Your Managers Are Trying to Lead Hybrid Teams. They Need More Support
Just because they had to pivot overnight to an all-virtual workplace when covid first hit, today’s managers don’t necessarily have what it takes to be effective leaders in a hybrid world. And even when managers do know they need to cultivate new skills and habits for hybrid leadership, they often don’t.
Those were the hypotheses I tested when I interviewed almost 50 HR leaders, other senior business leaders, talent managers and remote work experts. Based on my own client experiences, I suspected those theories would prove true, but I wanted to hear directly from leaders living through this workplace metamorphosis to better understand the forces at play.
Hybrid Leadership Skills Are in Short Supply
Today’s managers face a confluence of challenges vastly complicating the role of leadership. Moving to a new hybrid work model is just one challenge, albeit possibly the most confounding. Add to that the need to stave off attrition while competing for talent, the mandate to implement DEI initiatives, the challenge of creating meaningful growth opportunities, the prospect of making painful cuts to budget and staff, the growing sense of employee empowerment and the need to focus on employee well-being. It’s no wonder that most managers haven’t cultivated the skills to be effective hybrid leaders. Who has the time?
But a lack of time isn’t the only barrier preventing managers from learning new skills and adopting new mindsets. Some managers seem to believe that leading in an all-virtual world during a time of crisis has given them the skills they need to successfully lead steady-state hybrid teams. Many people I interviewed disagreed — managing an all-virtual workforce was in many ways easier than a hybrid environment, they said, since everyone was pretty much in the same boat and no group enjoyed special privileges. When leading a hybrid organization, managers have to be much more intentional and work harder to maintain an equitable workplace where everyone has the same opportunities to contribute and grow.
Leadership Skills Seen as Most Crucial, and Often Lacking
Creating a work environment that’s perceived as fair, with everyone encouraged and enabled to contribute their best thinking, requires leadership skills such as empathy, interpersonal and team communications, and coaching and facilitation. Almost all the leaders I spoke with said even when managers have some of those skills, they find it difficult to apply them in a hybrid world. In a world where in-person interaction can be rare and most real-time conversations must be scheduled, the ability to detect and effectively respond to emotions such as fear, distrust, frustration and disenfranchisement is crucial.
Other skills and competencies interviewees repeatedly flagged as especially important for today’s hybrid team leaders included:
- Creating psychological safety.
- Building, earning trust across the team.
- Managing performance from afar, including giving and receiving feedback.
- Enabling and encouraging professional development and career progression.
- Healthy hybrid habits, including setting and respecting boundaries; time management.
- Mastering the use of technology, especially for asynchronous collaboration.
To make it possible for more managers to learn and apply new leadership skills, senior leaders have to be convinced it’s a good investment. Work with HR, Finance, Operations and other groups that can help quantify the cost of poor leadership and estimate the value of effective hybrid leadership.
Consider the costs when:
How McDonald’s Drove Productivity Through an Elevated Employee Experience
In the new remote/hybrid workplace, work/life boundaries are blurred and workplace stress is a top driver of mental health needs.
How to Future-Proof Your Employee Experience Strategy in 2023
A framework to navigate through economic uncertainty
Challenges to Efficiency in 2023: Your Employees Need the Digital Workplace of the Future
The era of asking employees to do more with less is upon us
The Essential Role of Communicators in Fostering Wellbeing in the Digital Workplace
Join us for practical insights on how digital communicators can support employees to thrive in the digital workplace
Addressing Employee Needs and Wants with a Digital Workplace
The workplace is getting more and more digital – both in how we work and where we work
Maintaining a Human-Centered Approach During Digital Transformation
When it comes to digital transformation - people drive change, not technology
- Leaders micromanage team members because they don’t trust what they can’t see, often leading to higher attrition and employee disenfranchisement.
- Projects are delayed when team members can’t find needed documentation.
- Employees head for the exits when managers haven’t made them feel valued or appreciated.
- Remote employees lose motivation when they feel left out or ignored.
- New hires leave quickly in the absence of management support and opportunities to learn.
And also, consider the value when:
- Employees feel so trusted, motivated and appreciated that they wouldn’t dream of working anywhere else.
- Teams collaborate and communicate easily, consistently delivering great work on time.
- Employees routinely exceed performance expectations when their managers demonstrate genuine interest in their professional development and career growth.
- Team members refer a steady stream of talented friends and colleagues.
Make Learning Accessible and Easy to Apply
While the list of skills leaders need is long, the time managers have available to cultivate and practice new skills is often scarce. When asked how their leaders typically like to learn and apply new skills, respondents offered a few recurring themes:
- Learning should be relevant and customized for each organization.
- A series of relatively short instructor-led virtual modules, with time for reflection and sharing, work well.
- Peer cohorts help reinforce learning and provide support.
- Breakfast briefings or lunch and learn sessions, whether virtual or in person, can be good venues.
- In-person classroom instruction can be especially valuable for role plays, simulations, and feedback — especially for interpersonal communications, coaching and mentoring skills.
- Real-time learning activities should be conversational and highly interactive.
- When possible, tack on in-person training to existing team meetings, conferences or seminars.
- Make most skills training optional, rather than mandatory.
Which options work best will vary with each organization, based on variables such as:
- Level of senior leadership support.
- Priority skills/topics.
- Fit with existing leadership skills programs.
- Time required.
- Number, location and time zones of participating leaders.
- Preferred methods of learning, by leader segment.
- Preference to “build or buy.”
- Level of customization needed.
- Desire for intact teams or “mixed” teams.
- Size of budget.
No single learning program can cultivate all of the skills, behaviors, and habits today’s hybrid leaders need. The best way to start identifying your needs is by assessing today’s most pressing leadership needs that can be addressed by the right skills, behaviors and habits.
- Solicit perspectives from a cross-section of managers representing different levels of seniority, tenure, locations, departments and demographics.
- Seek employees’ perspectives, through tools such as employee engagement surveys, interviews, an anonymous online forum, or some combination.
- Determine which leadership challenges or shortcomings are costing your organization and its employees the most, and where you can realize the greatest value if you get it right.
Create a short list of priorities, by targeted segment, you can act on relatively quickly, and build a comprehensive learning program around it.
Organizations need to ask their leaders how they can better support them as they navigate their way through a changing workplace. The ability to learn and practice new leadership skills will likely be high on managers’ lists, as long as they believe they have support from senior leadership to be successful.
Learn how you can join our contributor community.
About the Author