Making hybrid a success through the power of teams

2020 saw the world change in unprecedented ways. Helen Buckwell sees an opportunity for hybrid teams to excel.

Despite all the challenges there is now an opportunity to create a real change in the way we work. ‘Hybrid’ working brings opportunity, but it will be complex as we learn how to adapt. Many of people are grappling with questions such as:

  • Do our leaders have the skills, capability and mindset to lead a hybrid team?
  • How do we help leaders build a safe environment with equity for all – not just those who are most visible?
  • How do we ensure engagement levels don’t drop?
  • How do we maintain and build on our D&I successes to date?
  • How do we balance the desire to create a great employee experience with the needs of our clients, the business and our teams?

The power of teams

There are of course a variety of factors to be managed and reflected upon. At a macro level what boundaries is the organisation putting place to ensure fairness across teams? Whilst at a micro level there are unending options to explore.

We know from research by the likes of Marcus Buckingham and Adrian Goodall (HBR April 2019, The Power of Hidden Teams), that culture and engagement are formed at a team level. With this in mind, organisations need to create some guidelines and boundaries within which to play. 

When we’re connected, we understand each other well enough to make the most of the diversity of thought available

The focus then moves to enabling team leaders and their teams to apply these organisational boundaries within their unique world. I believe this is where we have an opportunity to build real momentum and innovation. 

The team environment will have a major impact on the success of hybrid working. Consequently, it places a lot of pressure on team leaders and ‘middle management’ who may, through no fault of their own, not be equipped to rise to the challenge.

The power of collaboration

If we view team leaders and their teams as the lynchpin to successful hybrid working, how can learning and talent functions support their organisations to make the year ahead a success? 

Where does the business really need your expertise and insight? The key in my view is in upskilling leaders and their teams to collaborate well. Why? Because too often we see teams not make the most of the collective talent they hold within them, unable to make the most of the full diversity of thought they hold to enhance their collective performance.


At this point in time, we have a real opportunity to help teams enhance their capability in this space – for both current and future success. With this in mind let’s consider some practical ideas to build collaboration in a hybrid world:

Authentic Leadership: The mindset and behaviours needed to lead in challenging and ambiguous times. Are your leaders ready to embrace the future potential, or are they resistant and aiming to get everything back to ‘pre-Covid normal’?

  • Leadership circles: Bring leaders together to learn and support each other as the various challenges unfold. This enables leaders to be exposed to those with differing views, whilst also sharing learning and insights and creating a support network.
  • Presenteeism bias: Increase your leaders’ awareness of the dangers of presenteeism bias – the tendency to view those we see in person as more reliable, committed and higher performing, than their virtual working colleagues. 

Clarity: We know during times of uncertainty, providing clarity is highly valuable (David Rock, Neuroleadership Institute). Is everyone clear on their purpose, goals, roles? 

  • Keep saying it: Remind team leaders to over communicate on the things that remain constant e g. the purpose of the business and the values you work by.
  • Make it easy to share the plan:  As the senior leaders in your business agree the boundaries within which ‘hybrid’ working will come to life, help team leaders understand how to communicate and explore this. For example, share simple scripts and examples of how the policy can be applied.

Connection: We are humans and we are social beings. When we’re connected, we understand each other well enough to make the most of the diversity of thought available, we share learning, and we feel safe to get stuff wrong and learn.

  • Collective agreement: Help teams and their leaders come together and collectively agree how they want to work together on a day-to-day basis. When (if at all) might you all be in together?  Could the chair of meetings always dial in to give those working virtually equity in the meeting? How will we engage with other teams and stakeholders?
  • Boundaries: We all know the blurring of boundaries between home and work has been very challenging. This can’t continue, so use this moment in time to talk about it. Agree preferred ways of communicating (formally and informally), understand when people want to work not just where (Lynda Gratton, HBR (May-June 2021, ‘How to do hybrid right’). Encourage team leaders to be aware of the influence their actions have, e.g. late night emails can imply an immediate response is required.

Efficiency: The processes, ways of working and measures put in place to ensure we work as efficiently as possible

  • Get into the detail:  Encourage leaders to work through the detail and build up plans with the team. For example, some teams are using colour coding in calendars to indicate whether a meeting can be on the phone, thus meaning a ‘walk and talk’ is an option. Consider how transparent your calendars are so people know if they can call or not.  Are there set days when the full team needs to be in? 
  • Measurement: Remind leaders to spend time with their team agreeing the behavioural indicators (unique to them) that will tell this team hybrid working is a success.  They may also want to note any indicators that will act as a ‘health warning’ and encourage them to review how things are going.

The months ahead will be an ongoing experiment for us all. This is an exciting time to create something new for the future. We just need to invest some time and energy to test drive ideas and discover what works – team by team.


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