We have all heard the old adage, there is no ‘I’ in a team and while this is true, paradoxically it is the collective ‘I’ that makes teams work. At its core, this speaks to how each individual on the team shows up; their commitment to the task in hand; how well they work together; how well they communicate with one another and how well they trust one another. Teaming can require individuals to get up to speed quickly on new topics and to work with people in cross functional teams, different divisions and different cultures. Individuals who learn to team well acquire knowledge, skills and networks. They also typically embody a sense of higher purpose and believe in a win-win if everyone plays their part and goes the extra mile when needed. There is no doubt in my mind that the magic ingredient in all teams is the ‘collective intelligence’ so how do we harness this in the Hybrid working environment?
Leaders across the world have had to learn new skills, and adapt their leadership style to cope with the ever changing landscape that has made hybrid teaming a reality. But what about our young folk, starting out in their career with no imprint of the traditional office environment where they learn to team by watching it in action, emulating identified role models and by developing trusted connections.
MASTERING THE DANCE BETWEEN THE PHYSICAL AND DIGITAL
Creating a sense of cohesion, connectedness and belonging has become increasingly challenging in the new world of work as hybrid working policies have typically become the norm in most organisations. Hybrid by its nature, while flexible and desirable for many, poses many challenges for the art of teaming and even more so for NextGen starting out in their careers.
In a way it has fractured the fabric of traditional teaming, where groups unbeknown to themselves unconsciously learned how to team by simply being together, and learning from one another through impromptu discussions and informal knowledge sharing among team members. There is no doubt that face to face connection energises us for the simple reason that we are human and that an office environment with a healthy culture facilitates spontaneous discussions, quick problem solving and a general sense of camaradarie.
EROSION OF 'IN THE MOMENT' COLLECTIVE INTELLIGENCE
The new norm has had an impact on the art of teaming. The early morning banter as we knew it, is not happening to the same extent anymore. The much loved morning coffee get together with colleagues is more often than not, a solo venture to the coffee pot in the kitchen now and as such fosters a sense of isolation.
The informal brainstorming that occurred when you articulate your thoughts and/or questions to your colleague across the desk, are now less frequent with thoughts now looping torturously in the left brains of many before they decide to reach out to a colleague by sending an ‘instant message’ to see if they are on the right track. The impact of this is an erosion of the ‘in the moment’ collective intelligence. The dance that was, is now more complex and not as fluid with collaboration now typically shoe-horned into an anchor day or an organised event.
GETTING OFF TO A GREAT START
When I reflect on my own working life, while far from perfect, I feel lucky to have grown up in the traditional office space. I remember my first day, and how nervous I was. I remember the 8 day induction programme and the special bond that developed over the 2 weeks where we learned about the organisation, their standards and what was expected of us as representatives of the organisation, to include how to answer the phone professionally and how to groom ourselves to uphold the standards of the organisation. On reflection it was probably one of the standout moments for me as I got off to a great start in my career and had a really good sense of ‘how it is around here’ and of the quality standards expected of me before landing in my team to watch it in action.
SITTING BESIDE NELLIE
There is something special about ‘sitting beside Nellie’ when you start out in your career or indeed in a new role. I had the privilege of sitting beside ‘Nellie’ whose real name was Mary when I started out in the finance unit at the start of my career and I felt supported as I learned how to do things myself. I remember being blown away by the speed of her as she totted and balanced a batch of interbranch items. I was inspired by her speed and accuracy and I watched and I learned. I eventually mastered her skill and remember with fondness the early day competitive banter of our small team as we worked together to try and balance these items at increased speed and with no errors – a ‘win’.
BETTER TOGETHER TEAMING EXPERIENCE
As a team, we had a lot of fun. As a team, on reflection, we had a shared purpose and a shared goal and together we learned from one another and architected better ways of doing things and became more efficient. Together we were better as we tapped into the collective energy and the collective intelligence of the team. We had role models and leaders who inspired us with a vision and who made us feel a part of something bigger than ourselves. I guess we learned how to team from the outset both informally and formally by being part of a stable team and also through osmosis. On reflection my generation were lucky as we have an imprint in our mind of how teaming should look and as such have a reference point as we learn to adapt to the new world of Hybrid working. NextGen starting out in their careers have no such imprint to reference and this poses a challenge for them and no doubt at times causes some degree of angst.
A DYNAMIC ECOSYSTEM
So, here we are in this new world of work, where the hybrid environment reigns supreme and the art of teaming resembles a dynamic ecosystem where teams now operate across physical and virtual spaces, utilizing digital tools and platforms to cultivate connections and build their network. The absence of casual water cooler moments, impromptu discussions and spontaneous brainstorming sessions limit the opportunities for social bonding and informal information sharing. Instead these informal exchanges now typically take place through a screen, by way of a virtual coffee chat, instant messaging or a scheduled check-in.
Collaboration is not as fluid as it used to be due to the new reality where teams are agile and typically never on-site together unless there is a mandatory anchor day. So how do leaders develop their team’s ability to collaborate effectively while managing this dynamic ecosystem? Some organisations with anchor days are endeavouring to schedule these meetings on these days as all team members are onsite. Others are adopting new ways of collaborating by developing virtual teaming skills and learning new ways of doing.
STANDING IN THE SHOES OF NEXTGEN
NextGen recruits are quite often interviewed remotely, onboarded remotely with some also inducted remotely. They typically only have the odd day in the office to sit beside Nellie, if Nellie is in, and watch and learn how it is in action. In the current environment where organisations are trying to attract, recruit and retain talent, how is this impacting on this generation (GenZ) starting out on their career? No better way of finding out than talking to them. This is what they had to say about Hybrid working and how it is impacting them in the context of teaming both positively and negatively as they start out in their career.
Male, 25 (Actuary)
“Social cost associated with convenience; lose out on communication with fellow workers thus slowing learning curve as experienced staff not as accessible to you; less rewarding; less allegiance to the company”
Female, 23 (Human Resources)
“I feel like Hybrid working has made me really independent, and given me the best of both worlds. I am more independent and confident in my work because I can put things into practice at home while not feeling like people are listening in or judging me even though they probably aren’t. Being in the office is great as you get a sense of being a part of a team and it is more collaborative and you can also pick up a few things by being in the office as well through osmosis, by hearing or listening in to people and how they deal with situations and if they are right across from you it is easier to ask - best of both worlds.”
Male, 25 (Finance)
“As I start out on my career, I feel the hybrid working environment has impacted somewhat negatively on me. Meeting people on my wider team in person happens quite infrequently. Management and staff seem to favour remote working and it is difficult to get to know people. I am missing out on the social side of work, the camaraderie and office banter which I enjoyed when working during an internship.”
Female, 26 (Finance)
“As a recent new joiner of the hybrid working world, I have found the hybrid working environment to be both challenging and rewarding. On the one hand, it can be difficult to build relationships with colleagues when you are not seeing them in person everyday and they are not at your disposal for questions. However, an advantage it has given me is the opportunity to learn new technologies such as video conferencing and project management tools that I can continue to use into the future. On the other hand, I have appreciated the flexibility of being able to work from home where I can, enjoy playing tennis on my lunch breaks or meeting with friends. There are pros and cons to the hybrid working environment but overall, I believe that the hybrid working environment has changed the way of working for the better to allow people to develop a more equal and enjoyable work life balance.”
Male, 25 (Sales)
“In terms of hybrid working, as someone who is in the office full time, I can say that I was happy to start full time in the office. It allowed me to meet my team, bond and connect with everyone in the office. I can safely say I’ve met people in work who I will stay in touch with long after I am finished with this company. I think this wouldn’t have been possible if my role was hybrid or even full remote. As someone who works in sales I think it’s vital to be with your team in person. You pick up little tips and tricks off guys who’ve been there longer which aided my development as a salesman. You can’t beat the buzz of the office when you hit or even smash your targets!”
Female, 23 (Environmental)
“I would like to be in the office more but my team is small and is spread between Belfast, Cork and Scotland so if I was in the Dublin office I wouldn’t really see my team. When forming relationships they’re always much stronger when you see them in person but I found that once you have met in person it’s easy to continue that relationship online and easy to ask questions. I don’t think I’m missing out by not working in the office because I would have to contact my team online anyway. I feel like I’ve so much flexibility. I save a lot of time and energy by working from home. When I do go to the office I’m kinda forced to chat with other teams and I like that. If I was in 5 days a week I’d be worried about money. Working from home has meant I can keep up other hobbies because I have more time not commuting 1 hour and 20 minutes there and back. In my company we have freedom to grow so you can pick your own hours as long as you make up the 37.5 hours a week. This is particularly good if you have evening plans and can work a little later some days to have a shorter day on others.”
CREATING A WORKING ENVIRONMENT TO MEET INTERGENERATIONAL NEEDS
Against this backdrop of then and now and recognising that a high percentage of NextGen do not have this lived onsite physical experience and as such no reference point of traditional teaming, and knowing what we know about the impact on them, how can we create a sustainable environment for NextGen to learn and grow on the job, have fun together and learn how to team together?
I don’t have the answer, I’m afraid, and perhaps, I am old school as it is clear some GenZ recruits are taking this new working environment in their stride. As a mother of GenZ I know that they don’t know what they don’t know and it is evident from some of the lived experiences of those I spoke to that this is not true for all. As such, I do feel we have a responsibility to foster an environment that enables all NextGen to learn and grow by meeting them on their map of the world, by standing in their shoes and by taking purposeful action to foster environments where they feel trusted, valued and empowered. An environment where they have role models. An environment where we provide them with opportunities to connect and to team.
KEY ENABLERS FOR NEXTGEN TEAMING
The dynamic ecosystem poses challenges for all of us, and creating a working environment to meet intergenerational needs is undoubtedly a massive challenge for the team leaders of today. The words of Marshall Goldsmith “what got us here won’t get us there” have never been so true for the art of teaming. We all need to develop new skills, to include technical, functional and soft skills. Individuals and team Leaders need to refine their leadership skills and become good role models. The next generation of teaming calls for an evolution in skills for everyone and a growth mindset to be able to thrive in the new world of work. As I see it, some key enablers for individuals and leaders include: -
ONBOARD FOR SUCCESS
Develop a comprehensive onboarding programme to help new team members have a good understanding of the organisation, the culture and its values, so they have a felt sense of ‘how it is around here’ enabling them to integrate into their team more smoothly. Pair new team members with experienced colleagues who can provide guidance, offer support and answer questions as they learn in role.
Use and navigate technology with a degree of fluency to enable effective virtual team management, seamless communication and collaboration across digital landscapes.
Be able to pivot between remote and in-person work and adapt how you do things depending on the environment.
Take ownership of your career and proactively manage it as you would your own business taking on board feedback identifying good role models and seeking in the moment feedforward from a trusted source.
CAREER COACHING CONVERSATIONS
Have more meaningful conversations with your manager, coach or mentor in relation to your career plans and proactively seek out opportunities to learn and grow.
Develop the ability to stand in the shoes of others, hold a safe space and understand and convey emotions in virtual interactions to maintain a sense of connection and understanding among team members. Authentic empathy builds deep trust.
AUTONOMY AND ACCOUNTABILITY
Create an environment where the team members are empowered to take ownership of their tasks and responsibilities, feel trusted and supported as they work independently while contributing to the collective goal of the team.
Ensure all team members have a clear understanding of their job roles, responsibilities and performance expectations. Create an environment where the team feels informed, and aligned by giving clear, concise and context-rich communications to all team members.
RESULTS ORIENTATED COLLABORATION
Measure the collaborative effort on outcomes delivered versus the number of hours contributed. This requires a mindset shift and a change of approach where the team comes together with a clear focus and their collaborative efforts drive tangible results regardless of physical proximity.
CROSS CULTURAL COMPETENCE
Embrace the diversity of different cultures, and create a culture that fosters inclusivity by understanding their differences so that all team members feel valued and respected. This will enhance the collaborative efforts and enrich the team.
Develop a leadership style that can tap into the collective intelligence of the team by creating the right environment for the team to brainstorm. Leaders with an ability to sow the seeds of ‘what’s possible’, hold the conversation, while facilitating the team’s thinking will unite the team, unlock the collective wisdom and tap into collective intelligence of the team by noticing what’s emerging.
Create an environment that recognises the superpowers of each generation, and implement a formal two-way mentoring programme to support the development of all team members irrespective of age, tenure and seniority. Done right, this could be a key enabler of multi-gen teaming given the speed of change in the world of work, the advancement of technology and AI and the basic needs of people at every stage of their career.
To thrive in this ever changing landscape individuals and team members need to adopt a growth mindset where they are committed to lifelong learning to enable them to upskill and stay relevant. Hybrid working requires us to master the complex dance between physical presence and digital connection if we are to enable the art of teaming for the NextGen. This requires individuals and teams to adapt and communicate effectively by leveraging technology to create a harmonious and productive environment. We all have a part to play in it but one thing is certain and that is collaboration in a safe and nurturing environment possesses the transformative ability to tap into the collective intelligence, achieve great outcomes and drive tangible results irrespective of proximity.