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LEAD. GROW. INSPIRE.
:“Are we there yet?”
Most people have uttered this phrase, either in earnest as a child or in jest as an adult. Leaders in today’s organizations are saying or thinking it, too, when pondering whether we’ve truly reached the post-pandemic working world we’ve all been wondering about for several years.
One thing is relatively clear: Hybrid work is here to stay. Simply defined, a hybrid work model is one in which at least one employee works remotely (i.e., away from the employer's office) either full-time or part of the time while other employees work full- or part-time from an employer’s office or other facility. In many professions, employees are quickly coming to expect this flexibility, and, in a tight job market, employers may have little choice but to offer it.
Hybrid work creates, or shall we say continues, an ongoing challenge for leadership. How can you excel at team building when some of your team members are working from home, others are on-site and still others are going back and forth between the two? It’s not easy, but with careful planning and diligent persistence, you can create high-performing hybrid (HPH) teams.
Perhaps the most important thing a leader should keep in mind is no matter how dispersed your team members may be, you’re still one team. To create and preserve that unity, you need to instill an HPH team with five fundamental traits:
1. Clear Roles: For employees to work harmoniously, they need clarity about their respective roles. Naturally, this all starts with the job descriptions you used to hire them. Were those job descriptions comprehensive and up to date when your organization interviewed and onboarded team members?
Moreover, has the scope or specifics of any team member’s job changed over time? Employees who have been in their positions for years might not even remember what their job description says or said. As a leader, you need to establish or reestablish the parameters within which HPH team members fulfill the responsibilities of their respective roles.
2. Mutual Accountability: Everyone on a hybrid team needs to be accountable. If any member is allowed to “go rogue” or get away with anything, trust will suffer—and the team will likely drift apart and underperform.
Accountability can be established only after you’ve ensured that team members know their roles. Why? Because accountability isn’t the same thing as responsibility. Employees are responsible for the duties and deadlines of their respective positions. Accountability is whether they fulfill those duties, meet those deadlines and are willing to own both the successes and failures of their work. On an HPH team, they must be accountable not only to you, the team leader, but also to each other.
3. Defined Decision Authority And Responsibility: It should be obvious that a team’s leader is the ultimate decision-maker. However, most employees need some level of autonomy when carrying out their work, and strong leaders are great delegators. A best practice in achieving this is to use the five levels of authority:
Level 1: Act when directed.
Level 2: Act after approval.
Level 3: Act after consultation.
Level 4: Act and report.
Level 5: Act completely autonomously.
Often, some or all these levels go undiscussed or unclarified. This can lead to confusion or conflicts among team members. As a leader, you’ve got to make sure employees on your HPH team know at all times when they can act alone (Level 5) and when they should act under the four lower levels of autonomy.
4. Shared Performance And Goals: There are two facets of this trait. First, an HPH team works together. Maybe that sounds like a painfully obvious point, but under the hybrid model, organizations can have employees working independently, miles or even time zones apart. This can result in a kind of “siloing” in which employees engage in little information sharing, collaboration or even contact with coworkers.
Leaders should strive to limit siloing and encourage collaborative work as much as possible. Of course, you don’t want to disrupt a productive team by forcing unnecessary interactions. Nonetheless, keep an eye out for ways employees can work together in positive, productive ways.
The second part of this trait is goal setting, which will drive performance and collaboration. Volumes have been written about this topic but, generally, stick to the SMART approach. That is, make goals:
Specific (and stretching),
Achievable (and agreed to),
Realistic (and relevant) and
Timed (and tracked).
5. Shared Purpose And Interdependent Functions
This final (and most important) trait involves the broader reason a team exists. If team members don’t truly understand and buy into the purpose of the team, they’ll end up either pulling in different directions or simply lacking in engagement.
Just as today’s organizations should ideally have both mission (why we’re here) and vision (where we’re headed) statements, an HPH team should know why it exists and where it’s going in terms of both day-to-day tasks and strategic goals. And, within the context of that crystal-clear direction, the team should be able to execute various functions interdependently—that is, by counting on each other.
Keep On Rolling
If most or all these things sound familiar to you as a leader, that’s because the nature of leadership hasn’t changed all that much. It’s the way in which leaders carry out their responsibilities that’s changed.
How you use technology, which communications medium you choose, the “rhythm” at which you interact with employees (that is, how often and for how long)—these things are different from how they used to be. So assuming you have adjusted your leadership style to the new hybrid reality, now’s the time to double down and keep on rolling in these challenging, ever-changing times.
Lynda Silsbee is Founder and President of the Alliance for Leadership Acceleration. She has spent more than 30 years creating and leading high performance teams. Along with the other LEAP Certified Coaches, she reports that helping managers make the LEAP to leader is one of the most fulfilling aspects of her work.