Leading virtual and hybrid teams brings both opportunities and challenges.
But how do you lead hybrid and virtual teams successfully?
In this article on “Leading hybrid and virtual teams successfully”, Anita Berger writes about the latest developments. For many leaders and their teams, the form of leadership and cooperation has shifted to the virtual space due to home offices. Another facet is the hybrid setting, where one part of the team works at the location and another part in the home office. There are challenges and opportunities associated with these forms in equal measure.
This valuable contribution is full of practical tips for all those who want to take the opportunity to look at the topics of collaboration, communication and leadership and reflect on what they want to continue to do or what they want to focus on more in the future.
Leading hybrid and virtual teams successfully
1. Be ready for different forms of working.
The saying of the American tennis star Arthur Ashe
“Start where you are! Use what you have! Do what you can!”
certainly provides a very pragmatic guide here for how to proceed. Your task is to lead by example, to moderate a constructive exchange and to strengthen learning from and with each other. Build on your experience, your strengths and qualities and those of the team. It is about being pragmatic, not perfect. The key is to learn from doing. Create clarity regarding tasks, responsibilities, scope for action, expected work results and the decision-making processes.
2. Design the communication processes and ensure the flow of information
2.1 Focus on “K D I”
Use everything that also makes effective and efficient face-to-face meetings and focus on K D I!
KDI stands for:
- discipline and
- interpersonal interaction.
Ensure clarity on the following questions:
- What is the specific objective of the meeting?
- Is the meeting the most appropriate way to deal with the issue?
- What is the outcome we want to achieve with the meeting?
- What kind of meeting is it? (or information sharing, brainstorming, decision making, experience sharing).
- Why am I in this meeting?
- What is my task, my mission?
- What contribution can I make?
- What is expected of me?
- Who else should be involved in the meeting? (or clients, decision-makers, specific knowledge holders).
Create a structure for your meetings to ensure that the participants can prepare themselves accordingly.
2.3 Discipline & Focus
- Preparation: If the objectives and nature of the meeting are clear, all participants will know what to prepare for the meeting. Set a good example and be prepared!
- Punctuality and trouble-free environment: If a meeting is scheduled for 9am, everyone should be dialled in ahead of time and have secured the infrastructure and necessary equipment so that the meeting starts on time and trouble-free.
- Keep to scheduled times: A one-hour meeting will also end after this hour. If it turns out that more time is needed, devote the appropriate time at the end of the virtual/hybrid meeting to clarifying how the open issues will be dealt with further.
- Shorter meetings (45 to 60 minutes maximum): Concentrate on shorter meetings that have the full focus of all participants. If there are several topics to be dealt with that require more time, schedule virtual breaks after every 60 minutes at the latest.
- Make sure that there is a documented summary of the results and agreement on follow-up activities. Use the various technical possibilities for this.
- and well known, but not always so easy to implement: Make sure you really listen to each other and let them finish.
2.4 Interpersonal interaction
Up to now, there was usually the possibility of face-to-face interaction in addition to virtual meetings. Therefore, the focus in these virtual meetings was often “on the matter/topic”. Since the possibility of face-to-face interaction is currently very limited, dedicate time and virtual space to interpersonal interaction.
- If possible from the infrastructure, the virtual meetings should be conducted in video mode because this creates more closeness. It gives you the opportunity to get more of the reaction of your interlocutors.
- As a special feature in the hybrid setting: If some of the participants are in a meeting room and some in a home office, use two cameras (can also be two notebooks with camera function) in the meeting room. One camera is directed at the respective presenter, the other camera at the other participants. This way, colleagues from the home office also have the opportunity to experience an impression of the on-site interaction.
- At the beginning of the meeting, deliberately plan time for social onboarding. These can be questions such as “What is your current energy level?” “What do you need to bring to the meeting in the best way possible?” “What does it take for us to get the most out of the meeting?” A check-in should not be done in a tokenistic way, but used to pick people up where they are at the moment and what is on their mind.
- As a general rule, use questions more frequently to ensure involvement. In addition to open and closed questions, scale questions are suitable. You can use them to ask about a variety of things, from assessment to commitment to experience. For example, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how committed are you to implementing the proposed idea?” Then ask more advanced open-ended questions, such as “What does it take to get from a 6 to a 7?”
- Use “one-word questions” to quickly solicit opinions or ideas.
- If social onboarding is needed at the beginning of the meeting, a feedback loop at the end of the meeting is equally important. Ask questions like “What went well today? What should we keep?” “What should we change for next time?” help to continuously improve the quality and efficiency of meetings.
- Ensure that there is a facilitator for each meeting who ensures adherence to the key principles of effective meetings.
3. Strengthening team identity and team spirit in virtual or hybrid settings
It is also possible to strengthen team identity and team spirit in virtual or hybrid settings. This requires openness and the courage to try out new things.
- Consciously plan time and space for social, informal interaction. This can be at the beginning of a meeting, in the form of a virtual morning coffee or after-work drink or a joint birthday toast.
- Develop collaborative activities, such as playlists and tips for quick cooking at home.
- Be thoughtful and surprise your team. Send a postcard or a small surprise package with sweets, for example. Especially now, when a lot of things happen in virtual space, something “that you can get your hands on” is particularly pleasing.
- Create clarity together with the team “what they stand for as a department” and “what the contribution of each individual is”. This increases identification.
- Team workshops in virtual or hybrid settings can also offer the opportunity to strengthen cooperation.
4. plan onboarding for the virtual/hybrid context
A particular challenge that has arisen in recent months is the onboarding of new colleagues in the virtual/hybrid setting.
It is crucial to seek contact with new colleagues and express that you are looking forward to meeting them. Try to provide answers to as many questions as possible. It is helpful to change perspectives, i.e. consciously put yourself in the shoes of the newcomer and try to understand what he or she is thinking about when starting in the new organisation. For example, write a welcome letter.
- In it, inform them where and in what form they will start work (for example, at the location or in the home office).
- Clarify who the personal contact persons and, if applicable, mentors are and establish the contacts.
Describe when and how the colleague will receive the equipment and infrastructure to work in the home office if needed.
- Also get clarity on what you need from new colleagues. How and to whom should they communicate the information?
- Outline the first day of work. If this takes place in the home office, you need a precise schedule, ideally also an outlook for the first week. How much flexibility is there, for example, in terms of time management? What fixed appointments should be planned? Make sure that new colleagues can organise themselves as well as possible.
- Give an insight into the current situation of the organisation. Ensure that there is no information vacuum by proactively informing. Which existing communication and information channels, for example newsletters or intranet, can you use for this?
- Give an initial insight into the existing team. Who are the colleagues? To what extent is there already the possibility of integrating the newcomer into social (informal) networks?
- Manage expectations consciously. Do not promise anything you cannot deliver. New employees will understand that not everything will work right from the start, as long as you are transparent and maintain an open dialogue
At the same time, it is essential to inform the existing team in the best possible way,
- when and in what form new colleagues will start,
- what their responsibilities will be,
- what this will mean for their own area of work,
- who the contact persons for the new colleagues will be,
- how the induction plan will be designed and what it will require from whom in the team.
What is needed in the virtual or hybrid context is planning, preparation, discipline and intensive and ongoing dialogue. In addition, the support of a mentor is conducive to social integration.
Use the impulses from this article on the following topics
- Being ready for different forms of working,
- Designing communication processes and ensuring the flow of information,
- Strengthening team identity and team spirit also in the virtual/hybrid setting,
- planning onboarding for the virtual/hybrid context,
to feel encouraged to continue what is working well or to identify areas of action on which you want to focus more in the future.
About the author | Mag. Anita Berger, MAS, MSc., eMBA
Executive Coach, Consultant, Trainer & Managing Partner MDI
Anita Berger is an executive coach, consultant and trainer specialised in leadership development in the VUCA world, facilitation of transformation processes and international human resources management. She is a shareholder and partner of MDI and has been working for more than 20 years in management and leadership positions (as HR Director Coca-Cola Hellenic and HR Manager Konica Minolta Business Solutions) in various industries, from medium-sized to large international corporations. Her numerous blog posts deal with current issues on: Leading virtual and hybrid teams, digital onboarding, agile change management and “Can social skills be trained virtually?”.