Leadership Lessons From Leading Hybrid Teams

How do you lead a remote or hybrid team?

The world has changed after Covid and the genie isn’t going back in the box. We have to get used to a world where we work with people we don’t regularly see. We have to become more flexible and face new challenges.

Curious about what leading a tech team in a modern world I spoke to Paul Chen about the work he’s doing.

He shared his insights and experience with me. We looked at how his cultural background and childhood experiences. And how they have shaped his leadership style.



Rob: [00:00:00] Can you just give us a quick overview of Who you are, what you do.

Rob: Who I 

Paul: am, what I do. I’m based in Brisbane, in Australia. I’ve lived here for more than 30 years. We first came here when I was a little boy, so I was brought up here in this country. And it was in the mid 90s. We, it was my sister and I and the family, and we finished school here. And during that time, we’ve learned a lot about cultural differences, and reconciling that between, Our upbringing, who we are, and how that is informed by not just by, the all the members of the family, but also there’s a faith aspect to that. And we’re up in a country where predominantly at the time we are. We are considered as minorities, and but nonetheless, we’ve gone past that and now we are seeing, communities where it’s diverse. We are working towards inclusivity and it’s a multicultural place. And [00:01:00] now, I find myself leading a team at from distance.

Paul: It’s multicultural, multi-generational. A team of people who are hardworking and I lead them remotely and I’ve got people based in Australia right across the country and I’m here in Brisbane leading a diverse team. 

Paul: I love working with people and my education background is in people management, HR and leadership. I love working with people and throughout all that time, I learned about skillset in How you lead people and manage change, and how do you do that well, and how do you, for me, as part of my upbringing, the core values that I’ve been brought up with are things like, curiosity.

Paul: So learning is one of my core values. Respect, learning and being respectful, tactfulness and diplomacy.

Rob: So you, did you say it was, you came to the country at a five? Yeah, when I was little, 

Paul: Yeah, I lived the first 10 years of my life in Southeast Asia in Singapore. And yeah, so yeah, came here almost 10.

Rob: So what [00:02:00] was that like moving to a different continent, different country? 

Paul: Yeah look at the time, being a 10 year old boy, there wasn’t really much to think about, the only things, the only elements that I missed was my family extended family, and, a bunch of close friends.

Paul: And they were the two main elements that I miss, in retrospect. But otherwise, I’m always a forward looking optimistic kind of person. I make friends easily, I make connections and that’s not a problem. But it’s the people who I leave behind, that’s a bit of a struggle.

Rob: So what was it like to see you left behind, so that must have been like a very traumatic experience and then, having to, I’m guessing having to adjust to somewhere very different.

Rob: Yeah, it 

Paul: was, and being introduced to a new community as well, and you don’t know them, they don’t know you, it starts from scratch. The things that got me through, things that’s been taught to me [00:03:00] since I was little. Being forward looking, and build up being optimistic and that has an overlay of a faith aspect to that, Rob, knowing who you are, who you belong to and.

Paul: And knowing what’s in your heart and who’s walking with you day to day, the belief system and the support structures that’s been put around me by my parents and the faith community has really got me through the tough times here. 

Rob: So you have a very close family and a very tight knit community of faith.

Paul: Yes, absolutely. That’s right. And I think those are, the essential elements, now looking back and how I adapted and adjusted to a new lifestyle, new way of living and different, even a new way of learning as well. 

Rob: So what I’m imagining Is this like this bubble around you and this bubble moved?

Rob: So even though it’s different friends, different school, different [00:04:00] community, different world, you’ve still got the core, which made you feel, that you were safe. Yeah, that’s 

Paul: right. It’s like your Venn diagram or Ikigai, the different circles and it all culminates or there’s an area where the circles overlap.

Paul: And that’s the core of who I am and having ownership of that and knowing that belongs to me, how that’s worked through and the connection I have with, people right, left, up and down everywhere. And that, yeah, and that culminates into, the center circle of who I am, knowing that has kept me safe and well.

Rob: Okay, so that was, coming at that age, it was obviously something that impacted you. I see a link between that and what you do now. Is that, do you, are you, do you see that link? I do see, 

Paul: yeah, I haven’t intentionally sat down and done a reflection, but now as you ask the question, there is definitely A link somewhat to my upbringing, who I am and where it’s led [00:05:00] me and perhaps maybe even where I’m going next the fact that my family, strong networks, strong support structures, it’s all made up of people and people who love other people in their family.

Paul: And so when I come across others, that mindset has been instilled in me. Assume positive intentions and the philosophy in my leadership is not being about the best, it’s about making others better. And that has also been informed by people who have brought me up during my childhood.

Paul: And the kindness others have shown to me. And it’s a way of paying that forward, paying that back. And also, growing up in a society where it’s multicultural. It’s multi generational. And that has informed me, the way I interact with others, I now find myself leading a team of people who are, diverse, who are who come from different cultural aspects and people who you know, of [00:06:00] each bracket where.

Paul: People at one end of the age bracket where they’re like my mom and dad to people who are really young, as young as someone who could be my younger sister or, being able to work right across in continuum of where people find themselves at, at a certain point in time in their lives.

Paul: And that’s what I think has made me. Yeah, 

Rob: because what I’m getting strongly from you is very much about the awareness of different cultures, awareness of all kinds of areas of diversity. And you seem able to take that and make it all work together which I think is one of the challenges that people face.

Paul: Yeah. Thanks Rob. Yeah.

Rob: Okay. So you come to Brisbane, and you grow up, there. What happens between coming to Brisbane and where you are now? 

Paul: The Brisbane’s where I am now it’s a formative years of [00:07:00] my education learning about how the world functions the world of business. So having that, the technical expertise in, what does it mean leading people to manage change, what are the tools and skill sets that you need learning the different techniques, and even the legislative landscape that governs so much what we do.

Paul: Whether something is something that can be done or not, so learning about all that. So having that technical component coupled with my, if you like to call it, cultural awareness or emotional intelligence, yeah. Combining all that in what I do today. And to your point too, Rob, like leading a team in person physically.

Paul: It’s different to leading a team from a distance, and the different facial expressions or words that people use over a screen, having the awareness to think about whether, there’s something brewing or festering or going on when that [00:08:00] person is based, working in isolation.

Paul: What is the underpinning, what is the tone that they are using? Is there something else that’s going on that we are, that as a manager, you’re not aware of? Being cognizant of all that and resolving the conflict that they are facing. That they are, that the challenges they come up with when they are working in isolation, whether it’s, work volumes that you don’t actually see when you’re not in person, but it’s through the regular check ins and one on ones.

Paul: Having the awareness, the questions that you ask to draw people to, to give you the response that you need to know. It’s a combination of all that, along with the education and, the technical awareness, technical expertise and. So all of that combined.

Rob: Okay. That’s, that sounds fascinating. The, so when you talk about technical, expertise so you developed the technical expertise and then you got promoted into the role as leader of the team? 

Paul: Yeah. It’s the technicalities in my role. What I’m requiring in the [00:09:00] previous role, in the current role, there is overlap, but there isn’t a direct link, in my previous role, I was actually in HR management and in managing in HR. You’ll need to know how, the employment laws of the land the labor laws, the legislative landscape that governs your advice what you can or the advice that you give to managers, what you can and can’t do, there’s anti discrimination laws, all these other the lay of the land that you need to be aware of to give sound advice.

Paul: So that was my previous role in the current role. It’s more about using the knowledge, the transferable skills that you’ve got. In interpreting legislation in, understanding how the what do you call them? The law book, how you interpret all that. So it’s just interpretation skills taken, taking that and applying that skills that in my current role.

Paul: You know what I mean? So there’s no direct transfer. In [00:10:00] understanding employment laws, but it’s skill in doing that in my current job that so one word that comes to mind is compliance. How do you comply with, for example, when you work with children, what are the compliance needs that we need to meet.

Rob: Okay and the other thing that I’m really interested in is, so when you moved roles, was it always remote or has it become remote since then? It has become remote, 

Paul: Since I’ve come to a, come to this current role in a previous role.

Paul: It’s, dispensing advice. You can do that over the phone. In a sense, that’s remote, even though the managers were advised, in the same city that I’m in, but because they’re on the road, it’s hard to come together and meet in person in his current role is like the day to day requirements of leading a team and managing change.

Paul: And that’s all based remotely and people who are actually based. Outside of Brisbane, who are not in the city that I live in. So in that sense, yeah, [00:11:00] it’s directly 

Rob: remote.

Rob: As you mentioned, there’s a whole host of ways it becomes more challenging when it’s remote because, normally you can see someone’s body language and you can tell, okay, they’re having a bad day. It’s much harder to do it through email or even over zoom or teams or whatever.

Rob: So tell me about some of the challenges and what you’ve learned, because I’m guessing you would have learned a lot from that process.

Paul: Yeah. When There’s a saying out of sight, out of mind. And there’s this bias called proximity bias where, you know, you, if someone is not close to you, then you tend to forget, you tend to leave them out of your mind because they’re not there in your presence. So the key is being aware of the different biases that’s in your head.

Paul: Or that can be, that can play out in remote work settings. So first is being aware of that. And so now that you’re aware of that, what are you going to do about it? So when you’re leading people and managing change, you have to be cognizant of who your stakeholders [00:12:00] are. And one of the things I’d love to do is to actually even if it’s a, a 10, 15 minute exercise and actually consciously without any noise around you, 

Rob: pull 

Paul: up a Word document and actually list who your stakeholders are.

Paul: Who needs to be, who’s responsible for this thing, who is accountable for this task who do I need to consult, who needs to be kept informed? So mapping out your stakeholders in that way and now that you know about the biases that could carry in when you’re leading remotely, think about your teams.

Paul: Don’t forget about your team put them into your stakeholder mapping, and actually, then from there, what you do is then you actually need to take action, scheduling 1 on 1, scheduling team meetings, scheduling check ins and the other aspect is communicate. And be as transparent as you can consult with your team or your stakeholders and before big major key decisions are made, ask for their feedback.

Paul: I know [00:13:00] these are all, it could, it makes sense, but it’s surprising how. Easily, some of these elements can fall on the wayside. So that’s one of the things that I’ve learned is self aware and then leading your team. And when your team comes together, you see a bunch of them, Brady Bunch format screens.

Paul: And some people who are outspoken, they’ll always give you something to think about. And in that setting, don’t be afraid to draw the quieter ones, into the discussion. And linking back to what I just said before, Rob, about, the cultural awareness piece. Some people might not, there are certain groups of people who value respect so much in such a way that they don’t feel that it’s their place to.

Paul: Leave themselves on mute or unmute themselves and jump in or interrupt. They need to be invited into the space to talk. So be aware of that. Draw them into discussion. Ask others to pause. And [00:14:00] ask specifically for that person who has been quiet. And ask for their opinion and feedback. Being aware of all that, I think is such a key when we are talking about, diversity and inclusion and talking about innovation, because you don’t want to build something, that only serves a specific group of people, you want it to cater for a wider group. Yeah, invite that feedback. Talk about it. Yeah, and be cognizant and aware of how you behave and how you operate. And yeah, what the top third of you. There’s a regressive body language that you don’t see so just being aware of what you’re hearing, the active listening component is key as well.

Paul: Yeah. I 

Rob: think the proximity bias is so important because, it’s like people are friends with parents of other people that their kids go to school with. And as soon as they finish school, most of that friendship goes and when you leave work, however much you got along, relationships [00:15:00] usually dwindle down because they’re not around.

Rob: So that’s, That makes sense in terms of you, your relationship to them. What about the team’s relationship to themselves when it’s over Zoom and they, do you ever meet up? 

Paul: Yeah, that’s great, Rob. And there are such things as Slack and, Teams and different channels that Google group chats where you can develop channels for teams to interact with each other and for sure.

Paul: And that’s something that we instilled for the last two and a half years. The chats in the channels can be a bit quiet. But then now as the different stages of group formation, team formation, forming, storming, norming, performing and now we are in that norming stage now I find, that people are actually getting involved in the group chats, starting discussions, asking questions.

Paul: And pretty soon, I think, we’ll go into the, we, if you’re not already, we’re in the performance stage. Yeah. So utilizing those channels in group chats to foster further collaboration. Asking [00:16:00] questions. Yeah. And even those incidental ones, like what a cooler chats, like which has had a team member come back from the Americas and you’re showing us some photos and talking about his experience in America, even though it’s all on that.

Paul: chat, but we can just imagine how beautiful that place was and how frustrating you lose a luggage or how beautiful it is you come across the Grand Canyon. So it’s beautiful.

Rob: But technology in some ways distances us, but in others, it’s like you can FaceTime someone who’s actually there and actually see it as in the same way. 

Paul: So this is a perfect example from here. I am in Brisbane, bright, sunny day. And where are you Kesgrave? Yeah, 

Rob: I’m in Ipswich. I’m on the East coast about an hour out from London.

Rob: Yeah. Middle of the night over there. Yes.

Rob: I have to ask you a question. This is the debate that’s raging on at the moment. But, so there’s a lot of companies that are now wanting people to be back in the office and there’s lots of people that got strong opinions [00:17:00] about in person, everyone should be back in the office. Where do you fall on that?

Paul: Where I fall on the continuum is and I’ve tasted the fruits of both during lockdown, where everything is a hundred percent remote and we are. Yeah, due to the circumstances of the pandemic, we’re all working remotely, and now that as restrictions lift, we, in my personal work setting we, there’s at least 2 days a week, majority of people come in 1 day a week, personally, I go in 3 days a week, so the flexibility is there for a hybrid working arrangement, and personally, I feel that The hybrid working arrangement works well, for, and I’m speaking for myself, my personality type, the interactions I need and for my particular role as well, being in the office I just know what I need to get done, the files that I need in the office the people, the resources that I need in the [00:18:00] office, and the interactions as well being there to mingle with people who are in the office to encourage each other, to lift each other up.

Paul: There are essential aspects and yeah, and building relationships and the remote piece. It works on the other, on the flip side of the coin being having that time to focus and concentrate to write my papers. To finish my emails to make some calls without that interruption, those ones where people walk past your desk and go, can I pick your brains?

Paul: Did you know about this? Those, yeah. Yeah. So those kinds of interruptions are removed and distractions are removed. And then, yeah. So for me, the hybrid working arrangement, yeah, works really well. I think though, from an employer perspective, rather than mandating, having that consult with your workforce thinking about how you can accommodate the flexibility request a flexible needs of the from employees perspective and marry that up [00:19:00] with, the employers. Needs of building culture, building teams, building relationships, invest a compromise that can be found, that will be the most ideal in terms of, for managing your talent, attracting talent, it’s good for your talent pool and Yeah, in the context of a really young business.

Rob: Yeah, I agree. I think individually, I think different people obviously prefer different things, but I think the mix, the hybrid of being able to have access to work, and because what home can give you is you can do deep work, deep thinking. What work can give you is like the interaction, the collaboration and access to everything you need.

Rob: So when you talk about managing change change initiatives, what do you see are the biggest problems? What are the biggest challenges? The biggest 

Paul: challenge in managing change is, it’s not about whether, you’ve got a change plan, whether you’ve got your strategy, vision papers and all that.

Paul: The most difficult thing about managing change, for me personally, where [00:20:00] I sit is. How do I say this the, it’s not a baggage, it’s a historical, okay, so for example, we talk about change, okay, what are we changing? Usually we change people, systems, or process. People, systems, or process.

Paul: So let’s, let’s talk about people and systems. Okay, you introduced a new system. So that, so you got to have a vision of why, piece. Why are you introducing a new system? When the previous system that, from an employee’s perspective, using previous system has worked well, has served us well. Why do I need to change?

Paul: So having that vision drawn out. Okay, so we can grow the business. We can scale. We can multiply so that. It can remove a process that you’ve been doing quite some time. So speaking of process, okay, and when we change, we’re also changing, we might be changing the process. Why are we changing a process, and that’s from an employee’s perspective.

Paul: That’s what they know, what they’re used to, what they know, and when you’re introducing change, they’ll be asking [00:21:00] why, what for, how is it going to help me? So having the ability to step into the employees or the team’s shoes and to draw that vision out for the. And speak in their terms. Why?

Paul: There’s some changes are being involved in. They talk about from a business perspective, you will, if you choose operating costs, it will be more efficient, effective, so on and so forth. Yeah. But for me as a worker, I don’t care, I just want to come home, do my job. And something that I know love doing and I know how to do it well.

Paul: So speaking on behalf of that perspective and why, the most challenging thing from a design thinking process perspective, how do you be person centered? How do you become other centered, so the resistance to your initiative for change.

Paul: Will be smoothed out and reduced, significantly. Because the questions I’ll be asking is, Oh, have you thought about this? Or have you thought about that? What about this thing that I’m [00:22:00] doing? So bringing up a lot of issues, questions, and concerns. So if you’re able to speak in their shoes, talk in their terms the resistance.

Paul: I think will should somewhat dramatically reduce.

Rob: Have you always been on board with the change? Or is sometimes the change that you disagree with personally? Yeah, 

Paul: there are things that I, there are some changes, throughout my working life that I agree with, and there are some changes that’s been imposed on me. Personally, what the things that I agree with things I found, things that I’ve been, dealt with.

Paul: I think that people have brought to my attention and talked to me about, and no matter how long I’ve taken to come around to that decision, I’ve been on board with. Those ones that have been imposed on me, that I don’t quite agree with, but I have to go along with it, is because I have a strong sense of team.

Paul: I’m also part of this team, and this team is going in a certain direction. And it requires me to be on [00:23:00] board so that we can all be unified, so that thinking from an organization perspective about the, from a team, we are stronger, the tagline is we are stronger together.

Paul: And seeing the ability to see that and let go of my own personal interests and work with the team. And that’s, those changes being imposed on me, I would go along and that’s the mindset that I apply to go along with the change. 

Rob: In terms of when you’re leading the change, when you then presented it and you presented it in everyone’s interest, do you still, people innately have a lot of resistance to change, and do you, is that a big barrier?

Paul: That can be a barrier. People’s. People are resistant to change is just from a leadership perspective, you just need to understand why what’s causing them to be resistant to that. Is it because they’re finding it hard to let go? Is it because we haven’t talked to them enough about it?

Paul: So the question I ask myself in relation to someone [00:24:00] else’s resistance to change, I’ll be asking myself. What’s my role in this? How do I help them? How do I be, how do I, how do I help them? What’s my responsibility in helping them overcome the resistance? What’s the barrier there? Can I remove it for them?

Paul: I would ask myself, how can I help rather than the easier way around is pointing the finger at, back at them and say, you need to get over it. You need to so and so forth, blah, blah, blah about you for me, it’s not about that, but it’s about me. How do I show them, get over the heart, get over the resistance.

Rob: And that obviously comes back to your strong sense of faith and that whole, I’m not sure how I phrased this, but can you talk about, a bit about the philosophy or the frame that, that comes from? 

Paul: Sorry, I lost 

Rob: you there. So you said that the, there’s a strong faith element. So for me, I think what someone’s faith is shows the map of that they’re working from.

Rob: And so that’s about being future focused, about being [00:25:00] community based, about being optimistic. So I’m guessing it’s all of those things. Is there anything in that I’ve missed? Yeah, it’s all of those. 

Paul: And on top of that is. What is my, is what’s my interest, can I put my interest aside to help the other person?

Paul: So instead of, coming to a meeting or arrange or making an arrangement to, to meet my own agenda, meet my own needs. The mindset is, that I apply is, okay, I know what I need to achieve, what the outcomes I want, and this is the mandate that I have to fulfill, but let’s put that aside now and talk to you, talk to each other as human beings.

Paul: And go, all right, what,

Paul: what’s causing you to feel this way about this change? What are the elements that we’ve missed? Is there something that you find hard to leave behind? So having that conversation, share stories with each, with one another, take on their feedback, if it’s possible to act on that, their feedback and concerns, make sure you do it.

Paul: Because [00:26:00] that’s from a psychological safety perspective, that’s what you want to do, is to hear the other perspective, take on that feedback, if you can act on it, resolve their issues, do that, because that will foster even more trust, and they’ll come around to the change that you’re trying to implement.

Paul: Yeah, and that’s the other faith aspect as well, is, how do you become, how do you be more person centered rather than be driven by the agenda?

Rob: Just, before you go, I’d just like to get your opinion on, so you’re right on the forefront of kind of, we’ve gone from physical work, remote work. Where do you see the future being in the next? Yeah, the future of the workplace, the 

Paul: future of workplace is even going to be even more dynamic.

Paul: It’s not just, the debates raging about remote. A hybrid, but don’t forget, there’s also the four day week, that I think it was, what, 12 months ago that was raging, compress five days. Why are we working five days? Do it in four [00:27:00] days. So that’s that aspect.

Paul: I’m already seeing signs of that within, the the, Workplace, chatting with other managers employees have come forward and asked for, a nine day fortnight or working four days, having one day off as annual leave and as technology improves.

Paul: How are we going to grapple with all of that flexibility that people want? But then from a business continuity perspective, how do we keep, our customers satisfied? How do we keep our innovations going? When there are people working five days, people working nine day, four nights, working four day weeks, some hybrid and some remote and virtual reality could be coming soon as well.

Paul: How do we. Wrestle with all that. I think it’ll be yeah, the work of the future. 

Rob: Interesting times. It is. And it’s ironic though, but the more that things change, the more we need the stability of the fundamentals to stay the same. And I can see why you’re successful in being able [00:28:00] to bring about change and being able to keep together a remote team.

Rob: And what I see is that whole faith, that sense of community, that strong set of principles is what gives you me. mandate you said, and the strength, the kind of a moral strength. And I can see, I think the more everything else changes out in the world, the more we need that fundamentals.

Rob: And I can see a direct link from the way that you were raised within what I see is like a cocoon, and brought out that’s given you a strong base. Okay. Thank you for sharing your time and your experience and your insights. It’s been fascinating, to see someone who’s making change happen in the cutting edge.

Paul: You’re welcome, Rob. Thanks for having me. 

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