11 Oct Managing Hybrid Teams – 4 Key Issues and How to Overcome:
The arrival of Covid-19 induced a shift from on-site to remote work. This shift changed how and where we work. An amalgamation of the office-based work before the pandemic, and Covid induced flexible, remote practices has given birth to the future of work; the hybrid approach. According to our survey research last year, 68.7% of workers favour this hybrid approach.
We define a hybrid team as a collaborative group of employees dispersed across numerous locations and mediums, who operate flexible working patterns. This post-covid hybrid team is dynamic, diverse, dispersed, and digital.
Hybrid teams bring positive impacts such as improved flexibility and a decrease in commute times but they also create numerous issues for managers.
- Proximity Bias
- Ingroup Bias
- Team Cohesion
This is a tendency to give preferential treatment to those in our immediate vicinity, we unconsciously favour whatever is closest in time, space and ownership while also undervaluing that out of sight. This indicates office-based employees will receive preferential treatment by managers due to their proximity.
Managers located in the office see collocated employees and unconsciously believe that they are working more, and harder. This leads them to believe in-office employees are more productive and competent.
This is known as the presence bias, passive face time is enough for people to create inferences about what you’re doing and how well you’re doing it (Elsbach & Cable, 2012). Therefore, managers treat office-based employees more favourably and can end up micro-managing remote individuals.
In our research survey, we highlighted this bias as a key issue as individuals highlighted ‘feeling out of the loop’ as a concern with the hybrid approach.
Team connection review
As the proximity bias and presence effect thrive on individuals being out of sight and out of mind, the method to counteract this is a team connection review by managers.
This involves analysing what team members managers spoke to, for how long, and the quality and content of the conversation on a daily or weekly basis. They can then see if they spent more time with collocated or remote employees, making any biases clear.
Then managers can alter the frequency and quality of conversation with certain employees.
Job design and feedback framework
The shift to remote work altered the roles and responsibilities of employees which may change again in the move to hybrid working. By clarifying their job design employees and employers know exactly what to expect from each individual thus can judge outputs correctly.
The new hybrid nature of teams means individuals no longer see their team as a cohesive and homogenous unit, but one made up of subgroups.
Our brains put people into categories using cognitive shortcuts to make sense of this complex situation. This creates the key issue of ingroup bias which is explained by the Social Identity Theory. We assign objects to a category such as office-based and remote workers. We then divide the world into us and them through this process of social categorization. We adopt the identity of the group we categorized ourselves into and act accordingly. Once categorized we compare our group with other groups, exaggerating the similarities within and differences between groups. This forms an ingroup and an outgroup.
Pre-pandemic research on hybrid teams discovered that office-based workers form an ingroup, with remote workers either becoming disconnected or forming the outgroup.
Therefore, per the social identity theory, in hybrid teams, the remote outgroup may face negative stereotypes and disadvantages while office-based workers receive benefits.
Routine team meetings involving all team members on one medium discussing personal matters, team values and goals creates a shared sense of identity. Individuals see their similarities and categorise themselves as part of the team forging a new, wider group membership. These meetings prevent and dissolve the feeling of local ingroups and remote outgroups. Numerous studies show these extended, informal meetings significantly increased sense of group identity.
Manager unconscious bias training
Raising awareness of the ingroup bias equips managers with the information to catch themselves when they are succumbing to this bias in decision-making and daily interactions.
The APA Dictionary of Psychology defines team cohesion as the unity of a team. Team cohesion is made up of four components; Social relations, task relations, perceived unity, and emotions. Social relations mean interpersonal attraction is vital to team cohesion and a cohesive team has strong bonds linking members to the team as a whole.
OMT’s research found managers are concerned about team connectedness and their collaboration. Task relations illustrates cohesive teams are high in collective efficacy and coordinate individual efforts to achieve collective goals. Perceived unity indicates team members see themselves as a unified group, holding a shared identity and feel that they belong to the group. Finally, emotional cohesion depicts that there is a feeling of community and team spirit.
Hybrid teams suffer from low cohesion as their division across locations impedes the formation of bonds and attraction, subgroups and ingroup bias hinder feelings of belongingness, sense of community and group identification are needed to coordinate tasks for the common goal. This is evidenced as research shows hybrid teams have the lowest level of cohesion across all teams. A lack of this team cohesion creates stress and tension among co-workers and team members decreasing team performance.
51% of all employees felt less connected to their teams when working from home, showing cohesion is a major issue for managers as they enter the new hybrid work landscape.
The key actions managers can take to prevent the dissolution of team cohesion in the move to hybrid teams follows J. Richard Hackman’s model.
- Compelling directions: provide common direction and goals as this foster’s employees’ sense of community, group identity and need to coordinate for shared goals. It improves task relations and emotional unity.
- Strong structure: ensure project teams include remote and in-office members to prevent location-based subgroups.
- Supportive context: employ a rewards system reinforcing good performance, task-relevant data availability, project-related training, and job central material resources.
- Shared mindset: Distance, diversity, digital communication and changing membership makes today’s hybrid teams extremely susceptible to us v them thinking and ingroup formation. Thus, the solution to improve team cohesion and prevent ingroup bias is developing a shared mindset and fostering a common identity.
Managers must ensure each subgroup feels valued for its contribution to team goals. A clear common goal must be created as this similarity between subgroups creates a sense of shared identity. As the ingroup and outgroup are valued for their contribution, their identity with the group is strengthened, forging a new inclusive group membership that facilitates cohesion as all members receive the favourable benefits of being an ingroup member. This creates team unity.
Trust is an essential part of all teams and organisations as Watson Wyatt found high-trust organisations outperform low-trust organisations by 286%.
This trust amongst teams threatens the smoothness and efficiency of the transition to hybrid working as it largely determines if employees will back managers visions for the change to hybrid working or if they will resist.
The rapid and pivotal change to hybrid working requires high trust levels in team managers to eliminate suspicion, cynicism and sabotage by employees because those with low levels of trust view their organization more negatively.
Managers should follow and implement Maister’s trust equation to bolster trust
- Credibility: Managers should be knowledgeable in what they say, ensure credentials are recognized, be honest and admit mistakes.
- Reliability: Managers should keep their commitments and fulfil their promises. In the hybrid world, this is especially relevant to flexibility arrangements.
- Intimacy: Employees should feel safe and secure to self-disclose and speak openly to their managers. To foster this, managers should also self-disclose and actively listen.
- Self-orientation: Managers should care about their team not just themselves and their agenda.
To build trust in their hybrid teams and to develop emotional trust amongst their hybrid team managers should self-disclose. Self-disclosing; revealing your motives, intentions, goals, values, and emotions, increases liking and feelings of intimacy creating trust between managers and their team.