Rules for Successful Hybrid & Remote Team Working

How do you build a successful hybrid team? Here are some practical rules to build relationships and a great team, wherever they are

Rules for Successful Hybrid & Remote Team Working

Team performance

Succeed with Hybrid & Remote Teams

Practical Teamwork rules from Professor Michael West and CLS’ Tim Sims

Developing team performance for more agile, innovative organisations

Is this a real team?

Do you currently work in a real team? Is your team working as a “hybrid” team; some working from home and others in a shared workspace? Most of us recognise that hybrid working is here to stay in many organisations.

There’s plenty of evidence that hybrid & remote is a positive activity.

  • It enriches time-poor workers
  • It wipes-out carbon footprints that lead us to an emergency for our children and theirs
  • It increases productivity
  • And it strengthens corporate resilience in a world increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous in which climate change is incubating even more nasty bugs.

But hybrid working now magnifies a massive challenge for many teams.

The challenge is that many of us don’t actually belong to real teams at all.

Real teams save lives

medical team working in surgery


Professor Michael West of Lancaster University has been researching teams in one of the biggest organisations in the world; the teams that run the 1.1m employees of the UK National Health Service. In the pre-COVID NHS service he says that just under 1 million of those people claimed to belong to a team. And he thinks at least half a million of them are wrong.

They have not been working in real teams. And the death rates are significantly higher in hospitals where the majority of people do not work in real teams. In hospitals with too many “Pseudo” or false teams, more people die.

What makes a team, a real team?

The three “rules” that have to be followed for any team to start claiming to be a “real” team are rules that apply to hybrid teams every bit as much clinical teams.

They are simple rules. If your team does not follow them, if a hybrid team you belong to doesn’t follow them, then you aren’t in a real, productive team at all.

Rule 1: Shared Objectives

two people sharing a bowl of tomatoes

The first rule is that your team has clear shared objectives. If you ask yourself that question about your team right now, your instinct may be to say “Yes”.

But pause a moment. The real test to that rule is this:

If I ask each team-member what the team objectives are right now will everyone be able to name them?

 Are you still thinking “Yes”?  Try asking a few colleagues in your team!

If not then Michael West argues you do not work in a real team. The objectives are too vague, too many, or unrelated to what people are really doing. When you work remotely or in the office, the absence of clearly recognised joint goals is a recipe for people being unable to prioritise their work.

Which means your hybrid team is not a real team.

Rule 2: Work closely together

The second rule is that members of a team work closely together to achieve those objectives. There are many dimensions to working closely together but here are a few from my own experience:

  • Does your team have a transparent inclusive decision-making process? Not for all decisions, and not necessarily democratic, but a way of having a conversation in which all team-members have a voice?
  • Is the successful work of each member of your team partly dependent on their colleagues? In the NHS I have seen surgeons in one discipline support each other and freely share knowledge and expertise together. But I have also seen feral bands of individual surgeons in the same discipline operating in disturbing isolation from each other.
  • Have you got some shared - verbal or written -“ground rules” for how you handle work conflicts with each other (and prevent your work battles from becoming wars)?
  • Are there opportunities for you and your colleagues to have the kind of non-work conversations that reinforce trust, rapport and common ground even when you are not necessarily best buddies?

If you work in a team – and especially a hybrid team – where most people are unlikely to say yes to all four of those questions – then you are probably not a real team. And that is because hybrid teams do not automatically grow out of dispersed COVID teams or revert to being a relatively successful team from 18 months ago.

There are team processes that urgently need to be developed if you are to belong to a real hybrid team. Your hybrid team will be a new team.

Rule 3: Regularly review performance

connector diagrom of team working relationships

Finally, Michael West has highlighted a third rule that far too many teams I have worked in or with fail to follow. “Do you meet regularly as a team to review your performance?” This is crucial.

Demands on teams change, priorities shift, results decline and crises explode once a team loses track of how well it is achieving all its objectives.

It is frequently acknowledged that leadership of a hybrid team is faced with an apparent loss of control. That’s a common experience for a team-leader comparing her leadership of a hybrid team, with the experience of leading a team regularly working in shared spaces.

The most powerful tool to feeling much more in control, comes from knowing your team is in touch with its successes and its problems. Ideally, your team members have both reassurance and also incentive to come up with ways to create more successes and tackle emerging problems.

Reviewing performance is not just about one-to-ones between leader and team member, or annual appraisal conversations.

Running a team meeting - hybrid style

If Prof. Michael West was right – and he’s researched thousands of teams to test his assertions against evidence – then I think he remains right when it comes to hybrid teams. And right at the heart of what he has been saying is the whole dreadful business of running meetings.

Following all these rules that Michael West offers, depends on the ability of a team to  hold high quality team conversations (do I hear you laughing?). Unfortunately the expertise in running hybrid meetings between two or three people or between all the team-members, or with other teams, is in short supply. Many people still spend too much of their working lives switching from one soul-grinding meeting to another.

Rule 4: have productive hybrid meetings

Interminable meetings in which a dozen people stare at a screenful of faces while one person speaks and most of the rest have lost the will to live, is a very distinct COVID  experience. So perhaps there is a fourth – and underpinning – rule on which the success of a hybrid team depends. “Does your team run productive meetings?”

And in particular are your hybrid meetings productive? Or does the camaraderie and side-conversations between people sitting in the same room effectively create a “them” and “us” divide, that excludes those dialling in from home and builds a divide that might rot your team’s cohesion? If so you need to consider the assertion from some that “one virtual means all virtual” when it comes to hybrid team meetings; that even those in the office should dial-in from their desks rather than meet in one room together while remote colleagues dial in from their homes.

man working at computerr from home

If Prof. Michael West’s three rules make sense to you, and especially if you face a life of hybrid working and meeting, then now might be the time to use the post-COVID opportunity of a second chance at building a hybrid team that genuinely works.

His three rules and my fourth seem to be challenges that all our work teams urgently need to master.

two people working at laptops

Tim Sims is a program director for CLS. He has spent his entire career helping people to develop and fulfil their potential. Tim specialises in working with senior & middle level teams to improve their performance. As well as teaching on MBA and Master’s programs, Tim coaches, designs and delivers tailored change management and team development programs for face to face, online and soon, hybrid delivery. He has a special interest in evaluation, believing that understanding the impact is just as important as the program being delivered.

If your teams, managers and leaders would benefit from developing the skills for successful hybrid and remote working, do get in touch. We will be happy to help. 

You can download a copy of our Hybrid & Remote training brochure here. 

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