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How do you keep the human touch in a WFH or hybrid mode?

Updated: May 31, 2022

WFH Team Managers: How do you handle team communication in a WFH or hybrid mode and keep the human touch?

Here's a rough guide to manage team role behaviours based on Belbin Team Roles.

There are Thinking Roles, Action Roles and Social Roles. We all have our preferred roles and it can change in different environments. Generally, we can put the 9 team roles under one of these three groups.

The Thinking Roles include Monitor-Evaluators, Plants and Specialists

The Action Roles include Shapers, Implementers and Completer-Finishers

The Social Roles include Teamworkers, Coordinators and Resource-Investigators

If you'd like to find out more about what these roles are like, take a look at this page.

Generally, you can kinda figure out which role you play and which role your team members play. Of course, getting the Belbin Team Report is probably the best way to really find out.

So back to managing team role behaviours when on WFH mode.

Thinking Roles

Monitor Evaluators are fairly easy to manage remotely as they prefer to work by themselves with time to reflect on the best course of action without others interrupting them. However, their tendency to over-analyse can slow down the work progress, even to a standstill. So make it a point to keep in touch with them by asking for updates. They may not give you the answers you want but they most likely give you the answers you need.

Plants prefer to work alone as they come up with ideas for the team to take forward. So you can safely leave them alone but up to a certain extent as their attention might wander away if a new idea gets their curiosity. So check in on them to see if things are still on track but do so gently.

Plants can be sensitive to criticism of their ideas. So if you're a Monitor Evaluator, Shaper or Implementer, adopt a less task-focused or critical approach with them. Give them questions and problems to solve, and plenty of encouragement. Oh, they might be so absorbed in developing an idea or trying to solve a problem that they might not respond to your emails immediately. So if it's urgent, give them a call instead.

I've worked with Plant types before and they do come up with pretty good ideas but yes, they do get a little distracted if a new idea gets their fancy. They love to solve problems and they tend to light up when given encouragement. And yes, be gentle with your constructive feedback on their ideas.

Specialists thrive when they are by themselves, just like the Plants. Be sure to give them an area of research they can really burrow into but just as with the Plants, check in with them on updates and progress. Then you can let the other team members know of any significant findings that would be useful for the progress of the team's work. Communication via email is probably best, but be very specific with your questions to minimise the probability of receiving an avalanche of information.

Action Roles

Shapers tend to be the loudest in the room. So in a WFH mode, they may be heard via phone calls, online meetings, messaging, emails and whatever other means of communication there can be. They just want to be sure that nobody is slacking. I recall having a client like this during the lockdown period. Take time to go through the communication, not necessarily responding to each, but responding in such a way that he is assured that your part of the project is being taken care of.

Their emails can sound blunt and are usually to-the-point. The team may not be offended by this style of communication but without the social interaction, relationships could be tense. This was certainly the case for some of my clients and we needed a few online meetings to sort out some project requirements.

Keep your promises and respond in a timely fashion. One of the best team roles to deal with the Shaper behaviour is the Resource Investigator; maybe have them on a joint project!

Implementers will carry on as per normal despite the change in work arrangements. However, they need to be made aware of processes that need to be adapted or changed as a result of the change. In fact, they will feel valued if they are given the responsibility for organising new processes or anything that will appeal to their practical inclination. They would probably be the one to find out which online collaborative tool would work best for the team. Keep in touch with them via email and put together a spreadsheet you can talk through with them.

Completer Finishers need clarity around priorities and deadlines. Check in on them a regular basis since they are not the most effective delegators or time-managers. Get a Teamworker to keep an eye on them since they experience high anxiety levels. Ensure ground rules are adhered to by the team members to not overload the Completer Finishers with work.

Social Roles

Teamworkers are proficient communicators. They are tactful, diplomatic and have a keen sense of intuition. They need to feel connected to others. So assign tasks that require them to stay in touch with the rest of the team. They will be the first ones to tell you when someone else has a problem. They are the go-to people to initiate short online social chat sessions. Keep in touch with them via phone.

Coordinators naturally engage others and ensures everyone has their thoughts or opinions voiced out. They can chair virtual meetings that explicitly address the challenges of remote teamworking as they will be natural in allowing any arising difficulties to be aired and resolved. Their calm and confident nature can also help to subdue any rising panic that may occur. Have them share a sense of perspective if things start spiralling. However, be sure they do not delegate more than their fair share of work. Connect with them regularly via both email and phone.

Working with a client who is a Coordinator type was delightful when it came to managing a diverse number of viewpoints in the team. His calm voice and confident tone stabilised the pretty excited discussion around the project.

Resource Investigators are used to being managed from a distance. However, with events and meetings cancelled, they may find themselves not knowing what to do. There is a risk they might just disappear from your communication radar. Encourage them to make regular check-ins but save them from making the effort to give you too much detail. They probably like to get a call or Skype call from you. Since they are by nature over-talkative, be sure you are in control of the conversation or the rest of the team may not have a chance to get a word in.

It's not all up to you

These tips and effort might not even work as effectively if it were all up to you. If each of your team members is aware of their own roles as well as their team members' roles, then the entire team will be able to understand each other's strengths as well as know how to make allowances for one another.

When working with a client on managing a team, she found identifying the team role types useful in understanding the strengths each of them brought to the project. By understanding that, she was also better able to manage her expectations and communications with them. However, the next step forward would probably be to have the whole team take the Belbin Team Report so that everybody understands, appreciates and work even better together.

This write-up was adapted from an article by the The Belbin Team

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