The art of building winning hybrid teams

Brunette woman showing time out hand gesture, screaming to stop it.

James Scouller sets out principles from managing teams to ensure that even when you aren’t together, you can still achieve

One question clients often ask me is, “How should my approach to building a winning team change when we’ve switched to hybrid working?”

It’s clear that hybrid working has been difficult for many team leaders. And it’s true, navigating the shift from physical to virtual or hybrid teams can seem daunting. Yet my answer is always the same: “The seven principles of creating and regenerating teams hold true, even when your meetings move online.”

Research into virtual teams by Katzenbach and Smith, authors of The Discipline of Teams, backed this up. They found that applying the basics was the single biggest key to virtual team success.

So, what are the seven basic team building principles? Here’s my simplified summary:

1) Be clear on your number goal

What is the most important thing you must achieve together in the next 3-12 months? Make sure it’s unambiguous and backed up by metrics and targets. Above all, ensure your teammates see it as urgent and important.

2) Consciously choose your working approach

This means deciding whether that goal needs you to act as a genuine team or as a performance group. Yes, there’s a difference. A team can deliver more but a performance group is easier to set up and if it’s enough to achieve your goal, it could be the wiser choice.

3) Share leadership

All top teams do this, especially elite military units like the SAS. But it needs a mindset shift – it means seeing leadership as a process. Or to be more exact, the process of paying attention to four dimensions simultaneously, which are:

  1. Motivating purpose
  2. Task progress and results
  3. Group unity
  4. Attention to individual members’ motivational needs

Teams don’t leave it to the official leader to keep an eye on these four dimensions.

NOTE: We’ve already covered Motivating Purpose in principle #1, defining your number one goal. The other three dimensions are covered by principles #4, #5 and #6.

4) Address the basics of delivering task progress and results

There are four basic building blocks to include. First, don’t just choose people based on job titles – select teammates who’ll give you a good blend of skills, behaviours and mindsets. Second, agree how you’ll make decisions together and stick to that policy (so many teams ignore this vital piece). Third, nail your vision and strategy while keeping it flexible. Fourth, practise holding one another to account (don’t leave it all to the leader).

5) Grow group unity

Do this by defining your ethos/standards and living them. Build deeper trust by practising saying what you’re really thinking and feeling.

6) Team leaders must recognise their teammates as distinct individuals

People have differing motivations. Don’t apply a “one size fits all” approach. That means finding out what drives them and paying attention to their personal motivators.

7) Take time out to look at yourselves as a unit and revisit the basics

This ensures you don’t lose your edge or slip down the curve.

However, because they’re not always in the same room, I do think virtual and hybrid teams must work harder to navigate the early formation stage, what I refer to as the “Commit” issue. We need to ensure everybody decides “they’re in.” Why? Because it’s easier to switch off when all contact is through video software, email or platforms such as Slack.

Five pieces of advice to help with this:

  1. A compelling number one goal is a “must” to offset the physical distances. Do not duck the first of the seven principles. It provides the emotional glue.

  2. Members must feel they have distinct valuable roles playing to their strengths – roles that make them feel important to the team.

  3. Meetings must have a clear aim and agenda as it’s so much easier for attention to stray when working remotely.

  4. Team leaders need to work harder on building one-to-one connections and understanding out-of-town members’ motivational needs.

  5. Mix it up. Unless it’s financially impossible, do your best to have some face-to-face meetings, especially at the start and then, later, when you’re at “crossroads moments,” or when surprise events cause a strategy rethink.

As leaders we can ensure our virtual and hybrid teams thrive by leaning into the seven principles that have always guided the most successful teams.

James Scouller is an executive coach and author of the trilogy, How To Build Winning Teams Again And Again

James Scouller

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