Last month, my articles explored the objectives and measuring-performance aspects of my Leading Hybrid Teams model.
This month we look at capability invisibility and equity and inclusivity for your hybrid team.
Capability invisibility is a term used to describe a situation in which employees’ skills, capabilities and competencies are not visible or known.
This can result in an employee being given a task for which they are ill equipped, or their skills not fully utilized.
While this incompetent leadership blindness can exist when everyone is colocated, it can be exacerbated when the team is hybrid and working across multiple locations.
Leaders and every member of a team should know what skills, capabilities and competencies exist so that they can be leveraged for the optimum performance of the individual, team and organization.
It is easier to determine a co-worker’s abilities when colocated, as you can overhear conversations about the work they have done in the past, are currently doing or are planning on doing. You can hear about the training courses they have taken or are planning to take. You can listen to discussions about their previous roles in your organization and in other organizations.
Your co-worker can cross the office when they hear that someone is struggling to perform a particular task and offer their assistance if they have the skills that are needed. That capability will then be noted in the minds of others.
These types of interactions are less likely to organically happen in a hybrid team, with many members working remotely.
The need for leader visibility
As a leader, you must be confident that the employee to whom you are delegating a task can carry it out and achieve the desired outcomes.
This does not mean that the task will be easy to achieve. Good leaders know how far they can stretch their employees so that they develop and become the best they can be.
It is often safe to ask your employee to step into the stretch zone, but you do not want them to feel as if they have been dropped into the terror zone.
This would result in high levels of stress, anxiety, fatigue — and if continued overtime —burnout. That is an area where you do not want to lead your employee.
Therefore, you need to know that when you delegate a task, your employee is comfortable in taking on the task.
There are two aspects of this delegation that you need to be aware of when leading a hybrid team.
First, make sure you know your employee’s existing skills, capabilities and competences and their appetite for stretch targets.
Second, be sure your employee is content with the task at hand. This is often easier to determine when colocated, as you can read body language. While the words may say “yes,” the body language may say “no” or “not sure.”
You must be confident — wherever your employee is located — that they are confident in taking on the task.
You need to know your employees’ skills so you can fully utilize them. There is nothing more demotivating for an employee who has worked hard to master a work-related skill to not be able to use it.
Underutilization is an engagement killer. Even your highest performers can become quickly disengaged if they don’t feel their skills and capabilities are being utilized in the best way.
Employees need to feel that their knowledge and experience are being put to good use.
Everyone needs an element of challenge to feel a sense of accomplishment and achievement. Without it, they can switch off and disengage.
It can be harder to recognize disengagement due to underutilization when employees are working remotely.
Your challenge is to recognize when an employee is feeling underutilized before they become disengaged. They may be performing well on tasks you have given them but are still bored as they have no challenges.
There are several things you can do to ensure you have visibility of the capabilities of each of your employees, regardless of their location.
Conduct a capability audit. While a skills audit is often conducted to identify skills gaps, the primary purpose of a capability audit is to know what skills, capabilities and competencies employees already have. You may want to grade the capabilities, so you know who is a beginner and who is an expert.
This audit should be verified on a regular basis and discussed in one-on-one meetings.
Once the audit has been conducted and the findings captured, make the data available not only across the team but across the entire organization. Employees can then seek out the capabilities of their co-workers.
There are two ways in which this data can be used — leverage and learning.
When a U.K.-based customer-service team receives correspondence written in Japanese, they could either turn to Google Translate or access the capability data and find a colleague who speaks Japanese.
When the IT team is approached for support with an application written in Python by a rogue programmer who has now left the company, they can search the capability data to determine if there is any potential assistance in-house.
The ability to leverage the capabilities of others in the organization not only builds relationships and increases collaboration, but it also boosts employee engagement and motivation. All of these are crucial for employee well-being when working in hybrid teams.
When an employee wants to learn a new skill or improve an existing one, where do they turn?
According to a study conducted by Degreed, more workers turn to their colleagues first and their managers second.
Knowledge sharing across an organization’s employees can be a powerful learning and development tool that also builds relationships and increases collaboration.
You are tapping into the expertise that is already present within your organization. You hire smart people, so why not use them to share their expertise with others?
Employees may not be as aware of a colleague who could help them develop a certain skill when they are working remotely, so being able to tap into capability data enables them to reach out for learning and development.
All your employees must know that it is safe to express discomfort with a delegated task. Psychological safety must be a priority for leaders when leading a hybrid team.
Everyone should be able to speak up, question, challenge and talk about how they feel without fear of repercussion, punishment or humiliation.
You need to have a discussion about stepping outside employees’ comfort zone. If your employees never do, they will not grow and develop. The comfort zone will always remain the same size.
Each time they step outside of the comfort zone, they grow and develop and the comfort zone continues to get bigger.
At all times, you must ensure you are not putting your employee under undue stress and increasing their anxiety.
Of utmost importance is for your employee to know that you are always there to provide support and remove obstacles when needed.
They will not drown, because you have the life preserver at the ready if they need it.
Also remember that delegation does not equal empowerment.
Empowerment comes first. Ensure that when delegating tasks, your employees are empowered to undertake them.
When delegation occurs without empowerment, the task assigned is often dictated in a step-by-step fashion leaving no opportunity for your employee to be creative or innovative. There will be little learning and less motivation.
When you empower your employee and then provide them with a task, you also are handing them decision-making rights and freedom to complete the task as they best see fit. There is a plethora of learning and motivation.
You can no longer remain passive regarding your team’s skills, capabilities and competencies.
While it may have inadvertently sufficed when the team was colocated, it will be not meet the needs of your hybrid team.
When employee capability is known across the team and the organization, it empowers employees to connect, collaborate and cohere.
Karen Ferris is an organizational change-management consultant based in Melbourne, Australia. Her opinions are her own.