Changes in the way people and teams do smart work began to become apparent even before Covid-19. The pandemic only exacerbated this process.
Companies are realizing that routine transaction and coordination tasks can be performed completely virtually, while work that requires real teamwork (such as team training, innovation, shared culture) is certainly better-done face to face. . That is why the predictions that the future of teamwork after the pandemic will be a hybrid between virtual coordination and personal interaction are multiplying.
Effective leadership in this new hybrid world requires a variety of skills that go beyond traditional leadership. Organizations will need leaders who can perform well in two different modes. Most of the time, they will work in a virtual coordination mode, which includes setting goals, monitoring progress, sharing information, and maintaining connections between colleagues working remotely. And when employees meet periodically to live, the leader will need to move face-to-face, promoting in-depth training, innovation, culture, and dedication.
The modes of work will be determined by the nature and combination of team tasks. Tasks that require joint efforts, but without much integration – reporting, simple decision making, information exchange, document preparation, and financial analysis – will mostly be performed virtually. Our research and experience show that most interactions between leaders and employees, including some types of coaching, can be effective in cyberspace as well.
Important tasks that require the knowledge of all team members, a convenient space for discussing complex issues, and strengthening emotional connections cannot be solved online with full commitment. For example, face-to-face communication is much more effective in creating groundbreaking innovations, shaping culture, and managing conflict situations.
These challenging tasks are not easy to accomplish because they involve four aspects of presentation that are best demonstrated through face-to-face contact:
Cooperation implies not only interaction and coordination but also a movement towards mutual understanding, communication, and trust.
An innovation that requires brainstorming, integration of knowledge, and collaborative learning. This means mutual trust and spending time together in a peaceful environment.
Cultural development requires long periods of personal communication to develop interactions, and strengthen norms and a common identity.
The commitment stems from a shared understanding of purpose, a sense of community, and opportunities for professional growth.
The consequences for future leadership are enormous. The multimodal workspace changes the types of skills needed to successfully manage teams, both virtually and personally. In particular, leaders will need to play four roles to learn how to manage a hybrid workforce. Their importance will depend on the degree of coordination and integration of the team.
The new roles of the leader of the future are:
Director. To a large extent, he manages the team in cyberspace. The conductor provides an exchange of plans, decisions, information, and achievements to coordinate and motivate all employees. That is, he does almost the same thing as the conductor of the orchestra, who makes sure that each musician plays well and everyone is in harmony together. As a conductor, leaders engage in goal setting, simple planning, decision making, coordinating work, and tracking progress, while maintaining communication, trust, and interaction with team members.
To be successful in this role, leaders need to find the right balance between genuine concern and micromanagement, which fundamentally undermines morale. The pandemic has shown how endless video calls take energy and this requires high efficiency and commitment from conductors in organizing virtual working hours.
Activator. In face-to-face meetings, the activator stimulates collaboration, creativity, and innovation creates a shared culture, and inspires dedication. To achieve this, leaders need to build trust and create a psychologically safe environment. In this way, they encourage in-depth dialogue and encourage creative conflict rather than destructive personal opposition in the exchange of ideas. The term “activator” emphasizes: the main emphasis is on enabling others to express themselves and facilitating cooperation processes.
Coach. When working with subordinates, virtually or in person, leaders need to play a coaching role – that is, help employees achieve excellence while building trust and paying attention to their well-being and professional development. Effectively fulfilling this role requires a high level of emotional intelligence and the ability to strike a balance between empathy and encouraging people to expand their boundaries. The right coaching approach improves relationships and increases engagement and productivity.
Champion. While the roles of conductor, activator, and coach involve managing individuals and teams that report directly to a particular leader, the role of champion requires leaders to protect their teams from the outside. They need to provide team resources, engage key sources of information, and progress reports, and build trust with peers and other key partners. Therefore, champions must be able to negotiate, influence without official authority, and build alliances.
The common thread connecting all four of these roles is the need to build and maintain relationships and trust. Before the pandemic, many companies were reluctant to expand remote work opportunities because they did not believe employees would be productive when working from home. At the same time, there were concerns about whether managers would be able to control them. Building and maintaining trust is important for multimodal leadership, especially when the team is working virtually.
And building trust in each of the four roles manifests itself in different ways. As conductors, leaders foster trust by sharing achievements – so that everyone knows that their colleagues are contributing to the team’s success. In the virtual world, it often seems to us that colleagues are not doing their best and in a crisis, emotions can escalate. Another way to build trust is to talk to team members in person to see how they are doing, how their work is progressing, and what help they may need. This is one of the central themes of emotional intelligence, which also strengthens team spirit.
When teams meet in person, leaders need to move into the role of activator, where trust plays an important role in stimulating innovation and creativity. After all, people need to feel safe to experiment and share unexpected ideas without fear of rejection. Therefore, the role of the activator requires the establishment of strong and reliable relationships, with the leader playing a stimulating rather than directive role. This requires a balance between confidence and an appropriate degree of humility and social awareness.
For example, we at IMD have executives who share personal accomplishments but also failures. They build relationships and trust by showing vulnerability. This brings people together and opens up opportunities for closer cooperation. But we found that personal issues are not very convenient to share during a meeting at Zoom. Building an environment of trust is crucial for both the coach and the activator, along with emotional intelligence, which can be enhanced by working on self-knowledge, self-care, social awareness, and relationship management.
The higher you rise in the organization, the more important the role of the champion becomes. The matrix structures of many companies require leaders to use organizational influence, not authority, to obtain the resources the team needs and to contribute to the company’s overall goals. As a champion, we build the trust of our colleagues, show interest in their aspirations, and set organizational goals higher than those of our team.
Leaders need to be aware that they may need help in fulfilling these four roles. Most leaders already have a good command of the role of conductor, as it includes many traditional management and leadership skills such as observation, delegation, decision-making, and motivation. In contrast, the roles of activator and coach require different skills and approaches. The ability to help, emotional intelligence, and humility is especially important here
To succeed in this new era, team leaders must learn to adapt four roles to multimodal leadership: conductor, activator, coach, and champion. This will provide the basis for effective leadership in the post-pandemic world.