The fundamental composition and stability of teams in organizations are constantly changing. Teams at all levels are now more portable, fluid in their ranks, and for many, operate in a dispersed fashion. High performance teams are also needed more than ever to manage the ongoing recovery of COVID-19 and its long-term implications in the market. However, the core value proposition of organizational life is subject to new competitive pressures from the odd-job economy, remote work lottery, and general economic uncertainty. This has an impact on how talent is attracted and integrated into organizations. In this two-part series, we’ll explore the challenges and implications of collaboration in the modern organizational landscape. First: a look at the interpersonal dynamics that can hinder or accelerate virtual collaboration. In the second part, we will review how new technologies are changing the selection and fluidity of teams.
The new virtual work environment that was necessary to navigate the pandemic does not appear to be going away, and will likely remain in the post-COVID world in the “hybrid“framework. While technology has certainly opened new doors for meeting and collaborating in dispersed teams, it is not without its pitfalls. 70% of communication consists of non-verbal behaviors (eg, hand gestures, body posture, facial expressions, emotional aesthetics, etc.), and much of this subtle communication is lost during video conferencing. In addition, “micro-expressionsAre often lost in video translation, which means we get even less nuanced clue about how someone is responding to us. The result? More missed communication opportunities, less relationship building, and a greater chance that the necessary debate can become personal rather than task-focused.
When engaging face-to-face, we feel more about how our audience reacts to our presence, our communication, and our ideas. Our perception of these reactions can have a significant impact on our style of engagement and the way we handle conversations, especially when they become heated. Despite the diversity of perspectives leading to more innovative and smarter solutions, a constructive debate can evolve quickly if it is not well managed. Navigating successful heated exchanges requires careful attention not only to content, but also to tone and body language.
Until advanced technology gives us more of each other through remote communication (for example, VR and holographic conference), we must rely on other tools to maintain a constructive discourse in a virtual world. This includes knowing where focus our gaze when we speak, spend more time asking more probing questions, and setting clear ground rules or expectations for brainstorming meetings that will involve healthy debate.
Additionally, relationship science has shown that there are fundamental communication patterns that interfere with interpersonal closeness and team behaviors. We know that conflicts are inevitable (and can lead to positive results); however, relationship conflict can seriously derail collective success, especially in difficult circumstances or instances where real team performance is required to generate results.
How can we create a virtual environment where open communication and mutual respect can be used to manage conflict? John Gottman studied communication in what we can think of as the most daring teams: weddings. Often times, the damaging relationship dynamics that arise in teams are not that different from toxic romantic partnerships. One of his most important results is that the way in which conflicts are handled generally predicts whether a relationship succeeds or fails. Four key aspects of Gottman’s research offer ways to manage conflict, stay alert through stimulating conversations and keeping relationships growing:
- Instead of criticizing someone (for example, attacking another person’s character), express a concern or request that focuses on the issue and calls for action. Using ‘I’ statements distracts the other person’s attention and talks about what you need as an individual.
- Avoid wit which can easily be taken to be status prominent to insult or express superiority (eg, sarcasm, hostile humor, mockery). Engage in active listening and let your colleagues know that they have been heard and recognized. Use positive humor that relieves group stress or humanizes senior leaders can also help build relationships instead of breaking them.
- Rather than becoming defensive or taking positions (e.g. avoiding ownership and reversing blame), accept responsibility, address your impact rather than intention, and engage in a shot to understand the point of view of the other person. As Adam Grant said in his new book Thought Again, “Investigate why you might be wrong, not why you might be right, and change your opinions based on what you learn.”
- Finally, instead of removing yourself from the relationship and avoiding conflict altogether (e.g., The Stone Wall), give yourself space and take a break, but be sure to plan and discuss. of how you will re-engage in the conversation and show your commitment to resolving the issue constructively. way.
Going the extra mile to compensate for the lost nuances of virtual communication can better leverage our intuition over video conferencing and go a long way in ensuring that constructive conflict remains task-oriented. Of course, this is easier when we already know our colleagues. But in the new world of talent management, your partner on a critical project may not be the colleague you previously shared a booth with for two, five, or ten years. So what? Stay tuned to see how technology affects the makeup and length of teams, including an interview with a frontline innovator to disrupt the workforce for skilled tech workers and potentially reshape the makeup of organizational teams.