Microsoft is highly intentional in how they manage their teams. They invest heavily in learning about their own workforce and global work trends as a whole and then further invest in innovations to improve the workplace and management practices. The result? They are regularly ranked as one of the best places to work. This month, Microsoft released their most recent Work Trends Index Pulse Report. Their findings in this report are based on learnings from their own employees, but there is incredible value in the report for any manager of a team.
Here are my two key thoughts after reading Microsoft's report about managing teams in your accounting or bookkeeping practice or for guiding your clients who have employees. Although Microsoft's report specifically addressed thriving in hybrid work, my thoughts relate both to hybrid/remote work and general team management as a whole.
Employees need to feel they are part of the whole.
High-performing teams have a shared context - they are aligned with the company's vision, mission, and purpose; they have mutual goals, and they have shared experiences. Even when a team is working remotely or in a hybrid environment, a strong manager can (and should) cast and reinforce the vision, mission, and purpose. A strong manager also can (and should) work with the team to define and accomplish goals.
The increased prevalence of hybrid and remote teams has made it more difficult for teams to have shared experiences. In-person watercooler chats and plopping down across from someone's desk are very difficult to replicate in a virtual world. And even when workers are geographically near each other, team lunches and after-work activities are no longer common.
With the shift to remote and hybrid work, companies need to create new types of activities and habits to make sure that no matter where (and how) employees work, they all feel included, supported, and part of the whole. Effort and creativity, not just money, will allow companies to maintain that sense of shared context for their teams.
Employees need to be heard.
A recent Forbes article addressed the fact that millennials want respect. Of course, millennials deserve respect, but so does the entire team. One of the best and easiest ways to show respect to your team is to simply ask questions and listen. There are two ways you can do this.
First, offer periodic anonymous surveys to learn what you and your company are doing right and where you and your company are falling short. As an example, in their recent employee questionnaire, Microsoft asked these questions to gauge their employees' feelings on inclusion.
- I can succeed in my work group while maintaining my personality and style.
- I feel free to express my feelings with my work group.
- People in my work group openly share work-related information with me.
- I feel like I belong on my team
- My manager cultivates an inclusive environment and diverse workforce by valuing and leveraging employees' differences and perspectives.
Once you gather data from your team, you will be able to modify your actions to improve your management practices. If you ask the questions, listen to the responses and then act on their input, you will increase employee retention and improve productivity.
Second, speak to each team member one-on-one. An interesting data point from the Microsoft report was that 97% "who’ve had a discussion with their manager about how they work best say their manager supports their desired work style." And, managers who had conversations about work style with their employees ranked higher. One-on-one conversations contribute to a shared context and shared experiences, which are needed to build trust.
Regardless of how you have these conversations with your team, you must have them. It is critical for you as a leader to be proactive. If you passively wait for your team to provide feedback, it may not come until they decide to leave the company.
What steps is Microsoft taking to build trust and flexibility?
Microsoft's report, and resulting action items, focused on strengthening their flexible work policies. Here are the action items Microsoft landed on, but generalized to all leaders and their teams throughout their companies' life cycles.
1. Intentionally focus on leadership improvement
2. Prioritize listening to your team as a group and as individuals
3. "Model, coach, care" - taken word for word from the report because it applies to all situations
4. Create agreements with your team to define expectations, not employment agreements, but project or performance agreements
5. Meet intentionally with your team and create opportunities for all voices to be heard