Virtual Teams

Hybrid work – help I am having to think about collaboration

In one of our hybrid working workshops this week a participant commented “I’m having to have detailed conversations with my team about where it adds value to us to collaborate. It’s not something we’ve ever really talked about before.”

As teams consider the hybrid return to the office one of the key questions we are debating is, what work should we do in the office and what is better done remotely. We’ve introduced a number of models to help teams work through this discussion and several of our clients are using some kind of simple phrase to encapsulate what they want office time to encompass such as “collaborate, co-create, communicate.”

We are also working with several clients on training people to run hybrid meetings. Those of us who’ve had experience of being a person dialling into a meeting where other people are present in the room know how hard it can be to engage and participate in this context. As hybrid meetings become the norm, we can’t afford for such a large proportion of our collaboration to be so poorly managed.

As these, at least partly face-to-face, meetings become scarcer (fewer people in the office at any one time) we need to prioritise this time on the things where collaboration really adds value.

The striking thing in talking with participants around the world is how little time people spent in the past really thinking about the added value of collaboration. Teamwork has been a sacred cow for many years, and it can feel uncomfortable to challenge the value of teamwork.

When we developed the world’s first remote and virtual teams training program over 25 years ago, teams didn’t have much of the technology that is available today and communication was much more difficult. When people told us how hard it was to act as a traditional team in this remote environment our response was to look at how we could get more done without doing collective collaboration.

This has been a foundational concept for us ever since and a move to hybrid working encourages a shift towards more individual tasks and more tasks that can be done asynchronously. Live collaboration either in hybrid or virtual meeting becomes a scarcer resource so we must focus it more. This turns out to be a good thing!

This principle allowed us to identify that 40% of meetings content does not require everybody to be available at the same time. Our book Kill Bad Meetings is about how to identify and cut out this content and improve the quality of the meetings that remain. We also realised that a lot of the work we call teamwork doesn’t need to be delivered synchronously.

As we see large groups of managers struggling with what, to them, is a new concept of prioritising and being selective about collaboration, we know that this is a very healthy process.

A lot of collaboration in a face-to-face environment is quite inefficient and low quality. Learning to be more selective about what we use our scarce face-to-face time on leads to fewer, better meetings and higher quality intensive collaboration.

As many of us have faced collaboration overlord (too many meetings, teams, and emails) in the past this can only be a positive experience.

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