having to adapt programs to hybrid working

“Hybrid bloody hybrid!”

Craig Browne

On a phone call the other day with a professional facilitator and long-time CCS user, we got onto the subject of the challenges of adapting to new ways of working. When I brought up the need to be ready for having some participants in the room and some remote, she immediately shouted,

“Oh yeah. Hybrid, bloody hybrid!”

While it is common to hear all about the benefits and conveniences of hybrid working, it certainly presents everyday — often last minute — challenges for group facilitators. I regularly hear trainers lamenting the “old days” (synonym for ‘face to face’) with a sighing phrase like, “It was soooo much easier. I could feel the room. I could see their faces. We could all move around. I could sit them next to each other.”

Despite such lamentations and controversial comments from journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell telling us that it’s “not in our best interest to work from home”, it’s pretty likely that hybrid is here to stay. The well-meaning part of Gladwell’s point is about the importance of feeling a sense of belonging and necessity — elements he suggests are easier to create when everyone is physically together.

He’s probably right. Emotional connection and moods are infectious. You are likely aware of research showing that in the office, boardroom, or shop floor, group members will inevitably “catch” feelings (good or bad) from one another in as little as two hours. Leaders take note: the mood of the group’s leader is particularly contagious.

We are driven by emotions, and it affects the bottom line. As neurologist Donald Calne states clearly, “emotion leads to action”. We need to connect emotionally to feel trusted, safe, valued, part of something. Companies have found that fostering emotional connection results in stronger ties, higher loyalty and overall better profits.

So, what does this mean for facilitators and bloody hybrid?

Well, I think it truly increases the challenge for professional facilitators. We know the importance of creating emotional connection across a group. We need to generate openness, trust, disclosure, growth, discovery, and use these to inspire behavioural change and action. And now we must do it even when our participants are often physically separated (or should I say, they might be — you’ll see when you turn up to the room!).

As developers of the CCS, an inherently face-to-face tool, virtual and hybrid posed an important challenge for us as well. Creating emotional connection and belonging in-room with CCS Cards has always been quite straightforward — facilitators have been doing it for decades. But we were not even sure we could genuinely transfer this experience to hybrid. However, I am pleased to say that the desktop and mobile combination we released in 2021 (known as the CCS Cards Virtual Facilitation Environment, VFE) seems to be hitting the spot with lots of favourable reports from our early adopters. In the words of one facilitator, the VFE “solves the problem we have all been wanting solved. It’s just fantastic.”

Like many in-room to hybrid transitions, it’s a little early to properly compare the effects of using virtual CCS Cards with our ‘real’ cards. I suspect each format will have its own unique pros and cons. However, one thing is certain, the VFE makes it possible for facilitators to instantly put a pack of cards in the hands of all their participants — no matter what time zone, training room or Zoom room they are in — which definitely takes some of the ‘bloody’ out of “hybrid bloody hybrid!”

Craig Browne

Craig is co-founder of CCS Corporation, co-developer of the CCS, a designer, educator, product developer and award-winning game maker.