One lasting legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic is the global shift in working patterns and practices.
In the past, virtual teamwork was primarily the domain of international teams who met online out of necessity.
Now, the demand for hybrid working patterns is high, with Harvard Business School reporting that 81% of workers either don't want to go back to the office or would prefer a hybrid working schedule.
But with changes that have come about suddenly and through necessity, rather than being introduced gradually and in line with policy, many questions remain about how to make a high-performing hybrid team and how to manage hybrid teams effectively.
Here, we ask: how do hybrid teams work? How do we ensure that employees' needs and expectations are aligned with those of the organisation? How can managers adapt and navigate their teams through the challenges of hybrid working?
At Belbin, we use the language of Team Roles (nine specific behaviours we exhibit in a team) to describe how each person contributes. Understanding the Team Roles present in a team can help managers facilitate transitions to different ways of working and keep the team pulling together, with each person working to their strengths.
First, establish what the organisation can offer, in order to manage expectations. Are there core hours that need to be covered in a particular location? Is there enough room for everyone to be in the office at the same time?
Open up the conversation without assuming about what people want, based on preconceptions or your own preferences. Our 2020 survey on remote working demonstrated that those with high Resource Investigator preferences (people who are gregarious, inquisitive, prolific networkers) struggled more with working from home than did Completer Finishers or Specialists, who tend to undertake more focused, in-depth work that requires less interaction with others.
Once we have a better idea of someone’s strengths and working styles, we have a language with which to begin the discussion. For example: "I wonder if you’re missing the opportunity to make new contacts?" or: "Are you finding that home-working offers fewer distractions than the office?"
The move to hybrid working is a great opportunity to clarify who is doing what in the team, and how that’s working for everyone.
Job descriptions may no longer relate to reality and it’s a good chance to re-evaluate, shake things up and assign work based on strengths rather than continuing with the same old.
Belbin can provide insights into the team’s overall culture and how work might best be allocated. Even if this represents a departure from what has gone before, it can provide a valuable new perspective and discussion starter.
When will the team get together to share ideas and progress? Will this be virtual or online? What happens if communication isn’t working properly – who is best placed to change the status quo?
This may not always be the manager. It could be that a Co-ordinator (in Belbin terms, someone who takes a broad view and consults others) is best placed to facilitate meetings and draw out individual contributions.
It’s essential to engagement and performance that the team finds time for social interaction. According to our survey, this sense of togetherness was what was most missed when teams began to work remotely during the pandemic.
Teamworkers (supportive, caring, perceptive) are likely to be good at bringing the team together as a unit and alerting managers when people may be struggling.
When teams aren’t all co-located (in the same workspace), informal knowledge sharing is proven to decrease.
It can be hard to recreate this for those working remotely, but understanding Team Role attitudes to knowledge sharing can provide intelligence when things aren't working.
For example, Specialists and Resource Investigators are apt to share information, whilst Monitor Evaluators – impartial, discerning individuals who tend to remain at a distance from the team – may need an invitation to become involved.
Implementers, who take an efficient, systematic approach to work, might be tempted to push on with existing processes rather than look up and address what needs to be changed.
Hybrid teams might experience divisions (the ‘us and them’) and volatility as individual circumstances and private lives have a more direct impact on the professional sphere.
It's important to recognise that the situation is ever-changing and to endeavour – in partnership with your team members – to find the best alignment of individuals’ priorities and concerns, and business needs.
Hybrid working presents challenges and opportunities. If the team was succeeding prior to the transition, these extra efforts will be crucial in maintaining high performance. If the team was struggling beforehand, physical distance and division may exacerbate existing problems.
Whatever challenges your team faces, taking a strengths-based approach to solutions is proven to boost engagement and buy-in, and lower staff turnover. To discover more about how understanding your Belbin Team Roles can help build better teams, please get in touch using the form below.
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