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Successful Team Building for Remote/Hybrid Teams

By Laurie Strom

Giving the team links to learn how to use the tools efficiently before the meeting will save stress and increase the potential for engagement.

Table of Contents

Whether we are talking about a specific team-building event or the general building of a good culture over time within a remote or hybrid team, we need to pay attention to three key principles:

  1. Team dynamics/solidarity within the community
  2. Dignity of each individual
  3. Relationship of the team to other teams and to management/subsidiarity

Team Dynamics

As a result of the global pandemic, Remote/Hybrid Teams are much more common in the workplace and many best practices are now at your fingertips or with a ‘hey Siri’.  However, ‘Remote/Hybrid Teams’ have been around a long time, such as described in a useful and pragmatic book from 1997, Virtual Teams, by Jessica Lipnack and Jeffrey Stamps. So rather than repeat what you can easily find by other means, I’d like to provide more fundamental insights into the success of team building.

The ‘tools’ teams use may change and become more sophisticated, but the real secret to success is understanding the key principles of team dynamics. That is why regardless of the technology, Catholic Social Teaching principles provide a proven conceptual framework for team building. The Catholic Church is the longest-running global Remote/Hybrid Team of Teams – and they have learned a few things the hard way over the centuries!

So why didn’t I say define the goals, purpose, objectives, or key results as part of those three key principles or make it a fourth principle? It is because the part people miss is HOW things are defined, decisions made, agreed upon and executed, dependent ON the three key principles, and the corresponding relationships and trust.

We might even be so bold as to ask ourselves: ‘Where is God in all of this?’ ‘How does it help his people?’ Note that the principles of Catholic Social Teaching align and resonate with the principles of natural law! Stephen Covey’s Speed of Trust is a great resource for teams to use as part of a team-building exercise.

Dignity of Each Individual

It is not respectful for the individuals on a team to have meetings called that do not have a well-defined purpose. If, as a manager or team member calling a meeting or setting up an event, we start with thinking about the participants, their roles, how the purpose impacts them, WHY it is important for them to participate, etc., then we will have better ‘human factors’ and ‘emotional intelligence’ baked in.

We will also be more likely to seek the input of the participants ahead of time as part of the planning process and increase the engagement of the team members during the meetings as a result. This applies to face-to-face, hybrid, and online meetings.

In a remote/ hybrid team, chance hallway conversations are less likely to happen.  There might be instant messages as an alternative, but care needs to be taken to avoid the risk of being unintentionally and frustratingly interruptive to a stream of conscious or focus time work.

Blocking out time on calendars for ‘focus time’ can help mitigate this. It can also help meeting organizers know the best times to plan meetings. As much as people dislike meetings, in a remote/hybrid team environment, thoughtful, careful planning of meetings, particularly standing/repeating meetings, becomes even more important to ensure good communication and team dynamics.

It is important to get to know each of the members of the team and how they like to relate to others. In a remote/hybrid environment, that means a deeper awareness of engagement styles and how to accommodate online. It is good to encourage the use of video in addition to just verbal communication, but be flexible, as this can eat up bandwidth and unnecessarily stress some of the team members. Another way to get some of the quieter, less outgoing team members to participate more is through mixing in chat questions and responses as part of the meeting.

Recognizing and responding to the chat dialogue and input is important for it to be the best value-add. Survey tools that visually display the result of the responses and comments can also increase the awareness of leadership valuing team input. Whatever tools or techniques you use, giving the team links to learn how to use the tools efficiently before the meeting will save stress and increase the potential for engagement.

Calling on specific individuals during the meeting has the same pros and cons as with a face-to-face meeting; it is a powerful technique when used appropriately. Also, the more team members take leadership roles for different portions of the meetings, the better the engagement, sense of ownership, and team solidarity.

Team Relationships

Team building is a good way to encourage the development of leadership skills too! This may be particularly helpful when working across time zones or on different subject areas.

For example, instead of a four-hour staff meeting, an alternative may be to have one-hour staff meetings for Europe, Asia and North America, and a one-hour report-out meeting for liaisons for each region. The manager may still be in all four hours of meetings, but they are easier to schedule, and the team members feel more valued, engaged, and personally connected to the manager; the liaisons also develop planning and leadership skills.

So how does the principle of subsidiarity apply to team building?  Simply put, it is respecting the decisions to be made at the appropriate level by those with the best knowledge and access to address situations. In other words, avoid micromanagement and communication voids. It is not substantially different than when a team is all in the same office; it just takes a bit more purposeful planning.

Think of the team as a valued customer; valued customers typically are not sharing offices with the team, yet ways and means have been developed to build value-add relationships and communications channels.

From a team development perspective, consider inviting executive leadership and liaisons from core functions like HR, finance, marketing and IT to present and answer questions to help keep the team informed and provide opportunities to have concerns and issues addressed in a timely manner. Also, regardless of the advances in digital technology, true team building and true relationships are richer and deeper if provisions are made for face-to-face, person-to-person meetings.

Multiple ways and means are possible to facilitate this due to advances in travel and transportation technology, and though the nature (1:1, 1:many, many:many) and the timing (weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly) may vary, there is simply no replacing the need for real interaction. The Lord understood this basic human need for the development of real relationships, and He thus becomes present to us at every Mass.

Catholic Social Teaching

If you are intrigued by this concept of Catholic Social Teaching being applied to business, the following quotes provide additional insight and links to additional references: Pope Paul VI, “One of the salient features of the modern world is the growing interdependence of men one on the other, a development promoted chiefly by modern technical advances. Nevertheless, brotherly dialogue among men does not reach its perfection on the level of technical progress, but on the deeper level of interpersonal relationships. These demand a mutual respect for the full spiritual dignity of the person.” (Gaudium et Spes, 23); Pope Benedict XVI,

I would like to remind everyone, especially governments engaged in boosting the world's economic and social assets, that the primary capital to be safeguarded and valued is man, the human person in his or her integrity: ‘Man is the source, the focus and the aim of all economic and social life.’” (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 63 as referenced in Caritas in Veritate 25)
people inside room
A team or group that has solidarity should be aligned with values that promote the good of the organization and society.

Indeed, the application of these three principles of Catholic Social Teaching in the work environment and the importance of their balance may be a primary means of sharing the benefits and helping to restore a Judeo-Christian culture. It is generally understood that if those in leadership positions do not respect and bound the limits of their authority and orient themselves for the greater good, including individual and team development, then human rights may be violated. Beware of occasions when a team or group may have solidarity, but its aim may not be aligned with values that promote the good of the organization and society.

This too may obstruct not only the organization’s ability to effectively execute its mission, but it may also have an isolating effect that hinders interpersonal relationships and diversity of thought. If individualism is taken to an extreme without regard to respect or duty towards others, then there is not only a loss of ability to effectively contribute to shared goals and the mission of the organization, but general chaos and lack of confidence in leadership may result.

Today more than ever, before attention is rightly given to the increase of the production of agricultural and industrial goods and of the rendering of services, for the purpose of making provision for the growth of population and of satisfying the increasing desires of the human race. Therefore, technical progress, an inventive spirit, an eagerness to create and to expand enterprises, the application of methods of production, and the strenuous efforts of all who engage in production—in a word, all the elements making for such development—must be promoted.

The fundamental finality of this production is not the mere increase of products nor profit or control but rather the service of man, and indeed of the whole man with regard for the full range of his material needs and the demands of his intellectual, moral, spiritual, and religious life; this applies to every man whatsoever and to every group of men, of every race and of every part of the world. Consequently, economic activity is to be carried on according to its own methods and laws within the limits of the moral order, so that God's plan for mankind may be realized. (Gaudium et Spes 64)

In writing this article, I hope I don’t imply that I’ve gotten it all right or have succeeded in following my own recommendations. Rather, it has been part of my continuing growth to learn from some incredible leaders over the course of my career, to try to emulate their best practices and pay-it-forward.

Also, I encourage team members to call me out when I am not following best practices! In the long run, I can only pray that team members will be gentle in their judgment of me and forgive me as I strive to do the same for them!

So first and foremost – remember to pray for your team!

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