Changing conversations: how to create a collaborative culture in your hybrid team

Enlightened leaders know flexible working is a genie we can’t put back in the bottle – but how do you make sure your team is collaborating and communicating brilliantly when they’re not all in the office together?

Several years ago, Google’s Project Aristotle identified five factors that set successful teams apart and those factors still hold true today. In fact, it’s almost as if they’ve been dialled up to ten in our post-pandemic workplace. It’s just a question of how we negotiate and communicate them.

Now, faced with a team in different locations, choosing different schedules and using mostly digital tools to communicate, managers can feel like they’re herding cats. Some even insist on imposing a ‘back to the office’ rule – and then find themselves facing an exodus of disgruntled employees.

The answer is simpler than you might think. Although the pandemic changed our ways of working overnight, the elements that make teams brilliant, high performing and effective remain the same.

And, at TMSDI we still have the same passion for developing teams and helping businesses succeed. We have helped more than two million people in 190 countries.

Here are some of the ways our Profiles help leaders connect with their teams, and for team members to collaborate and communicate more effectively in a hybrid working environment:

1. Create psychological safety through trust

Psychological safety – broadly, feeling confident to be yourself, ask questions, admit mistakes and propose fresh ideas – is underpinned by mutual trust. And when teams are working remotely and flexibly, some leaders find trust difficult.

The use of spy tools for employers to monitor colleagues’s productivity reportedly rocketed during the Covid-19 lockdowns – and you can still find that command and control culture. The result? Relationships break down and teams keenly feel the lack of autonomy.

The only way to build trust is to let people have a go and see how they get on. For some managers, and in some cultures, that’s a big ask. But it’s important to address these issues with your team.


Another lockdown legacy comes from sometimes significant redundancies, as well as the upheaval of shifting to remote working within days. This created trauma for the remaining workers. And while new cultures then emerged, we’ve recently seen managers try to force employees to work from the office again. You can’t turn back the clock. And when it’s done with an implication that people aren’t trusted to work from home, this attempted control threatens the new culture and causes a trust deficit that leads employees to feel insecure in their jobs – risking yet another loss of talent.


Takeaway tip

Wherever your team members are, they’re still a tribe. When we reach out to people, we’re trying to see if they’re still a part of our group and if we’re part of theirs. Make sure your team has the right tools to feel included, give them the trust and autonomy they need and you’ll gain theirs in return.

2. Be clear and adjust expectations

Generally, our clients still rely on email as their preferred comms channel. But flexible working can lead to problems with boundaries.

When everyone is working the same hours, it’s perhaps reasonable to expect an answer to a direct message within an hour or two. But be prepared to wait longer if your colleague chooses to work evenings and you prefer early morning hours. Or if you’re catching up over the weekend but they prefer the conventional 9-5.

Studies have shown that out of hours emails cause the receiver to overestimate how quickly you expect them to respond, prompting extra stress. And asynchronous working can lead to frustrations on both sides, if everyone expects instant answers.

Takeaway tip

Some companies set technical boundaries so that emails can’t be sent or received outside working hours, or while an employee is on annual leave. It’s a fairly extreme approach and not necessary if everyone can understand and respect each others’ choices.

Trust colleagues to reply when they can and don’t check in with them until you know they’re working again.

Be clear about when you expect people to respond – but be aware that this doesn’t always quell the ‘urgency bias’ receivers might feel. It may be better to set a delay so your email is sent during the receiver’s normal working hours.

3. Encourage boundary-setting for work-life balance

The pandemic-prompted complaint, ‘I’m not working from home, I’m living at work’, is something we still haven’t ironed out.

Some people are more productive at home, without the distractions of the office. Others need colleagues to bounce ideas around and talk through problems face to face. Some prefer to do certain tasks at home and others in the office.


Some people are fizzing with energy in the early mornings. Others find it’s easier to work in the evenings, when they’ve put their children to bed. Some prefer five short days and others pack a lot into three.

Being flexible means all these approaches are right.

Takeaway tip

Set boundaries with your team and with yourself. If you’ve adopted a flexible approach, allow employees to define their working hours and make sure everyone is respectful when they stick to them.

Be clear about when you’ll see people in person, what you want to achieve when you do – and make the effort to spend time with them.

4. Continue to explore our understanding of what work means

With blurring around where and when work takes place, the whole idea of what work means is up for grabs. These existential ideas can be knotty problems to unravel but they’re certainly conversations worth having with your team, to help individuals understand how they can both be and give their best – and what you need to do to support them.


Flexible working has changed the focus of the office. Once a place to go every day, it’s now an optional hub for the team. But which jobs are best scheduled for at-home days and which take best advantage of the in-personal collaborative opportunities of a shared space?

Takeaway tip

Golden threads of trust and clarity run through good leadership today – just as they always have. Take time to open and encourage honest conversations that will make your team members feel safe, confident and reassured. We’re still feeling the shockwaves of change but great communication reassures everyone that whatever happens next you’ll discuss it with them and help them through it.

Have your ways of working changed over the past few years? If you haven't re-evaluated how your teams communicate, we can help.

TMS Development International Ltd (TMSDI) works with businesses and organisations to help individuals, teams and organisations achieve success through learning and development. TMSDI believes working together is at the heart of long-term success.

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