7 Steps To Hybrid Teams Success
Hybrid teams are emerging as the new normal for many organizations.
There are many reasons for this shift.
From an organizational perspective, two obvious ones are byproducts of pandemic-related work-from-home restrictions.
First is the desire to recruit or retain talent in the midst of what’s been called ‘The Great Resignation’. The second is a realization that expensive office spaces don’t always have a positive R.O.I., so some are cutting back on capital expenses and reinvesting those resources in other areas.
But what does it take to make hybrid teams succeed?
How can you create an organizational ecosystem that empowers teams to be high-performing while still embracing the flexibility and autonomy more and more members of the modern workforce now demand?
Honestly, it takes more than an Agile framework.
It takes a truly Agile mindset throughout an organization and an infrastructure to match. Specifically, organizations need to fully embrace the first Agile Value;
We value individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
Scrum Inc. has helped countless clients do just this, across time zones, nations, industries, and functions.
The patterns for success are known. As are the pitfalls.
High-performing hybrid teams don’t just happen. They require the right environment to thrive. Taking these steps will help set your new normal up for success and make sure your hybrid teams create a competitive advantage.
STEP 1: Create a Deliberately Hybrid Workplace
Yes, the first step is about processes and tools.
Keen readers are likely asking themselves “Where is this going? I thought individuals and interactions need to be valued over processes and tools?”
In a deliberately hybrid workplace, processes and tools are seen for what they are; they don’t create, they only aid in creation. They don’t dictate how teams work, they only empower teams to get work done.
And, most importantly for hybrid teams, the right processes and tools allow for effective interactions virtually while giving individuals the ability to be as productive at home or on the road as they are in the traditional workplace.
So yes, when it comes to hybrid teams, one way you value individuals and interactions over processes and tools is by making sure the right processes and tools are available.
A deliberately hybrid workplace has processes that:
- Enable individuals and interactions: Focus, alignment, and collaboration don’t just happen on their own. They require information, communication, and understanding of what work needs to be done and why.
- Create a ‘Minimum Viable Bureaucracy’: Provide just enough guardrails to carry out the function(s) required without impeding creativity and the delivery of value to customers.
- Work as well remotely as in the office: As obvious as this point is, it is still a problem we see regularly.
A deliberately hybrid workplace has tools that:
- Makes the team’s work visible to each other - there are many digital backlog and similar tools available. Find one that fits your workflow, not one that requires you to change your workflow to fit it.
- Fosters effective synchronous and asynchronous communication -
- Enables effective collaboration and ‘swarming’ - this is a well-established pattern for success for any team, including hybrid ones.
- Work as well remotely as in the office - as obvious as this point is, it is still a problem we see regularly.
Remember, a deliberately hybrid workplace requires a lot more than a reservation system for team spaces and webcams on office whiteboards. It requires an infrastructure that is as accessible, effective, and collaborative virtually as it is in the office.
STEP 2: Launch Or Relaunch Your Hybrid Team(s)
The pandemic's necessitated move to fully remote teams was more improvised than planned for the vast majority of organizations. That is one reason the transition was, shall we say, bumpy.
Your transition to hybrid teams can and should be planned. This is why your teams should be launched or relaunched.
Our Team Working Agreement Canvas is a great way to do just that.
In 2008, The International Journal of Human Resource Management released a study that examined, among other things, levels of trust and cohesion in colocated, fully remote, and hybrid teams. Here’s how one human resource news site summarized the full report:
"The type of team that was a lot less likely to have cohesion was the semi-virtual variety. In fact, in the entire study, the team members who had the highest levels of trust and group identity were the in-office members of hybrid teams. Those who had the lowest were the remote members of hybrid teams."
Group identity and trust are critical precursors to cohesion. Hybrid teams need a shared understanding of their purpose, norms, expectations, commitments, and values before they become high-performing. That is the purpose of the Team Working Agreement Canvas.
In particular, hybrid teams should focus on their communication preferences. Some prefer email, others prefer Slack. Establishing these norms early, and respecting them, is critical for positive and productive interactions to take place.
STEP 3: Confront Proximity Bias
Cognitive biases are powerful and dangerous things. They need to be tackled head-on.
Proximity bias is an incorrect assumption that employees who work in close proximity to their team and leadership can be perceived as more reliable, and better at what they do.
This cognitive bias can manifest in many different ways (including pay, performance reviews, and promotions). Left unchecked, proximity bias puts hybrid or fully remote workers at a significant disadvantage.
So how does an organization ensure proximity bias doesn’t derail its hybrid team(s)?
By ensuring every individual is treated equally, always. By having an infrastructure that assesses performance and not proximity. And, by ensuring management and leadership understand the dangers of proximity bias and actively and visibly stop it from happening.
There are numerous Human Resource news sites full of more specific steps organizations can and should take. Here is a good article to help you get started.
STEP 4: Build Your Culture With Hybrid In Mind
Ever consider the difference between a team and a workgroup? You should.
Workgroups are focused on individual contributions. Teams are focused on shared goals, collaboration, and cohesion.
In short, it takes comradery to forge a team.
Think back to the pre-pandemic workplace. Those classic watercooler conversations, hallway talks, trips to get a coffee, and team celebrations helped build relationships. They helped define the culture of your teams and organization. Culture helps build comradery.
Those moments to connect aren’t always there for hybrid teams - unless you make sure they are.
Hybrid teams need to find opportunities to socialize, and many can be done virtually. Happy hours, online games, watching a show (in parts or all at once), or just creating a time and space to talk about something not work-related, all can and should easily be done by hybrid teams.
Celebrations should be as well. Everyone deserves a chance to mark when something important has happened or has been delivered.
The point here is to make sure your teams are just that, teams. If you don’t, you’ll be left with a collection of workgroups. That will hurt productivity, happiness, and be detrimental to your organization’s culture.
STEP 5: Prioritize Happiness And A Sustainable Pace
Some leaders may view a hybrid workplace as a concession for employees. Some employees may agree.
But, in reality, a hybrid workplace can be like opening Pandora's box for all involved.
Let’s start with team happiness, an important metric that has consistently been shown to be a leading indicator of productivity. When happiness drops, productivity will soon do the same. When teams rate their happiness as high, productivity gains will quickly follow suit.
In all likelihood, a move to more flexible work - like hybrid teams - will increase team happiness. That’s a good start. But it should not leave leadership thinking their job is done.
There is a myriad of things that can cause team happiness to drop, especially for hybrid teams.
As we wrote before, data shows that for many, “work from home meant spending a lot more time working.”
That is simply not sustainable over the long term even when you factor in time team members would have spent commuting.
Then there are other issues like too many consecutive meetings leaving individuals with ‘zoom fatigue’ and burnout.
If all these are left unchecked, hybrid team happiness will drop and so will productivity.
The only way to overcome these issues is to consistently measure happiness, sustainable pace, and burnout. Then zero in on causes when your data alerts you to a problem.
That is how you prioritize happiness and sustainability.
STEP 6: Use The Right Metrics
How does your company measure success?
There are, of course, a dizzying array of data points and results any organization can measure. However, quantity does not trump quality when it comes to measuring the effectiveness of hybrid teams (or any team for that matter).
Metrics matter for hybrid teams because, for many organizations, this represents an experiment. Either they have never utilized hybrid teams, or they haven’t done it on this scale. Leadership needs to know if their hybrid teams are performing well, or if they need to adapt, improve, or change the system.
No matter the industry, or function of the team, this equation should be the foundation for your metrics. This is the root of how Agile organizations measure success:
Quality Working Product sustainably made by Happy Teams in the hands of Happy Customers.
Wait, some readers are likely asking themselves, where is the reference to R.O.I., profitability, and productivity? They are implied by the word sustainably.
What about alignment, focus, or efficient communication? These all help to make teams happy.
What about speed to market or innovation? Those are components of what makes a customer happy.
Now, what does this have to do with high-performing hybrid teams? Everything. If the metrics for those three bolded terms above are positive, you have quantifiable proof that your hybrid teams are successful. If the results are mixed, you have some changes to make. If they’re all negative, you have serious impediments that must be resolved.
This brings us nicely to the final step.
STEP 7: Inspect, Adapt, Improve
There is a limit on how much change an individual, team, and organization can effectively handle at any given time. Too much, and they begin fighting the change instead of incorporating it.
Therefore when you inspect your data and identify a possible improvement for your hybrid workplace, you need to do so one change at a time. And measure the impact of that change just like an experiment. After all, that is what change is in this context, an experiment. The possible improvement - or Kaizen - you’re implementing is really a hypothesis. You believe it will help but can’t be certain until it is tested.
And, just like a good scientist, you should test one hypothesis at a time. If you do more, you have more variables that affect the outcome. That makes it harder to validate the effect of a single improvement.
Any workplace, including a hybrid one, can be improved. What works today likely won’t work as well in the future. Agile organizations embrace change and continuously improve. The best organizations do it one improvement at a time.
Something critical can be lost in all the planning for a hybrid workplace - the individuals that prefer to consistently work at an office. They are out there and they’re just as important as those eager to continue to work remotely.
Hybrid teams comprised of team members who prefer some level of remote work are more likely to become high-performing. Teams with members who are told to work that way will likely have a tougher journey to reach that level.
Organizations should ask individuals what they prefer and listen to those answers.
Create cross-functional teams of people and let them work in the style they prefer — co-location or hybrid.
More flexibility and a better work-life balance are at the heart of “The Great Resignation”, and are always important factors of team and individual happiness.
For some, flexibility and work-life balance improve when they return to the office. There are no universal fixes that work for everyone.
Leadership needs to ask their employees the right questions, listen to those answers, look for patterns, implement a change, and examine those results.
Scrum emphasizes that those who do the work know best how to get it done. Leadership needs to embrace the fact that teams and individuals also know best how to improve their workplace.