Engaging high-performing teams in hybrid working environments

By Fay Calderone, Kathryn Howard and Georgia Gamble

Employers must take a different tact to cultivating high-performing teams in hybrid working environments. Kathryn Howard, partner in Hall & Wilcox’s Commercial Dispute Resolution team, Fay Calderone partner in our Employment team and Dr John Hopkins, Associate Professor at Swinburne University of Technology discussed what that might look like. The pandemic has driven burnout, lateral career moves and staff retention rates to plummet. The panel’s discussion on how to counteract this consistently circled back to one word, purpose. Employees have been caused to evaluate their work against more holistic criteria, engagement, culture fit and job satisfaction. A high performing workforce is less concerned with where they work, but is crystal clear on why they work.

Purpose is a difficult thing to dictate. Employers must work to embed the ‘why’ into recruiting, onboarding and performance managing staff.

The building blocks of high-performing teams

  • People have a whole range of passions that sit above what they do. For example, an employee who deals with customer complaints on a day-to-day basis may be motivated by their passion for consumer rights. Employers can cultivate energised workforces by supporting staff to draw a link between their intrinsic motivators and the functions of the business.
  • Harness what worked well during the pandemic, and recognise the things the team does better in the same room. Devote the times people do attend the office for meaningful, collaborative events. Research indicates employees are now less inclined to come into the office without a purpose. Talk to your people and pilot a new way of working.
  • Task briefings should clarify why they’re doing what they’re doing. Where does it sit within the bigger picture?
  • High-performing teams are not told what to do in granular detail, but they are empowered with supported autonomy.

Performance management to facilitate growth

  • Create an environment where employees feel safe to unpack mistakes. Productive conversations do not happen when people are in fight or flight mode.
  • Fear leads to stress, exhaustion, burnout and resignation.
  • Foster growth mindsets. Conceptualise mistakes as a learning opportunity.
  • Vulnerability from leaders is critical. That means holding the mirror up when you’ve made mistakes, and demonstrating a growth mindset.
  • Discourage individual perfectionism, which is irreconcilable with a growth mindset.
  • Provide feedback within the framework of the organisation's values. What flow-on effect does this work have for their team members or clients?
  • Feedback should be constructive and orientated around the task, not the individual.
  • Provide employees parameters, within their control, in which to start achieving results.

The 'great resignation' and the importance of wellness in the workplace

It goes by many names, the great exhaustion, the great depression. The greatest resource of a business is its people, and wellbeing promotes loyalty. How can employers manage the wellness of a workforce that is scattered across Zoom screens?

  • Embrace empathy. Over the last 18 months, we have seen people at their most vulnerable. Seeing people’s dogs in meetings, our directors in hoodies and toddlers crying in the background has humanised our colleagues. We should keep these insights in mind moving forward.
  • Respect boundaries. A symptom of the hybrid environment is the work-to-home life creep. If it serves employees to work outside of typical business hours, facilitate that flexibility. But remind staff that emails can be set to be received at a different time. Limit emails to work hours unless there is a business need for that intrusion.
  • Strategic output. We cannot be firing on all cylinders, all of the time. Inevitably, there will be deadlines that call for a big sprint. But once that job is done, employees then need to conserve energy and rejuvenate. That way when the next hard deadline presents, they are ready to hit the ground running again. High-performing teams prioritise endurance.
  • Encourage rituals to bookend the workday. That might be going for a coffee walk before logging on, and spending time with a pet once they log off. Encourage employees to prioritise these rituals.

Leaders need to get to the bottom of their people's why. High-performing teams are composed of people who can visualise where they will be within the business tomorrow, in three years and five years’ time. This line of sight is what fosters engagement in the present and retention into the future.


Fay Calderone

A highly regarded employment lawyer, Fay advises on proactive compliance, discrimination and performance management.

Kathryn Howard

Kathryn leads the Public Sector industry group at Hall & Wilcox, and is a commercial dispute resolution practice partner.

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