How to lead in a hybrid world through trust and impact

How to lead in a hybrid world through trust and impact
Sep 21, 2021

The shift to a hybrid workplace means leaders will need to leverage intention and foresight to overcome remote challenges and build trust among dispersed teams.

As restrictions ease, the workplace feels more uncertain than ever. But that shift provides an opportunity to lead with intention and foresight—something we didn’t have when we entered the pandemic.

How can leaders succeed in a hybrid environment?

In this post, I’ll offer my suggestions, built on our thinking around the future of work and our 7 Levers for evolving your hybrid strategy. I’ll explain how we can be better leaders in a hybrid workplace and how to build trust among our dispersed teams. I'll also explore how we can lead with impact and when to consider bringing people together physically vs. when remote work is best.

Leaders currently face three main challenges:

  1. How to earn and build trust within hybrid teams
  2. How to lead hybrid teams with the biggest impact
  3. How to strike the right balance of remote and face-to-face work


Let’s deal with each of these in turn.

Challenge 1: How to earn and build trust within hybrid teams

When I need a clear voice to cut through the noise on leading hybrid teams, I turn to “Remote Work Revolution” by Tsedal Neeley. Tsedal is an inspiring thinker and one area she explores is trust—how to earn it, and how to build it.

In all our relationships, we know trust is essential. But digging more deeply, we discover it comes in a variety of forms. One of these, as Tsedal explains, is cognitive trust.

Cognitive trust is the kind we’re familiar with in our working relationships. When people trust each other to be “reliable and dependable.” In that trust, you believe the person will approach a challenge with positive intent and will do everything they can to get it done. I'm sure you know plenty of people within your team with whom you have cognitive trust.

But that only takes you so far. Tsedal also describes a second type of trust that’s essential to effective hybrid leadership: emotional trust. Emotional trust is often forged in moments of crisis and vulnerability. Consider when you do things for others because you care about them. Tsedal says emotional trust is “grounded in co-workers' care and concern for one another.”

Unsurprisingly, emotional trust is much harder to gain. Yet, it is exactly the kind of trust many leaders have tried to earn quickly with their teams during the pandemic. Faced with both personal and professional challenges, together we’ve regularly had a wider range of conversations that form the basis of emotional trust. For example, discussions about our families and friends, our hopes, and our fears—within the larger framework of the shared experience of the pandemic. Continuing to build emotional trust within our teams is essential to being an effective hybrid leader in the future of work.

Challenge 2: How to lead hybrid teams with the biggest impact

The second challenge that hybrid leaders face is how to lead with impact. To lead with impact, I think we need two things: A way to measure and understand the impact we each naturally have, and a language in which to speak about it. I believe that The GC Index® represents an intelligent and simple way to accomplish both.

The GC Index® is an organizational metric to measure both real and potential impact. It helps people understand and talk about their impact within a role, a team, and an organization.

ICF Next is a GC Partner, and we often use The GC Index® both internally and with our clients. As an accredited GCologist myself, I've seen how it helps organizations gain insight into the impact their people make. And how that insight can improve business outcomes, boost performance, and help leaders to make more informed people decisions.

The GC Index® identifies five roles—or proclivities—in which someone can make an impact in their role, team, or organization. The roles are: The Strategist, The Game Changer, The Implementer, The Polisher, and The Playmaker. Through those roles, we recognize that everyone within an organization can make an impact in different ways. They also provide a language that everyone can bring into conversations about their impact in life.

The framework helps leaders remove unconscious bias, allowing them to make people decisions based on diversity of impact. Finally, The GC Index® makes it easy for organizations to measure contribution overall to see how their people’s impact aligns and drives actual business outcomes.

Using The GC Index® to lead with impact helps us to be more self-aware as leaders. When we know more about our contributions to our organization, we can then build a team around us that complements our own impact. As we do that, we can look at our people’s proclivities to understand strengths or potential gaps that need to be filled.

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Challenge 3: How to strike the right balance of remote and face-to-face work

The third challenge for leaders in a hybrid environment is striking the right balance between remote and face-to-face work. Deciding how to run tasks in a hybrid setting is not always easy.

Begin by scrutinizing what you’re trying to achieve. Examine the precise nature of the task, your objectives, and the importance of things like efficiency, effectiveness, camaraderie, well-being or mental health.

From there, ask yourself these practical questions to ensure your interactions effectively build trust and create impact.

Should this be a meeting?

Or could the time be better spent thinking, writing, planning, or engaging in other projects? Link this question to your overall objectives.

Are my meeting goals relationship-based or task-based?

Task-based goals often don’t need to happen in person, while more challenging relationship-based conversations—while they don’t have to be—are often better to address face-to-face. Check with your team to determine what goals people are comfortable handling remotely.

How complex are my objectives?

Is it a thorny issue that needs an in-depth discussion or a routine briefing?

Should this meeting be in a different format?

There’s now a world of meeting possibilities, such as asynchronous recorded meetings, walking meetings, or virtual collaboration on an interactive whiteboard—like Miro, Mural, or a Google Doc. Expand your horizons to find the best fit.

What type of meeting will be most inclusive?

Inclusivity is the biggest advantage of going virtual—no travel expenses, no accessibility, and those juggling family and work-life can attend more easily.

Does the facilitator have the right skills and tech set up to pull off a successful hybrid meeting?

Poor hybrid meetings can alienate participants. Engage everyone by establishing clear principles and expectations around how to contribute. Also, be sure meetings don’t include elements that would require people to be physically present to benefit.

Effective hybrid leadership, with these challenges in mind

Lead by example and model your decision-making processes. Your team will look to you and follow your lead. Remember to experiment. See what works—what doesn’t—and adjust and adapt over time. Most importantly, communicate what you’re doing and how and why you’re doing it. Celebrate your successes as a team and learn from your mistakes together.

The idea of openness in leadership loops us back to a final point from Tsedal Neeley—the need to share yourself as a leader.

“The more you learn about someone, the more you will probably like them and the closer you feel. Without such sharing, especially in remote work, you end up with a one-dimensional transactional relationship that is only about the task in hand.”

Sharing parts of ourselves is something that we often did naturally during the pandemic—talking openly about our experiences and challenges and quickly building emotional trust. Combined with finding new ways to articulate and lead with impact, sharing is something we need to be more intentional about as we aim to become effective hybrid leaders.

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