It is here we need to build and reaffirm psychological safety.

In the post “Driving towards a Culture of Excellence” I provided elements of a high performing culture that count as artifacts of quality, stemming out of the values.

Teaching Quality People to Listen

Been thinking a lot on what a training program around teaching people to listen and not to talk might look like and how it fits into a development program for quality professionals.

People in quality think a lot on how to make a reasoned argument, a good decision, to provide guidance, get their point across in meetings, persuade or coerce people to follow standards. This is understandable, but it has a cost. There is a fair amount of research out there that indicates that all too often when others are talking, we are getting ready to speak instead of listening.

I think we fail to listen because we are anxious about our own performance, concerned about being viewed as an expert, convinced that our ideas are better than others, comfortable in our expertise, or probably all of the above. As a result we get into conflicts that could be avoided, miss opportunities to advance the conversation, alienate people and diminish our teams’ effectiveness.

When we really listen we create the spaces to make quality decisions. Listening can be improved by these practices:

Ask expansive questions. Stay curious, build on other’s ideas are mantras I think most of us are familiar with. Suppress the urge to interrupt or dominate a conversation and concentrate on the implications of other people’s words. It is very easy for a quality professional to instantly leap to solving the problem, and we need to be able to give space. Focus on open-ended “what” and “how” questions, which encourage people to provide more information, reflect on the situation and feel more heard. Avoid yes-and-no questions which can kill dialogue.

Engage in “self-checks”. Be aware of one’s own tendencies and prepare with ways to identify they are happening and head them off. Doing this will surprisingly allow you to focus on the listener and not yourself moving beyond the words that are being said and being able to take in the speaker’s tone, body language, emotions and perspective, and the energy in the conversation.

Become comfortable with silence. This means communicating attentiveness and respect while you are silent.

Listening needs to be part of our core competencies, and unless we work on it, we don’t get better.