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 – 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.

Decision Quality helps overcome bad outcomes

We gather for a meeting, usually around a table, place our collective attention on the problem, and let, most likely let our automatic processes take over. But, all too often, this turns out to be a mistake. From this stems poor meetings, bad decisions, and a general feeling of malaise that we are wasting time.

Problem-solving has stages, it is a process, and in order for groups to collaborate effectively and avoid talking past one another, members must all be in the same problem-solving stage. In order to make this happen our meetings must be methodical.

In a methodical meeting, for each issue that needs to be discussed, members deliberately and explicitly choose just one problem-solving stage to complete.

To convert an intuitive meeting into a methodical one take your meeting agenda, and to the right of each agenda item, write down a problem-solving stage that will help move you closer to a solution, as well as the corresponding measurable outcome for that stage. Then, during that part of the meeting, focus only on achieving that outcome. Once you do, move on.

A Template for Conducting a Methodical Meeting

Pair each agenda item with a problem solving stage and a measurable outcome.

Agenda ItemProblem Solving StageMeasurable Outcome
Select a venue for the offsiteDevelop alternativesList of potential venues
Discuss ERP usage problemsFrameProblem statement
Implement new batch record strategyPlan for ImplementationList of actions / owners / due dates
Review proposed projectsEvaluate AlternativesList of strengths and weaknesses
Choose a vendorMake DecisionWritten decision

If you don’t know which problem-solving stage to choose, consider the following:

Do you genuinely understand the problem you’re trying to solve? If you can’t clearly articulate the problem to someone else, chances are you don’t understand it as well as you might think. If that’s the case, before you start generating solutions, consider dedicating this part of the meeting to framing and ending it with a succinctly written problem statement.

Do you have an ample list of potential solutions? If the group understands the problem, but hasn’t yet produced a set of potential solutions, that’s the next order of business. Concentrate on generating as many quality options as possible (set the alternatives).

Do you know the strengths and weaknesses of the various alternatives? Suppose you have already generated potential solutions. If so, this time will be best spent letting the group evaluate them. Free attendees from the obligation of reaching a final decision—for which they may not yet be ready—and let them focus exclusively on developing a list of pros and cons for the various alternatives.

Has the group already spent time debating various alternatives? If the answer is yes, use this part of the meeting to do the often difficult work of choosing. Make sure, of course, that the final choice is in writing.

Has a decision been made? Then focus on developing an implementation plan. If you’re able to leave the conversation with a comprehensive list of actions, assigned owners, and due dates, you can celebrate a remarkably profitable outcome.

Decision Quality

The decisions we make are often complex and uncertain. A good decision-making process better is critical to success – knowing how we make decisions, and how to confirm we are making good decisions – allows us to bring quality to our decisions. To do this we need to understand what a quality decision looks like and how to obtain it.

There is no universal best process or set of steps to follow in making good decisions. However, any good decision process needs to have the idea of decision-quality as the measurable destination.

Decisions do not come ready to be made. They must be shaped starting by declaring what the decision you that must be made. All decisions have one thing in common – the best choice creates the best possibility of what you truly want. To find that best choice, you need decision-quality and you must recognize it as the destination when you get there. You cannot reach a good decision, achieve decision-quality, if you are unable to visualize or describe it. Nor can you say you have accomplished it, if you cannot recognize it when it is achieved.

What makes a Good Decision?

The six requirements for a good decision are: (1) an appropriate frame, (2) creative alternatives, (3) relevant and reliable information, (4) clear values and trade-offs, (5) sound reasoning, and (6) commitment to action. To judge the quality of any decision before you act, each requirement must be met and addressed with quality. I like representing it as a chain, because a decision is no better than the weakest link.

The frame specifies the problem or opportunity you are tackling, asking what is to be decided. It has three parts:  purpose in making the decision; scope of what will be included and left out; and your perspective including your point of view, how you want to approach the decision, what conversations will be needed, and with whom. Agreement on framing is essential, especially when more than one party is involved in decision making. What is important is to find the frame that is most appropriate for the situation. If you get the frame wrong, you will be solving the wrong problem or not dealing with the opportunity in the correct way.

The next three links are: alternatives – defining what you can do; information – capturing what you know and believe (but cannot control), and values – representing what you want and hope to achieve. These are the basis of the decision and are combined using sound reasoning, which guides you to the best choice (the alternative that gets you the most of what you want and in light of what you know). With sound reasoning, you reach clarity of intention and are ready for the final element – commitment to action.

Asking: “What is the decision I should be making?” is not a simple question. Furthermore, asking the question “On what decision should I be focusing?” is particularly challenging. It is a question, however, that is important to be asked, because you must know what decision you are making. It defines the range within which you have creative and compelling alternatives. It defines constraints. It defines what is possible. Many organizations fail to create a rich set of alternatives and simply debate whether to accept or reject a proposal. The problem with this approach is that people frequently latch on to ideas that are easily accessible, familiar or aligned directly with their experiences.

Exploring alternatives is a combination of analysis, rigor, technology and judgement. This is about the past and present – requiring additional judgement to anticipate future consequences. What we know about the future is uncertain and therefore needs to be described with possibilities and probabilities. Questions like: “What might happen?” and “How likely is it to happen?” are difficult and often compound. To produce reliable judgements about future outcomes and probabilities you must gather facts, study trends and interview experts while avoiding distortions from biases and decision traps. When one alternative provides everything desired, the choice among alternatives is not difficult. Trade-offs must be made when alternatives do not provide everything desired. You must then decide how much of one value you are willing to give up to receive more of another.  

Commitment to action is reached by involving the right people in the decision efforts. The right people must include individuals who have the authority and resources to commit to the decision and to make it stick (the decision makers) and those who will be asked to execute the decided-upon actions (the implementers). Decision makers are frequently not the implementers and much of a decision’s value can be lost in the handoff to implementers. It is important to always consider the resource requirements and challenges for implementation.

These six requirements of decision-quality can be used to judge the quality of the decision at the time it is made. There is no need to wait six months or six years to assess its outcome before declaring the decision’s quality. By meeting the six requirements you know at the time of the decision you made a high-quality choice. You cannot simply say: “I did all the right steps.” You have got to be able to judge the decision itself, not just how you got to that decision. When you ask, “How good is this decision if we make it now?” the answer must be a very big part of your process. The piece missing in the process just may be in the material and the research and that is a piece that must go right.

Decision-quality is all about reducing comfort zone bias – when people do what they know how to do, rather than what is needed to make a strong, high-quality decision. You overcome the comfort zone bias by figuring out where there are gaps. Let us say the gap is with alternatives. Your process then becomes primarily a creative process to generate alternatives instead of gathering a great deal more data. Maybe we are awash in a sea of information, but we just have not done the reasoning and modelling and understanding of the consequences. This becomes more of an analytical effort. The specific gaps define where you should put your attention to improve the quality of the decision.

Leadership needs to have clearly defined decision rights and understand that the role of leadership is assembling the right people to make quality decisions. Once you know how to recognize digital quality, you need an effective and efficient process to get there and that process involves many things including structured interactions between decision maker and decision staff, remembering that productive discussions result when multiple parties are involved in the decision process and difference in judgement are present.

Beware Advocacy

The most common decision process tends to be an advocacy decision process – you are asking somebody to sell you an answer. Once you are in advocacy mode, you are no longer in a decision-quality mode and you cannot get the best choice out of an advocacy decision process. Advocacy suppresses alternatives. Advocacy forces confirming evidence bias and means selective attention to what supports your position. Once in advocacy mode, you are really in a sales mode and it becomes a people competition.

When you want quality in a decision, you want the alternatives to compete, not the people. From the decision board’s perspective, when you are making a decision, you want to have multiple alternatives in front of you and you want to figure out which of these alternatives beats the others in terms of understanding the full consequences in risk, uncertainty and return. For each of the alternatives one will show up better. If you can make this happen, then it is not the advocate selling it, it is you trying to help look at which of these things gives us the most value for our investment in some way.

The role outcomes play in the measuring of decision quality

Always think of decisions and outcomes as separate because when you make decisions in an uncertain world, you cannot fully control the outcomes. When looking back from an outcome to a decision, the only thing you can really tell is if you had a good outcome or a bad outcome. Hindsight bias is strong, and once triggered, it is hard to put yourself back into understanding what decisions should have been made with what you knew, or could have known, at the time.

In understanding how we use outcomes in terms of evaluating decisions, you need to understand the importance of documenting the decision and the decision quality at the time of the decision. Ask yourself, if you were going to look back two years from now, what about this decision file answers the questions: “Did we make a decision that was good?” and “What can we learn about the things about which we had some questions?” This kind of documentation is different from what people usually do. What is usually documented is the approval and the working process. There is usually no documentation answering the question: “If we are going to look back in the future, what would we need to know to be able to learn about making better decisions?”

The reason you want to look back is because that is the way you learn and improve the whole decision process. It is not for blaming; in the end, what you are trying to show in documentation is: “We made the best decision we could then. Here is what we thought about the uncertainties. Here is what we thought were the driving factors.” Its about having a learning culture.

When decision makers and individuals understand the importance of reaching quality in each of the six requirements, they feel meeting those requirements is a decision-making right and should be demanded as part of the decision process. To be in a position where they can make a good decision, they know they deserve a good frame and significantly different alternatives or they cannot be in a position to reach a powerful, correct conclusion and make a decision. From a decision-maker’s perspective, these are indeed needs and rights to be thought about. From a decision support perspective, these needs and rights are required to be able to position the decision maker to make a good choice.

Building decision-quality enables measurable value creation and its framework can be learned, implemented and measured. Decision-quality helps you navigate the complexity of uncertainty of significant and strategic choices, avoid mega biases and big decision traps.

Goals, Objectives and Transparency

Organizations, projects and teams have goals and objectives, and often these terms are used interchangeably. When I’m trying to be good on nomenclature, I use the following standard definitions:

Goal is generally described as an effort directed towards an end. In project management, for example, the term goal is to three different target values of performance, time and resources. To be more specific, the project goal specifies the desired outcome (performance), the specific end date (time) and the assigned amount of resources (resources). A goal answers to “What” is the main aim of the project. 

An Objective defines the tangible and measurable results of the team to support the agreed goal and meet the planned end time and other resource restrictions. It answers to “How” something is to be done.

I think many of us are familiar with the concept of SMART goals. Lately I’ve been using FAST objectives.

From “With Goals, FAST Beats SMART” by Donald Sull and Charles Sull

Transparency provides the connective tissue, and must be a primary aspect of any quality culture. Transparency is creating a free flow within an organization and between the organization and its many stakeholders. This flow of information is the central nervous system of an organization and it’s effectiveness depends on it. Transparency influences the capacity to solve problems, innovate, meet challenges and as shown above, meet goals.

This information flow is simply that critical information gets to the right person at the right time and for the right reason. By making our goals transparent we can start that process and make a difference in our organizations.