Optimising Hybrid Working

In the last 18 months, we have all seen that people can work from home productively, and that flexibility is likely to remain in some form as we emerge from the pandemic.  In a recent study, 70% of global organisations said some proportion of their workforce will be allowed to work remotely full time in the future normal, with 61% planning to empower employees to choose their own mix of working from home and working from the office.  25% of companies plan to allow employees to choose to work from home full time.

I’m a massive fan of remote and hybrid working, mainly because I have a team of 30 people who work together from 7 countries around the world, and I would not have access to their talent without allowing them to work from anywhere.  However, we have learned a lot of lessons in how to do it well, (and how not to), because for all the upsides, there are of course downsides too. 

Hybrid working means a degree of flexibility in how we show up for work, and when and where.  And with flexibility comes blurred boundaries and unclear expectations.  In my team, we have deliberately agreed what is and isn’t acceptable in our working culture, so there we all have clear expectations for each other.  Don’t be tempted to “see how things naturally settle” into hybrid working – every team needs to deliberately and consciously define what hybrid working means for them.

All of us have been under enormous pressure to adapt and survive through a crisis, but we need to be careful not to bring our crisis habits into our new normal.  Most of us have had back to back meetings 5 days a week, and the time we’ve saved from commuting has been given back to yet more (badly run) meetings and (too many unnecessary) emails.  We are filling up our working day and leaving no time for development of others, relationship building, or learning from each other.  Without the distractions of the commute, the downtime between meetings, the watercooler conversations, we have become all work and no play

Unless we change how we work, remote working will make our team performance worse, will make our jobs less enjoyable, and will severely disadvantage the newer and younger members of our teams. 

Here are 7 ways to transition to hybrid working:

  1. Over-communicate: Leaders and managers need to communicate with teams much more than before when hybrid working.  Whether inviting the company for a weekly online Q&A with the boss, sending out a weekly newsletter, sharing awards and celebrations or simply picking up the phone more often to each individual on the team.  In times of uncertainty, the more you can communicate with each other the stronger your relationships will be, the more trust you will develop, and the better the teams will feel.
  • Keep experimenting: Hybrid working isn’t about creating one permanent set of rules for the whole company — every team should decide between them how they best want to work well together in a hybrid environment. This means giving people permission to experiment and try out new ways of working until they find a pattern that works for them. When new team members join or when a new project starts they might need to change how they work again, so keep the options open for improvement.
  • Value live time: When people are meeting face-to-face, make sure people prioritise their time and attention for that meeting by having a reason to be in the same room as each other. Don’t waste live time with one person presenting a long slide deck — that’s the kind of thing that can be done online, or even pre-recorded. Live time should be discussing debating and creating ideas, where everyone in the room has a contribution to make and a reason to be there.
  • Schedule down-time: Hybrid working only works when people trust each other, so put in unstructured team-building time to develop your relationships with each other as people, beyond work. You will need to create space and time for downtime together with your team — for example have lunch together once a week without an agenda (remotely or in person), or share hobbies and interests with each other once a month.  Especially when we are working in different locations and online, this relationship building is essential – and should be booked into the day job, not just for after hours.
  • People not PowerPoint: When people meet each other online, make sure videos are on so they can fully connect and see each other’s faces and body language. This means prioritising people not PowerPoint — every time there is a discussion, come off slide share and make sure they are seeing each other face-to-face and talking to each other, not to slides.
  • Book in development and shadowing time. Hybrid working makes it harder for younger or new members of the team to learn from the other people in the team by osmosis. Make sure to schedule for shadowing and development time for new team members, or assign them buddies from their management and leadership group, so they have the chance to overhear meetings and learn from the conversations that more experienced people are having.
  • Fast feedback culture: It’s easy for misunderstandings to happen when we are working remotely. Encourage people to give and receive fast feedback, in the moment. If someone seems upset, or if a person didn’t get what they were expecting from someone, create a culture of being able to immediately pick up the phone and clarify, positively and constructively. Make sure teams don’t let things fester or worry, and definitely make sure they don’t only communicate by email. Give your teams permission to check-in with each other, especially when the tone seems off.

We will not define hybrid working once nor permanently, and we certainly won’t define it for the whole company in one policy.  We’ve seen that we can trust people to work from home — let’s now trust them to work out the best patterns of work that suit them, the team members and the type of work each team does.  Hybrid working means giving teams the tools and permission to experiment with the best way to work, and continually enable them to optimise how they work together better.

Pam Hamilton is author of Supercharged Teams: 30 Tools of Great Teamwork, and in Chapter 7 of Supercharged Teams “Ways to work together” there are 3 tools to help you work out how your team will best work in a hybrid world.  There is also a free team assessment you can take for your team to find out how your team scores and what chapters and tools are right for you.

Sources:

*Times Future of Work 7th December 2020


What comes first, teamship or friendship?

When you think about a great team you have been in, do you think about the work, or do you think about the people you worked with? For me, it’s the people.  Thinking back to my first start-up, my team and I led creative workshops for some of the biggest global TV shows in the world. Every year the production teams would meet to share ideas, collaborate, and plan, and we made these events happen. Working for the top TV creatives was both inspiring and incredibly challenging.  We once worked a high-profile TV event where most of the top talent were a pleasure to work with, excepting our main contact who bullied her way through the project.

Despite the hard work and the late-night tears, we believed in the project, and we worked positively with each other to deliver a brilliant event.  We are still proud of that work today, not just for the quality of the work we delivered, but for how we were able to work positively and support each other, despite the challenges. A decade later, our team continue to be good friends, even though we’ve moved to different companies.  When you’ve been through one of those “best of times, worst of times” situations, it shows you what people are really like, and if they are great team players, it brings you closer.

However, being great friends doesn’t always make you a great team.  Some of the worst performing teams I know are great friends and have a brilliant time together but don’t get anything done.  Collective intelligence research tells us that teams who avoid constructive conflict in favour of consensus make fewer successful decisions because they don’t challenge each other enough.   

High performing teams do not need to be best friends first.  It’s easy to assume that friendship is the first step towards teamship, when really it’s the other way round.  We come to work to achieve something, whether that’s launch a new product or serve our customers.  Putting friendship before teamship means we might launch an inferior product because we didn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, or forget to serve our customers because we’re too busy having a laugh. 

Great teams are like sports teams; they expect great performance from every player, and they play well together because they want to win.  When we work well together despite the pressures at work, we can develop a deep trust and respect.  I’d argue that being respectful of each other and being a pleasure to work with are the basics of doing a great job in any team.  From that we may create brilliant friendships and find those best friends at work, but the teamship has to come first.  If friendship comes from teamship, that’s a bonus.

Pam Hamilton is the author of Supercharged Teams: 30 Tools of Great Teamwork. Pam is a teamwork and collaboration expert with a background in psychology, an obsession with collective intelligence, and 20 years experience working in corporate and public sector teams across the world. This article was first published in TJ Magazine, August 2021.


Is your team toxic? The warning signs and what to do about it

How would you describe your team at work?  Are they a group of professionals who do their best to work well together to achieve their goals?  Or are they more like a dysfunctional family who make excuses for each other’s bad behaviours and terrible habits?  Most work teams are somewhere between the two – we spend so much time at work that we can’t help getting to know each other well.  Everyone has good days and bad days, and we don’t always work together as well as we could, but for the most part if we can get along, and do the best we can, working in a team can be enjoyable.

But what do you do if your team always feels like a dysfunctional family all the time? 

You may be in a toxic team – here are the warning signs:

  • Bullying and bad behaviour are ignored, excused or even encouraged
  • People regularly cry at work or shout at each other
  • Team banter makes people on the team feel uncomfortable, embarrassed or left out
  • People make excuses for each other like “don’t mind her, she’s always like that”, or “ignore him, he doesn’t mean it”
  • People are indiscreet, unprofessional or spread gossip
  • People are overworked, underpaid or unfairly treated, for example being expected to answer emails at all hours
  • There’s a culture of fear – no one wants to say anything because they worry about being targeted

It is tempting to think that the people we work with are like our families – we can’t always choose who they are, we get to know each other well over time, and eventually we work out what each person is good at, and we sometimes see their worst sides under pressure.  But work teams are not our families.  In fact, high performing teams prefer to use the analogy of a sports team – we are here to win together, which means being our fittest, best version of ourselves, and playing well together.  When we do great work we win our games, and we enjoy ourselves too.  It’s no longer acceptable to just say “that’s the way it’s always been”.  Instead, we need to bring our best selves to work, and make sure other people do too.

The best teams behave respectfully towards each other, no matter who they are, no matter how pressured the work is and not matter how senior they are.  Research has shown that bullying and bad behaviour are terrible for team spirit and lower team performance, so they are not just bad for the team members, they are bad for business.  The problem is that toxic teams have often developed a strong culture and habits are hard to break. 

However, we all have a responsibility to each other to improve the way we all behave at work.  Anyone in a team, whether the team leader or a team member can intervene to fix a toxic team. 

Here are 5 steps to take to fix a toxic team:

  1. Ask for things to improve:  If there’s a toxic culture, anyone in the team can say to the rest of the team “I’m feeling uncomfortable/unhappy/bad about how we behave together at work, could try to work together in a better way?”  You’re not blaming anyone, you are raising the possibility of improving the way things are.  In the worst case scenario, people may not take you seriously, and you will need to keep asking a few times before they listen.  But more often, other people on the team will agree and support you, and they will start asking the same question too “could we try to work better together?”.
  2. Focus on behaviour not people:  Once you have people’s attention and made them aware that you’d like things to improve, you can refer to examples of behaviour you’d like to fix (without blaming specific individuals).  You can say “I know we have all laughed in the past when we tease the interns, but I don’t feel comfortable about it anymore because I don’t think they find it funny.  I’d prefer it if we stopped doing it”.
  3. Speak up early if it happens again:  Once you’ve said you’re uncomfortable with a specific behaviour, then the next time it happens you can say “I have already said that playing tricks on the interns makes me uncomfortable, I don’t think it’s right to carry on.  I’d like it to stop please”.
  4. Name and explain unacceptable behaviour:  In future, or with new people joining, you and the rest of the team can tell them how you have agreed to work together and what you don’t do as a team, for example “We don’t play pranks on each other in this team because it was making some people feel really uncomfortable, even if other people found it funny.  We discussed it and we agreed it wasn’t fair, so we stopped”.
  5. Seek support:  If all your best efforts fail to make the team less toxic, you may need to ask for advice and support from your boss or HR.  Sometimes company cultures are so ingrained that they need professional intervention from someone independent or more senior.

In toxic team situations, it is far better to speak up than to let things get worse.  You are doing it not only to improve how you feel at work, but also to help the rest of the team.  Some people don’t realise the impact they are having on others, but if you openly discuss how you would like to work together, you will build trust, do better work, and enjoy the work more. 

Every person in the team, not just the leader, has the permission and the responsibility to ask people to behave better at work.  Let’s not be a dysfunctional family at work, let’s be more like sports teams and do our best to play well together and win.

Pam Hamilton is a teamwork expert and author of Supercharged Teams:  30 Tools of Great Teamwork. In Chapter 8 of Supercharged Teams “Dealing With Conflict” you can find 4 tools on how to deal with a toxic team and what to do about conflict at work. There is also a free team assessment you can take to understand how your team performs and learn which chapters and tools are right for you. This article was written for and published by The Mail Online on 27th July 2021.


How to speak up to your boss (without losing your job)

There are lots of tools and training courses for bosses on how to manage people, but we hardly ever talk about how people can manage their bosses.   “Managing up” is being able to speak up to your boss about how they can support you more, for example to ask for help, to share your concerns about your work or team, or even to ask them to change how they work.   Finding the courage to speak up to your boss can be difficult, but it is more important now than it ever was before. 

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Hybrid working: what not to do, and 7 ways to do it well.

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I started researching this article thinking I would write about the problems of intergenerational working.  Boomers complaining about millennials for not using apostrophes properly, Gen Z making fun of Millennials for their avocado toast and coffee obsessions, Gen X’s hedonism getting out of control at the Christmas party, that sort of thing.  We’ve all noticed it – different generations bring different beliefs and behaviours to work. 

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Outputs versus outcomes: one simple tool to supercharge your goal setting and teamwork

The police have targets to measure their performance, and over the last decade have moved away from output-based targets to outcome-based ones.  If police targets were based purely on how many arrests are made, they would be ignoring the fact that arresting people does not deal with the causes of crime.  Even though they still need to solve crimes and arrest criminals, the police are increasingly responsible for working alongside community groups to keep people healthy and happy so they don’t turn to crime in the first place.

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