August 24, 2021
Hybrid. Return to work. Flex. In my role as Shift’s Client Design and Deployment Lead I’ve talked to many of our users and potential users about how their organizations are handling “what comes next” in the way their teams work.
What strikes me across these conversations is the variety of solutions on how to best support teams: a large insurance provider is sending people back into the office based on task, a financial institution by day of week, a CPG company by manager discretion. This variety suggests two things: firstly, that there is no ‘right’ way to tackle hybrid; and secondly, that what is more important is finding what is ‘right’ for your organization. That’s where Shift comes in.
Helping leaders and their teams thrive is our core business. Our team effectiveness tool, Align, has been used by more than 10,000 teams in 50 countries. Across all of these uses - Align has helped teams capture input, reflect on results, and socialize new norms and behaviors. This iterative process, in which teams use digital tools to provide team feedback and promote learning, has been highlighted in Harvard Business Review as the forefront of team development. And it is this same iterative process which we believe can help teams find their own ‘right’ way to hybrid work.
Instead of looking for a hybrid work silver bullet, Shift helps teams initiate an iterative process for engaging team members throughout their hybrid transition. The process looks like this:
In Step 1, a baseline is taken of the team’s pre-hybrid team dynamics. Is there a strong foundation in place as the team returns to physical coworking? Or are there existing fault lines that will only be exacerbated by the change? Given the specific nature of team dynamics, it is essential to assess these at a team-by-team level, rather than at an organizational level through a larger engagement survey. Org-wide surveys may not catch the internal tensions within specific teams, giving senior leaders false positives around how people are feeling about returning to in-person coworking.
Having captured baseline data, Step 2 involves having an explicit conversation as a team to socialize new hybrid norms. This process involves explicitly focusing on key areas of development and working through barriers as a collective. Having explored problem areas, the team can then use the conversation to collectively set intentions and goals around the new behaviours they want to see on their team - thereby providing the framework for new norm formation.
In Step 3, teams track and report on their behavioral goals to create feedback loops that reinforce the new hybrid norms. This process of tracking and sharing the data creates accountability and clarity around goal progress. By providing this accountability, the new behavioral goals set by the team can become more and more routine, eventually becoming consistent habits that teams can rely upon when working in a hybrid environment.
Finally in Step 4, information around goals and habits is used to adjust and iterate over time. By benchmarking back to pre-hybrid data, teams can monitor their progress and evaluate their growth over time. Importantly, they can also celebrate their wins - using these strengths to both motivate and reinforce continued team development.
To provide structure to this iterative cycle, SHIFT’s Hybrid Align theme has highlighted four areas for teams to focus on as they move through this cycle.
The four factors are based on academic research and early industry experimentation that have explored how hybrid teams can succeed:
1 - Manager Empathy
A recent article in HBR highlights the increasingly complex role managers will have to play as offices reopen. More than simply managing the allocation of work and deliverables, managers must also practice increased empathy in order to lead their teams. The authors highlight that empathy can be facilitated through vulnerable conversation practice, such as with peers or in guided conversations with direct reports. These conversations can be supported by a peer network, or other tools, which allow the managers to feel they have a safe place to practice vulnerability before engaging their teams.
2- Modelling Healthy Hybrid Behaviours
In an HBR review of promoting psychological safety within hybrid work environments, Amy Edmonson, highlights the role of manager modelling as a key driver of hybrid success. As Edmonson notes, many organizations are asking their employees to reveal and accept vulnerability in an effort to maintain connections across hybrid teams. However, these efforts are largely ineffective unless managers actively model the behaviours they are seeking from their employees. Effective hybrid managers must demonstrate vulnerability and be willing to be actively candid with their teams.
3 - Maintaining effectiveness
In a review of hybrid work job design requirements Lynda Gratton, founder of the Future of Work Consortium, highlights that while most organizations are focusing on where employees will work, they must also consider when and how. Hybrid provides the potential to facilitate increased productivity through asynchronous collaboration. At the intersection of these axes are workflows - the project specific nature of work. Identifying and optimizing these workflows can help ensure that hybrid work remains productive for the organization.
4- Work Flexibility
A MIT Sloan School of Business review of post-covid work arrangements has highlighted the importance of flexibility backed by data and experimentation. While there is a push to promote flexibility as a means of addressing hybrid, their work suggests that this flexibility should be supported by empirical evidence for different options. Success on this factor comes at the intersection of autonomy and structure. They recommend coordinating with workforce analytics teams to assess the key metrics of success a company is invested in and the methodologies they will use to track changes.
"Meaningful, lasting behavioral change is a complex process, requiring timely personalized guidance. Startups like Shift is providing teams with a fabric of interactive activities that emphasize mutual feedback and allow them to learn on the job while doing the work they always do."