The Future of Team Leadership Is Multimodal
COVID-19 is accelerating a shift to hybrid work models, which requires a fundamental change in the skills team leaders need to succeed.
The pandemic has accelerated a pre-COVID-19 shift in how individuals and teams do intellectual work. Companies have learned that routine tasks involving transactions and coordination can be done purely virtually, while work requiring true team collaboration (collective learning, innovation, building a shared culture) is still best done face to face. We envision that the post-pandemic future of teamwork will be a purposeful hybrid combination of virtual coordination and in-person collaboration.
Effective leadership in this new hybrid world requires different skills that go beyond traditional team leadership. Specifically, organizations will need leaders who can operate well across two distinct modes. For much of the time, they will operate in virtual coordination mode. This means establishing goals, monitoring progress, driving information sharing, and sustaining connections among colleagues working remotely. When their teams periodically come together to engage in true collaboration, leaders will need to operate in face-to-face collaboration mode, fostering deep learning, innovation, acculturation, and dedication.
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The nature and mix of team tasks will dictate the modes in which those teams operate. Tasks that involve working interdependently but without much integration — reporting, performing administrative tasks, making simple decisions, sharing information, drafting documents, and performing financial analyses — will mostly be done virtually. Likewise, our research and experience have shown that most one-on-one interactions between leaders and their reports, including some coaching, can be accomplished effectively through virtual means
However, essential tasks that require team members to integrate their knowledge, create safe spaces for dialogue on difficult issues, and form emotional connections cannot be done productively while working virtually. For example, team efforts to achieve breakthrough innovation, solve complex problems, build culture, and manage conflicts are still performed much more effectively in person, given the current limitations of technology. (See “The Future of Work Survey” for more about the research.)