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Facilitators in new hybrid workspaces - are they our next generation's leaders?

Facilitators in new hybrid workspaces - are they our next generation's leaders?

I took some valuable time out last week to think about how best I can contribute to RSVP Design’s work, and that period of reflection led to some interesting insights about the new(?) skills that leaders are going to need to deploy if they are to continue to be effective. And, by implication, how we develop candidates into leadership roles.

My thinking started at the undeniable truth that organisations, and leaders, are being forced to respond to some seismic shifts in the way they work. These changes can’t be easily separated in terms of attention needed as they are deeply systemic and affect every aspect of working life. The changes are simultaneously economic, social, technological and political, and demand a level of rapid adaptation that is confounded by the profound ambiguity of the informational environment that surrounds them. So what do we prescribe by way of a developmental agenda for leaders? If I am to develop learning tools to support these leaders in weathering this storm, what are the learning outcomes the tools need to reliably deliver?

One start-point in answering these questions is to recognise that, for many leaders, the workforce is no longer under one roof. The skills needed to manage a team or organisation who are working, all or part of the time from home are, in a few crucial areas, very different from 100% face to face leadership. The implications for RSVP Design are that we need to support our clients in a vital acceleration of leadership-skills development in some crucial areas, and central to these skills is increasing the ability to manage multiple data inputs effectively. Let me illustrate that by talking about the face-to-face part of my job, facilitating organisational groups and teams.

Until relatively recently I was standing in front of corporate groups on a weekly basis, facilitating their thinking about their direction of travel, using learning tools to open up difficult conversations and to refine the skills they had identified as important. In that role I had probably 3 important dynamics to monitor and manage, i.e.

  1. Desired learning outcomes - what are my goals in being here and how’s my progress? 
  2. The people in the room - what am I hearing and seeing that needs to responsively inform my work?
  3. The tools I’m using - how do I utilise the learning tools, AV aids and learning environment to best deliver the desired outcomes?

I’m notorious for ‘losing myself in my work’ but even I could usually manage these 3 dynamics. 

Then came the pandemic and, like most people, a lot of my work migrated to on-line delivery, with the effect that the 3 dynamics has become a whole lot more than 3.

I’ve still got the outcomes to deliver and a learning environment to manage, but the people are in many rooms, appearing as multiple thumbnail screens on my computer, and additionally I need to manage the vagaries of the technological interface(s) through which I communicate. Suddenly I’m managing a whole raft of new responsibilities driven by multiple data inputs - and I’ve needed to change fast to accommodate this.

My experience of this change is probably a relatively simple one compared to many business leaders, but, at its core, is the same set of needs. How do we do what we’ve always done and still do it well, but in this new, diffused, operating environment? My response as a designer behind RSVP Design learning tools is to provide these leaders with learning environments that allow them, in a secure space, to develop the skills of working in a hybrid environment. More specifically it’s about learning to manage remote teams to deliver defined outcomes efficiently. We’re still concerned with performance, but to achieve that performance we need to align a greater number of both remote and proximal inputs.

You can see this learning emphasis in many of the new tools we’ve recently added to our portfolio.  These are available in both physical and online versions 

Emergency Delivery (online) builds skills in managing remote teams in a time-pressured workspace.

Workstations (online version) looks at knowledge management across a working team working in different spaces.

Broken Squares (online version) which is our newest offering addresses collaborative exchange within and across remote teams.

As ever these tools need a level of facilitation, and we’re seeing some great innovation from our clients in the way they are using them to develop teams, but also to develop the remote facilitation skills of team-leaders. Allowing the leaders to facilitate, or co-facilitate the activity offers a second, and equally important, learning outcome from a single on-line training session. It’s obvious to me that, having spent decades encouraging leaders to move away from a command-and-control style and to become facilitators, we need to give those same leaders the skills they need to continue to be facilitators in these new hybrid workspaces.

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