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Hybrid team leadership – a chance to up our game

Since COVID, we have learned that leaders typically need significant support to be able to adapt to leading hybrid teams, compared with in-person, which they are normally more used to.

Employees talk about how a lack of leadership confidence has led to managers trying to grab greater control, such as by micro-managing employees even more strongly, rather than trusting them to get the work done.

The effect of this increased control and reduced trust is more stress and anxiety among those employees, leading to increased distraction and reduced performance. Which creates a perfectly reinforcing loop back to managers not trusting their people in the first place.

More on hybrid working: 

Flexible Working Taskforce releases hybrid work guidelines

Are leaders equipped to manage a hybrid workforce?

Does your hybrid working dream match the reality?

The wider context is that the rapid move towards more hybrid working is just another part of the ongoing huge volatility in the world, with seismic change just around the corner at any given moment, and the ability for global changes that seem remote to affect us all. This means there is a greater need than ever for employees to be resilient, self-confident, able to handle change, and mentally and physically well. The need to up our leadership game is urgent and bearing down upon us.

So what does effective leadership of hybrid teams look like? This is the subject of in-depth research at Real World Group, building on our previous two decades of leadership and teamworking studies. While we are busy establishing through large-scale study what are the day-to-day leadership behaviours that enable hybrid working to produce the highest quality outcomes, here is what we have learned so far are the key guiding principles.

First of all, effective leaders of hybrid teams provide structure and direction about the future, as far as they are able to. None can truly know the future, but they avoid leaving people guessing where this is unnecessary. At the same time, they ensure that others are involved in shaping how the organisation or team should respond to the planned future – whether the overarching vision or a new target or goal. They involve them, consult with them and work to build a shared vision of how to get there.

They distribute leadership, coaching and supporting their team members to take on more responsibility, and to have greater oversight of activities and decision-making. Then they let go and trust them to succeed. At the same time they provide appropriate levels of supervision and are proactive in ensuring their team is clear about the nature of their own and each other’s roles and responsibilities. They show appreciation for what their team members generate.

They encourage and facilitate collaboration between team members. They help to ensure that who is in the office when has a degree of coordination to it, so that the experience can be valuable, rather than a waste of time or a disheartening experience. While providing support to team members themselves, successful leaders also encourage a culture of social support towards each other in the team.

They make sure that the team is a psychologically safe environment in which people can share ideas, and admit when they don’t know how to do something, without fear of ridicule or shame. They do this through role-modelling their own infallibility, but also taking a tough stance on inappropriate and unsupportive or disrespectful behaviour within the team towards others.

Finally, and something often less attended to, but which has been found in research, is that the leaders of teams that successfully work remotely demonstrate a genuine belief in hybrid working as the way things should be. Doing this or not doing this can make a significant difference to team members’ job satisfaction.

Of course these principles are largely the same as the ones we already knew about from years of research on in-person teams. Nonetheless, the greatest contribution that the move to hybrid working has made is the exposure of sub-standard leadership that we have been putting up with in organisations for far too long. Now that the fissures, cracks and chasms have finally become unavoidable, let’s harness this burning platform, maximise whatever resources we can get hold of and finally create organisations that thrive because their people do.  

Juliette Alban-Metcalfe is a chartered occupational psychologist and CEO of Real World Group