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4 tactics that get teams to collaborate no matter where they are

Adobe’s Eric Kline and Maria Yap discuss the lessons they learned on how best to encourage inclusive meetings among distributed teams.

4 tactics that get teams to collaborate no matter where they are
[Photo: FG Trade/Getty Images]

As more and more workers are returning to the office part of the time, many of us are running into new and unexpected obstacles when it comes to hybrid work. Whether it’s creating shared routines when employees are both virtual and in-person, ensuring inclusivity in meetings regardless of location, or determining the right moments to bring teams together, there is a lot to figure out to make hybrid work work.   

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Adobe’s company culture has always centered on collaboration, connection, and innovation. Pre-pandemic, we relied more heavily on co-located teams working synchronously, but more recently, we’ve focused on our ability to work asynchronously across globally distributed teams. As we’ve navigated this new world of hybrid work, we’ve learned some lessons that could be helpful to other companies as we all continue to learn and iterate on our approaches.  

Test ways to bring people together 

After months apart, teams are looking to rebuild relationships beyond the screen, to collaborate and innovate while maintaining the inclusivity we all benefitted from while fully virtual.We’ve started to host offsites at Adobe, beginning with our Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom teams, bringing together employees in-person and virtually. We set out to test effective models and norms for hybrid gatherings, and here’s what we’ve learned from these events the past few months. 

Designate facilitators 

Before the meeting, assign a facilitator to share meeting norms, keep the team on schedule, and monitor chat and in-person discussions. A great facilitator is able to help make the dynamic more equitable between in-person and virtual attendees. For hybrid meetings with a large number of attendees, we have found it helpful to designate two facilitators: one in-person and one virtual. Ideally, the lead facilitator will be in-person and focus on the meeting purpose, agenda, and norms, while the virtual facilitator can monitor the chat and help troubleshoot any technical challenges. 

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It’s crucial that every person invited to the meeting understands who the facilitators are and their role in enabling inclusive participation. We’ve found that the most successful facilitators are ones who have “generous authority” (a term coined by Priya Parker) and can run the meeting confidently and selflessly.  

Lay ground rules 

From a technological standpoint, hybrid meetings can be confusing. When we clearly defined the protocols, participants knew what to expect and were able to engage effectively. For example, no matter the location, ask each participant to join through their laptop to maintain the sense of inclusion and intimacy we receive from all-virtual meetings.

Also, ask participants to virtually “raise their hand” when looking to speak and alternate responses between virtual and in-person attendees—so, if someone in the room speaks, the next person to speak would be virtual. It’s recommended to encourage attendees to participate in discussion within the first 15 minutes to ensure their voice is heard early in the conversation.   

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Prioritize time for connection  

After more than two years apart, we can’t overlook the criticality of building connection, culture, and trust. Intentional breaks–such as icebreakers, food experiences, and well-being stretch breaks (for both virtual and in-person attendees)–can allow meeting participants to get up from their desk, engage with others, and ultimately have a more effective session.  

To encourage employees to participate, we found that it’s important for leaders to make it clear how investing in time to connect actually makes the meeting, and ultimately the team, more effective. For example, building strong relationships leads to more trust and psychological safety, which can lead to more risk-taking and creativity. These efforts can be smaller moments to encourage engagement within the first few minutes such as a “chat storm” where the lead asks everyone to type in the chat, answering a specific question like, “What’s your dream vacation?” Or, it can be more involved, such as an exercise our team recently did to spark meaningful connection through a series of personal questions, answered first by a leader. Questions included, “What about your upbringing shapes how you lead today?” All attendees reported they believe it made the offsite more effective.

As a technology company with creativity at our core, it is exciting to be designing the future of flexible work. Through experimentation, we are continuously learning and improving our workplace to harness the best of in-person and virtual interactions. We look forward to igniting a new wave of innovation, productivity, and culture in this new era of work.  

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Eric Kline is the director of Global Workplace Experience and Maria Yap is VP of Digital Imaging at Adobe.


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