When was the last time you had a video conference? A few years ago digital and hybrid meetings were deemed the exception rather than the rule, but the reversal is a clear sign of changing habits in the workplace. Most teams no longer meet in the same physical locations any more, but are dispersed across several sites or work from home. There is also the tendency for groups of people to be brought together for a specific project before disbanding to work on the next in order to ensure the experts are where they need to be. Agile working, hybrid or virtual teams and modern leadership are shaping our workplace.
The question is, how can scattered teams collaborate effectively? How can a sense of belonging be fostered through a screen? Is it even necessary?
It’s all about speed and flexibility today as the market and customers’ needs can change from one minute to the next. Hierarchical corporate structures and classic ways of working tend to be restrictive and impede efforts to find quick solutions, which is where agile working comes into play, bringing with a whole new set of rules. Firstly, hierarchies are broken down and decisions are no longer taken solely by leaders, but by teams, boosting productivity, customer focus and the ability to act. Instead of simply doing what they are told by their managers, employees work on a level playing field, actively discussing, testing out and tweaking ideas.
To enable teams to organise themselves, it’s important that leaders give them some parameters they are able to act within. Every employee needs to know their roles and tasks as this is the only way to collaborate seamlessly and effectively. What’s more, teams need a clear strategy that, in a perfect world, they develop themselves, consistently review and adapt as needed.
Flexible forms of working demand a high level of self-organisation. It is, therefore, the task of managers to listen to their employees’ concerns, put in place the right support structure and embrace agile working. Employees also need to be able to take criticism as work processes and decisions are constantly questioned and optimised. This is quite a change for those employees who have only ever worked in more classic, hierarchical structures and they’ll need time to get used to their new freedoms and everything that brings with it.
Transparency is also critical as employees shouldn’t be limited to only knowing about what they are working on, but should have an understanding of the overarching goals. When teams share information, they can make greater progress and modern methods such as design thinking and SCRUM are a great way to unearth ideas, drive projects forward and define roles by providing a framework, but also plenty of freedoms.
Regular updates are crucial, particularly when team members don’t see each other in person, so everyone knows who is doing what. This prevents work being done in duplicate as transparency is a given, creating trust and boosting the team spirit as everyone knows what their ultimate objective is.
Every team needs clear objectives and a team can work on these together in a workshop. These are also the ideal forum for airing grievances, discussing conflict situations and optimising processes, but that can only work if everyone is heard and decisions are made as a collective.
If there is no longer a possibility for employees to have spontaneous chats at the water cooler, teams must be provided some kind of alternative. This could be small get-togethers such as a virtual after-work drink, coffee break or (virtual or in-person) team events. Whatever it is, the aim is for the individual team members to get to know each other better.
Leaders and employees have to give each other regular, honest feedback, but that also applies to teams. The aim is not only to develop ideas for optimisation, but also show recognition for a job well done.
When a team learns from its mistakes and sees them as opportunities to grow, this boosts collaboration and team spirit and makes for a better atmosphere in which no one worries about making mistakes. Learning and growing together.
It’s not something that can be done from one day to the next, but is rather a continuous process that requires a strategy and employee commitment. The first step is to promote a culture of agile working by, for example, enabling individual teams to trial and report back to the department on their experiences,
There’s no one size fits all method, but every company needs to have a well thought out plan that takes into account its people. Experienced external experts can help in the planning and implementation of new forms of working and Bechtle supports organisations from all industries on their path towards modern, flexible working so that they can all leverage the multitude of benefits it has to offer.