IIBN member Ryan Clear explains how the best teams and organisations have clarity around six critical questions.
The Covid-19 health pandemic of 2020 threw businesses across the world into disarray, leaving them scrambling to make sense of a “new normal” in which their workforce no longer comes into an office, and Zoom fatigue is a very concrete reality. In 2021, having found their way through the adjustment period, these same businesses must now consider what the future of work looks like.
Most businesses will likely adopt a ‘hybrid’ model, which allows for flexible working arrangements and sees employees come into the office only on certain days of the week. This way of working will require careful management of elements such as team cohesion, clarity, and alignment around work, which are challenging to get right even under normal circumstances!
For example, there are far fewer opportunities to discuss the content coming out of the many Zoom calls and online meetings employees are sitting through when working from home. In contrast, being in the office would see employees perhaps walk over to a break area with colleagues to get a cup of coffee and talk about a certain point that came up. Or they may meet someone in the corridor while on their way to lunch and have an informal chat which sparks new ideas and insights.
In other words, things happen in the office that don’t happen at home. Conversations are had, and decisions are made, and not everyone will be there. If not carefully managed, these situations can become the breeding ground for politics, confusion, silos, infighting, and other dysfunctional behaviours. Not only are these things unpleasant, but if they are left unresolved, they ultimately undermine the organisation’s effectiveness: employee morale, engagement, and productivity suffer, and high employee turnover rates soon become a prominent issue.
Patrick Lencioni’s The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business gives us much food for thought around this theme. Using this book as a springboard, I propose four waysbusinesses can prevent this type of thing from happening in a new world of hybrid work.
Whilst the word ‘trust’ is used in many ways in the workplace, for this article, it can be understood as something close to “psychological safety.” Each employee needs to be able to go to work (whether in-person or remotely) as they are, with all of their strengths, weaknesses, and humanity. If leaders are who they say they are and don’t worry about putting on facades, employees will do the same.
This may seem soft, but in reality, it is anything but! Trust translates concretely into people feeling comfortable weighing in on discussions and even disagreeing when necessary for the good of the company. If there is little or no trust, it is difficult for employees to weigh in because they don’t feel safe. They might fear the thoughts and perceptions of their boss and colleagues and thus prefer not to “rock the boat.” When it comes time to buying into ideas and committing, they may do so exteriorly. Still, they may be harbouring disagreement on the inside, which doesn’t bode well for morale, engagement, and actual buy-in.
When leaders foster clarity in their teams and organisations, it is very empowering for employees because it provides them with a framework and boundaries within which to work. The communication overhead (and time wasted) due to lack of clarity is incredibly high: emails back and forth. Meetings. Phone calls. More meetings. It’s endless.
The best teams and organisations have clarity around six critical questions:
1. Why do we exist?
2. How do we behave?
3. What do we do?
4. How will we succeed?
5. What is most important right now?
6. Who does what?
If everyone in the organisation has the same answers to these questions, whether working remotely or in the office, they will be much more connected and aligned.
If clear communication is vital in a normal working environment, it is much more critical in a hybrid working environment. Here are three tips for leaders to ensure that things don’t get lost along the way:
• Ensure that the “to-dos” of a meeting or conversation are clear and specific, making sure everyone understands the same thing. Hence the importance of trust, because employees may sometimes feel silly for “just making sure.”
• Ensure that there are systems in place to ensure that remote workers are kept in the loop.
• Look for rich communication tools to communicate with those who are remote working. It is much better to pick up the phone or get on a Zoom call to share something than to fire off an email. The less rich the means of communication, the more margin there is for misunderstandings.
Ask any employee, and they are likely to tell you that team meetings are a waste of time. However, it is not the meetings that are the actual problem, but the way they are done and the reasons for which they are being held.
A good meeting should foster teamwork, clarity, and alignment – which means getting work done faster and better! Meetings are not the forum for informational monologues or boring Powerpoint presentations.
So how are such goals achieved? Lencioni proposes avoiding “meeting stew” (throwing everything into one type of meeting) and dividing up meetings according to their specific purpose:
Admin meetings (Daily check-in)
The team should have this time-saving 5-10 minute meeting at the beginning of each day, ideally with everyone participating, whether remotely or in person. This meeting aims to have your team check in with each other to see what the day looks like for them. This way, everyone knows what everyone else is doing, and the team can deal with issues before they arise.
Tactical meetings (Weekly staff meetings)
While these meetings would be best with everyone present, it is OK to have some team members participate remotely. The leader should make sure that nobody is holding back and that everybody is participating actively. It is not the nasty, destructive kind of conflict you need to look for, but the constructive kind that looks for the best ideas. Without trust, this is impossible.
The topic for these meetings is the answer to question #5 above (What is most important right now?). If something is a priority, then it should be the focus of the team’s meetings. Concretely, the team needs to see what’s getting in the way of getting the priority done and come up with ways together to resolve the bottlenecks.
If a big, hairy strategic issue should come up during a meeting, the team shouldn’t fall into the temptation to deal with them then. Instead, they should deal with them in the following type of meeting.
Ad-hoc strategic meetings
When these strategic issues do come up, dedicate a couple of hours to wrestling with them as a team. These are best done either 100% virtually or 100% in person. These meetings tend to be much fun, as there is usually passionate debate while searching for the best answer. If there are multiple issues to discuss, it is best to dedicate a separate meeting to each of them. In these meetings, good conflict is essential!
Like the strategic meetings, these are best done either 100% virtually or 100% in person. The objective of these meetings is not about playing golf or doing obstacle courses but to step back and see how things are going as a team. How is everyone doing? Is the team cohesive? Are there things that need to be cleared up?
As we transition to a new way of working, leaders can ensure their hybrid workforce is cohesive and aligned by fostering trust and clarity; communicating clearly; and ensuring their teams are having good meetings with lots of healthy conflict. Not only will the effects on everyone be more positive, but the organisation will be much more effective as a result.