Mayvin recently hosted an event at which clients, colleagues and consultants discussed how organisations might mindfully move towards new, post-pandemic working patterns.
Carolyn Norgate and I facilitated the conversation utilising a series of inquiry processes that allowed each individual to reflect on their experiences during the pandemic. This laid the foundation for us to then explore our individual needs and wants as our offices open up and we move towards hybrid ways of working. We finished by using the insights generated through this personal inquiry to look for patterns that might be useful at an organisation level as new working practices are codified in policies. Read Claire Newell’s summary of the themes that came out of this closing discussion.
Carolyn and I brought a provocation to the table that kick-started this inquiry journey. Taking a complexity perspective and in particular considering our organisations as complex adaptive systems, we suggested that it would be at the level of local interactions that solutions to hybrid working would emerge. Local managers, with their teams, will have to find ways to make their particular working patterns suit each of the team member’s needs and wants. The possible permutations and combinations of factors, such as the availability of suitable home working space, the need to continue shielding, access to reduced office space, risks associated with public transport, local broadband speeds, personal preferences to being in or out of the office, introversion or extroversion, etc., mean that one overarching organisation policy cannot possibly offer managers a comprehensive ‘how to’ guide for all circumstances. Managers and their team members will have to work through the challenges together. As a team, they will have to figure out how they will continue to deliver for their collective stakeholders whilst supporting each other and accommodating each team members’ unique set of circumstances. Compromises will inevitably have to be made and these will have to be negotiated and compensated for within the team.
These local team solutions will be dynamic and iterative, changing as the context unfolds and in response to the solutions being explored within teams around them and within their stakeholder groups. As these local interactions ebb and flow, patterns will emerge at the level of the organisation. Out of these patterns, whole organisation policies can be created that then offer benchmarks against which teams can assess their local solutions as their ways of working continue to evolve. An iterative, ongoing dialogue between local interaction and global patterning would ensue. This is an alternative approach to the one that assumes the policies can be created before the shift in working practices happens and that these will be a once-and-done solution.
Another provocation Carolyn and I brought to the conversation was for us to consider the future of management development. To manage in these newly shaped organisations, managers will need different perspectives and new capabilities. One such perspective is how complexity arises in organisations and the fact that, whilst they may be in charge, managers are not necessarily in control. In the absence of a single organisation design solution to hybrid ways of working, how might managers enable an iterative, messy exploration of solutions that work one day and not the next, and where allowing space for individual agency offers the potential for creative, agile delivery?
Another perspective is in the area of relationships. As hybrid working patterns emerge, the glue that will hold the moving parts together will be the levels of trust and collaboration between team members and between teams. One could argue this has always been the case, but we now face additional challenges. As an example, managers will be contemplating working with team members and colleagues they may never meet face to face. The days of having everyone in the same office or just down the corridor are long gone. Given the importance of relationship, how might managers create the safe (virtual, in-person or hybrid) spaces needed for team members to inquire into and deepen their levels of trust and, in the process, have the difficult conversations this inevitably requires?
In this second challenge, of course, lies the solution to the first. Strengthening relationships and deepening trust will go a long way to enabling successful, iterative explorations of new ways of working.
The management capabilities needed now and in the future go far beyond good communication or effective listening. There is a need now to once and for all move management mindsets away from the organisation-as-machine paradigm out of which outmoded command and control practices emerge. The need, instead, is to help managers see how the effectiveness of teams is delivered through the sense making and collaboration that takes place within the myriad relationships formed outside the formally stated organisation charts and accountability matrices. This realisation leads to a practice-based approach to management in which the manager understands that who they are and how they show up really matters. A practice-based approach to management foregrounds the manager’s role in fostering trust and making time for conversations that ask ‘how are we in relationship with each other?’ as well as ‘how are we doing on delivery?’
If you would like to explore these provocations, discuss how you might support your organisation in these challenging times, or reflect on the future of management development, please drop Carolyn Norgate or me, Tony Nicholls a note.