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The challenge of collaboration in a hybrid world


As we move into a hybrid world of work, collaboration is on everyone’s minds.

A massive new study of remote work at Microsoft found that, during the pandemic, employees talked to their teammates more. Those relationships deepened. But people talked less to those outside their immediate teams. Essentially, the silos dividing different parts of the company from one another deepened during this period of all-remote work.

I’m intrigued by this study, but I would caution not to read too much into this one result. I’ve worked with dozens of companies to transform their leadership cultures, and in my experience, silos have always been a problem. In fact, I once worked at a fast-growing startup where, as we expanded, we took over a second floor in our office building. Almost immediately, silos between departments deepened—because people didn’t want to take the time to grab an elevator up or down a floor to talk to their colleagues.

I’m not convinced that remote work makes silos worse. I think that barriers between different parts of an organization are, unfortunately, all too common, and any practical issue that makes the connection even slightly less convenient can reinforce those barriers.

Like most issues that concern managers in the era of hybrid work, collaboration has always been a challenge. Remote work changes the details of the challenge, but not its essential nature.


Collaboration is key to innovation.

Some of the best and most innovative ideas come from collaboration. Studies have shown that increases in cross-group collaboration produce more innovation and new ideas. Other researchers have identified effective networking as one of the crucial skills the most innovative people possess. Still, others have found that big technological innovations tend to come out of collaborative processes—and even solo inventors who create iconic new products on their own have a history of working in teams.

The most innovative organizations tend to have cultures that encourage all employees to come up with new ideas. They don’t see innovation as the job only of R&D or product design

departments. That means that the best, most creative cultures must have a foundation of collaboration, teamwork, and valuing all ideas in order to thrive.


Some remote teams have done amazing things through collaboration in the past two years.

Of course, the development of the COVID-19 vaccines is a fantastic collaboration story all on its own. Teams drawn from private industry and academia worked together, despite the barriers of lockdown and remote work, to produce lifesaving vaccines at unmatched speed.

Many other organizations have found that they’ve been able to pull together and accomplish great things during the pandemic—again, despite the barriers of remote work. Unilever, for example, opened 600 new facilities to produce more soap and sanitizers to meet increased demand. Teamwork and collaboration helped the organization get this enormous task done in just a couple of days.


It’s all about mindset.

I recently worked with a group of high-potential leaders at a large corporation that had switched to all-remote work during the pandemic. One leader shared that he had been feeling disconnected from people outside his team. He blamed the issue on the fact that he wasn’t in the office and didn’t see people in the hallways or break rooms for casual chats.

My team and I suggested that he make it a point to reach out to someone outside his team at least once a week. He immediately saw what a difference this would make—so why didn’t the idea occur to him on his own?

As I write about in my newest book, Accountable Leaders, no matter the context, connecting with colleagues takes deliberate effort. Ultimately, successful collaboration is all about mindset, particularly when you’re talking about working with people outside your immediate team. Do you see reaching out, connecting, and building strong relationships with your colleagues as a core part of your job, or a luxury?

Do you have a one-company mindset? If you don’t, you’ll always struggle, no matter the context. If you do, you must put it into action as a deliberate practice–whether that means climbing up a flight of stairs or scheduling a Zoom call.

Are you struggling to collaborate in a hybrid workplace?  

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We are Leadership Contract Inc (LCI), your partner in strategic leadership development. We help you operationalize leadership accountability at all levels of your organization so you can drive strategy, shape culture, and spark change.

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