Why collaboration for hybrid teams is hard (and what to do about it)

hybrid team collaboration

What does it take to create a culture of collaboration? More specifically, how do you do it when some of your people are scattered across different departments, locations, and/or time zones? This post will cover the big challenges to collaboration for a cross-functional hybrid workforce, including miscommunication, goal misalignment, and lack of transparency. But first, let’s start with some definitions!

What is a cross-functional team?

A cross-functional team is made up of members from different departments or areas of expertise, who’ve banded together in the name of a shared goal. Most cross-functional teams are also project teams, which means that they form for a specific project, then disband when the project is over. In other words, they have a definitive start and end point, or a life cycle. Less commonly, you’ll come across cross-functional teams whose work is ongoing.

What is a hybrid team?

A hybrid team includes a combination of remote work and in-person work. For example, a hybrid team can be made up of virtual employees and in-office employees. Hybrid could also mean that employees split their working hours between the office and home (or another remote location). Or it could be a combination of both. Hybrid teams have existed since before the pandemic, but without a doubt, they’ve become much more common in recent years.

4 challenges that cross-functional, hybrid teams commonly face — plus solutions!

Problem #1: Your team struggles to communicate effectively 

Communication is often a challenge for teams. But it can be even harder for cross-functional and hybrid teams. Communication is easier when everyone works the same hours in the same physical location in the same department. But in a remote setup, everyone may work at different times of day (especially common if there are employees in different time zones).

Even fully remote teams have it easier than hybrid teams, because your tools and norms are usually (hopefully!) set up for remote work. 

When you add in the cross-functional aspect, it adds its own complications. Team members may each speak their own ‘language,’ of department-specific jargon. 

Solution: When it comes to technical jargon, coach team members to be mindful of the language they use, so as not to inadvertently alienate others from the conversation. It’s also essential to create a team culture in which members feel safe asking questions, so that they can ask for clarity freely whenever they don’t understand the meaning of something.

Asynchronous communication is a must. Asynchronous, or async for short, is just a technical way of saying ‘the opposite of real-time.’ It’s about building delayed responses (incoming and outgoing) into the way your team communicates, so that people can move work forward without needing to hear back from respondents immediately. 

It’s a good idea to establish, as early as possible, a team communication plan that answers questions like:

  • Who do I ask about things pertaining to X, Y, and/or Z? (more on this below)
  • When is it appropriate to use email? When is it appropriate to use Slack?
  • What necessitates face-to-face, synchronous communication methods like Zoom?
  • What’s the expected response time during working hours? (If your team is working asynchronously, this might be more than a few hours.)

Plus any other questions that are relevant to your team and your workflow!

Problem #2: Not enough emphasis on building relationships.

Even as you shift to asynchronous ways of working, don’t overlook the value of synchronous team meetings and one-on-one check-ins. While video conferencing isn’t a perfect substitute, it’s easier for managers to get visual cues that help them support their direct reports (perhaps Emma is looking extra tired today).

Solution: “Hybrid work means you have to plan and make time to connect, whether reaching out for a casual chat or ensuring adequate time for scheduled one-on-one conversations,” LinkedIn Writer Anne McSilver points out. Check in with each other to add that much-needed human element that remote workers often lack.

Problem #3: Roles and responsibilities aren’t always clear in your cross-functional team. 

When teams don’t take the time to spell out each person’s role, things can get confusing fairly quickly. For example, if someone has a question about task A, who do they reach out to? For task B, who has the final say? This lack of clarity hurts productivity, and it also creates information silos.

Solution: For every task or project, set up an RACI matrix. RACI stands for responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed. It’s a framework for assigning and communicating who’s involved in a task — and exactly how they’re involved. For example, let’s say that you and your team are working on a blog post. The writer would be responsible for completing and delivering the work to the editor, the editor would be accountable since she assigns and reviews the final article, a team member who provides feedback and makes small edits would be consulted, and other members who are looped in regarding (but don’t necessarily play an active role) would be informed.

Problem #4: Data and knowledge is kept in silos.

Silos exist when employees don’t share information with each other, or they share it only with members of their own team or department. With more people working from their home computers, a hybrid workplace can inadvertently give rise to the formation of silos. What’s more, remote collaboration, and the various tools and apps that come with it, mean that information is spread out across a complicated tech stack, making it more difficult for people to access the data they need. When knowledge doesn’t flow freely between members of an organization, people don’t have the info they need to get the job done, which means they often have to spend time tracking down what should’ve been shared with them in the first place. Silos hurt productivity, and they also can contribute to a culture of mistrust.

Solution: Be intentional about the tools that you choose to include in your tech stack. Make sure that every single tool serves a purpose and that your stack is as minimal as possible. Also, be mindful of water cooler conversations, direct messages, and email — if something can be discussed in a shared channel, it’s best to do so in order to increase transparency across your team(s). There’s a reason we’re referred to as knowledge workers — share the knowledge!

6 collaboration tools that make teamwork easy

Now, let’s talk tools, a necessity for the future of work! The right apps can transform your team’s hybrid work environment and offer way more than just functionality. Having a thoughtful selection of tools in your tech stack can promote work-life balance, contribute to team building, and overall, improve the employee experience. Check out some of the apps below!

  1. Humu — action management platform
  2. Slack — team communication platform
  3. Clockwise — scheduling and time management tool
  4. Asana — project management platform
  5. Miro — online whiteboard platform
  6. Google Workspace — collaboration-friendly office suite

1. Humu

Humu uses the power of machine learning and people science to help teams create experiences that engage, support, and inspire everyone involved. Their platform provides coaching that not only aligns with company strategy; it also helps each person make progress on their individualized goals. It works by providing “nudges,” which studies show improve behavior more effectively than other modes of training (such as a webinar).

2. Slack

Slack is a communication platform that lets you communicate with team members via direct messages and channels, which minimizes your use of cumbersome email. Slack also offers video conferencing. One of the things we love most about Slack is that it promotes transparency, helping to combat those information silos we talked about earlier. Conversations are searchable, which means that people can more easily find the context they need to move ahead on their work. Plus, when you onboard new members into a channel, they get visibility into messages that were sent before they entered the chat. Slack is an all-around amazing solution to keep information flowing freely. It also offers tons of integrations to streamline your work even further.

3. Clockwise

Clockwise is a smart calendar assistant that helps you manage your time more effectively. It syncs up with your Google Calendar to automatically resolve scheduling conflicts (so you don’t waste time with any back-and-forth), rearranges your schedule to create uninterrupted blocks of time for deep work, and gives you visibility into your team’s bandwidth (your first line of defense against employee burnout).

4. Asana

Asana makes it easy to plan and execute projects, from start to finish. With Asana, you can switch between different views, depending on how you like to visualize (i.e. board view, timeline view, list view, calendar view). You can also customize your workflows with custom fields, automations, and more. (Check out our comprehensive guide to project management with Asana.)

5. Miro

Best way to brainstorm when you have remote employees on your team? Try a virtual whiteboard tool like Miro. It’s a great way to promote effective collaboration among your team without having to be in a conference room at a physical office together. With Miro, you and your remote team can recreate the same synergy of a real-time brainstorming session in a visual way. 

6. Google Workspace

Google Workspace is a collection of apps that takes your normal, run-of-the-mill office apps (like word processing and spreadsheet creation) and makes it collaboration friendly for hybrid employees (and the digital workplace, in general). An alternative to Google Workspace is Microsoft 365.

Moving forward

The biggest challenges for cross-functional team collaboration, especially when it comes to hybrid work, are miscommunication, misalignment on goals, and lack of transparency. In order to set their team up for success, business leaders should set a clear communication plan, be thoughtful about the tools they choose to adopt, and encourage the free flow of information between members. And remember: There’s no single tool or solution for team collaboration. In order to make collaboration work, it’s important to zoom in and out and be attuned to the needs of your team every step of the way.

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