Experience over output – 3 key insights how to master hybrid leadership

We’re half-way through learning how remote leadership works.

The pandemic has pushed many of us to a new normal: working from home. But now there’s a new buzzword kicking around: Hybrid Leadership. That describes situations where some people are together in presence, while others join remotely. From my perspective, that’s far more challenging as if everybody is remote.

As an instructor and facilitator, I experienced some hybrid setups in the past. It always was a challenge to involve the remote attendees and create the same interaction and intimacy as if they’d be onsite. However, if that becomes the new new normal, we must learn how to manage such settings.

A few weeks ago I again found myself working with people spread over France, Germany, UK, Netherlands and the US. Different timezones and locations. Some physically gathered in meeting room in Nantes, others joined via Cisco Webex. I sat at home in front of my Cisco Desk Pro Screen (a perfect tool for hybrid leadership) and facilitated that diverse group through a learning and co-creation process. It worked pretty well.

Here are my first insights into how Hybrid Leadership can work:

Digital first

Even if some people are joining in presence and could use ‘real’ whiteboards or flip-charts, everything must happen online. The entire event was designed for taking place in the virtual space. We used Miro Boards that everybody accessed online, even the people onsite. We prepared break-out rooms for group work and interaction – although the present people should just grab a coffee and gather in the next room. They did that, but others joined them remotely. That leads me to the next insight:

Strengthen connection

As a leader (or facilitator), you probably tend to talk TO people (in the room and to remote attendees). But to make everybody feel comfortable, you must strengthen the connection BETWEEN people onsite and online. When designing groups, structuring conversations, doing collaboration – connect remote with onsite attendees. That’s why everything must be designed digitally.

Instead of talking to the group, let the group interact across borders, timezones and across present vs virtual space. That allows also the introverts and silent attendees to contribute and becoming more active. That finally gets me to the last insight:

Become a facilitator

While you let people connect with each other and let everybody contribute, your role will change. Rather than being a leader speaking to an audience, you become a facilitator that supports connection, interaction, collaboration. Your job will be designing the process of creation or decision making – rather than being a decision maker.

Part of your new leadership role is engaging the human beings (not the roles and functions only), foster collaboration between remote and present attendees, design structures to manage the conversation. Let your team analyse, ideate, decide and take action – and facilitate them to be as effective as possible.

The Dialogic Leadership Framework helps to focus on process (of collaboration) and structures (to steer the process and keep focus). Avoid discussions – they’re not constructive most of the time.

Finally

Hybrid Leadership requires more technology. To design the best experience, rooms should be equipped with high quality cameras and audio, large screens and decent internet connection. Than it’s possible to create an immersive experience for all attendees.

But if that’s not available (yet), design your collaboration consciously and focus on experience, rather than on output only. The required infrastructure is available – let’s learn to master it meaningful.