“If you want to avoid war, avoid the thousand pin-pricks that lead to war”. Napoleon Bonaparte
Napoleon knew that it’s not the big issues that will drive you and your team to each other’s throats, it’s the little things. This is especially true when your team isn’t all together, and they have plenty of time to imagine what the other party is doing without any actual evidence to interfere with their paranoia or blissful ignorance.
Especially with hybrid teams (when part of the team is co-located, and part of the team is working remotely at least part of the time), there are some things that the leader should be aware of to help eliminate those annoyances that can have long-term impacts.
- Delegate openly. One of the common (and disruptive) challenges of mixed teams is the perception that either the home team or the remote workers get special treatment when it comes to assigning tasks. Often, we are very good about communicating with the people immediately involved, but if you want to stop the grumbling (why do we get all the crummy jobs and the remote workers get to focus on their jobs?), make sure that when a task is assigned and completed, the entire team is aware of it. This way everyone knows what everyone else is doing.
- Think about how to meet. Meetings are important; you want everyone to be able to participate and contribute equally. Frequently, the default is to have the co-located folks meet in the conference room around a speaker phone. This, though, can cause an imbalance in power and ability to contribute between those in the room and those connected electronically. Is that what you want? Oddly enough, leveling the playing field by having everyone meet on the same platform can create a sense of equality and fairness. Using the full scope of your Skype or WebEx by adding video and white boards can enhance the similarity to live meetings while not excluding those not in the room.
- Have those “break room” moments with those hundreds of miles from the break room. When you’re all together, it’s easy to have spontaneous, short conversations. Sometimes they’re a simple hello; sometimes they’re a quick request for information; sometimes you’re just offering a word of congratulations for a job well done. These can happen in the break room, the elevator, or as you’re hustling from one meeting room to the other. Use Instant Messaging and voicemail to offer the same level of contact with your remote folks. A short “hey, how are you today? What are you working on?” will keep you connected to folks, while offering an opportunity to learn something important and avoid unpleasant surprises down the road. As the leader, you should take the lead in initiating these conversations, and let people know they can reach out any time in the same way.
- Watch out for changes in communication patterns. Are you seeing a sudden increase in email traffic because you’re being copied on everything between Alice and Joe? Do you have to remind Bob that Mary Jo should be included in that meeting? Changes in the way people communicate may be a sign of tension or conflict. Ignoring them, when you’re far away from each other, is easy to do. It’s also a big mistake. Ask a couple of questions to check your assumptions: is everything alright? Is there some way you can help move things along? If you ignore the signs of trouble, it will make itself obvious to you soon enough, and it’s likely going to be a bigger deal than it needed to be.
Leading a hybrid/mixed team is a challenge, and requires just a little more thought and planning to achieve great results. Are you helping avoid the little things that might mean big problems later?
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.