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Using interpersonal needs to make the hybrid model work for teams

Written by Melissa Summer. 5 min read.


The ideal of the hybrid workplace suggests those in the office can have their hallway brainstorming sessions and in-person collaborations, while those working remotely get the flexibility and quiet focus time they felt was lacking in the open-plan office. Everyone’s happy and no one misses out.

But that’s not the reality for many companies.

To get the best from hybrid working team, you need two things:

More trust. And fewer assumptions.

Dr. Heidi Gardner, distinguished Harvard fellow and writer of Smart Collaboration, in the Hybrid.Team.Work episode of the For the Love of Work podcast, said, “…as we have more options for where to work, there are more opportunities for people to make assumptions about motives.”

Think about some of the assumptions around motivations you’ve made of coworkers: who never turns their camera on, who always turns their camera on, who’s already asking about coming into the office when many are perfectly happy to postpone that conversation indefinitely.

And, because of our negativity bias, many times those assumptions don’t connect to positive motivations. Memes and short videos abound online about the stereotypes of virtual workers napping on the job (probably not acceptable) or wearing a suit jacket on top and gym shorts on the bottom (becoming more socially acceptable).

But those negative assumptions break down trust within hybrid teams. And when the whole team has been working virtually for over a year and some people have never even met coworkers face to face, team trust isn’t breaking records right now.

Fortunately, this is one of the many places where personality insights shine in the hybrid workplace.

Psychological assessments and insights help people better understand who wants to be in the office and why, and who wants to be remote and why, instead of making assumptions about motives.

They give everyone on the team an objective language to describe differences instead of letting imaginations run rampant with biases and stereotypes.


Interpersonal needs illustrated on a hybrid team

“It’d be really valuable to have these conversations with teams,” says Marta Koonz, PhD Archetypal Psychologist and Sr. Consultant for The Myers-Briggs Company.

“If we can know what people’s needs are using personality assessments like the FIRO-B®, then we can find their fit in the team. And that’s where the FIRO® assessment was started—looking at high-performing teams and realizing their ability to be compatible is the number one factor in their effectiveness.

“When people’s needs are being considered, it’s going to help the team be more effective, productive and overall have a positive effect. Because then you’re understanding ‘this person wants me to check-in more often even if they’re remote because they have a higher need for Wanted Affection’ or ‘this person has a low need for Wanted Control so I can back off, give them what they need and they can run with it.’ Or for someone working from home who has a high need for Wanted Control, their manager will realize that that person does want more direction and input. In contrast, with another team member who has a low need for Wanted Control, that same direction and input can feel like micromanaging.”

All the above is relevant whether someone is in the office or working remotely.

BUT, it takes more emotional intelligence in the hybrid workplace to recognize these needs without training. And it takes more initiative in the hybrid workplace to meet some people’s needs because you can’t just drop by someone’s desk or chat over lunch if they’re working remotely.

“Anytime we work a team using personality insights, the goal is to help you ask better questions. We know the hybrid model can work. And understanding your FIRO needs tells you how your people can be most effective with a hybrid work model,” says Koonz.


“It gives you the opportunity to be intentional about creating opportunities for effectiveness.”

“A lot of times when I’m doing a team training, instead of getting everyone in a circle and talking about individual needs, I’ll group people into pairs and have them talk to each other. That way, each person gets a chance with each other person on the team to understand where they might click and where they might clash.

“The takeaway (especially in a hybrid workplace) is that each person knows what their own strategies are for working best with other people.”

If, for example, a team manager has a low Expressed Affection score, and one of their reports has a high Wanted Affection score, then that manager can intentionally change their behavior to better meet the need of their team member. A manager with a low Expressed Affection score isn’t likely to start off one-on-one meetings with small talk or asking personal questions, and in a virtual one-on-one meeting will probably be even less inclined to do so, because that meets their interpersonal need for Affection.

However, that same manager who has gone through a FIRO workshop with their team now understands which people on their team have a high interpersonal need for Wanted Affection. This high need for Wanted Affection means in one-on-one interactions, that personal catch-up at the beginning of the meeting is important for that employee to feel comfortable, encouraged, seen, and valued.

Knowing this, a savvy manager will use that knowledge to make sure they keep 5–10 minutes at the beginning of the meeting for that purpose.

This same manager would also recognize which team members have a low need for Wanted Affection.

The same 5–10 minutes wouldn’t be valued the same and might in fact irritate or stress them more than it would help.

Great leaders are sometimes aware of differences in the interpersonal needs of their team members because of their own work on emotional intelligence and because of their years of experience interacting with the same team members.

But presenteeism and proximity bias can easily creep in, even with seasoned leaders, because the new hybrid workplace puts one more layer of complexity on interpersonal interactions. New managers and seasoned managers alike can benefit from increased awareness around interpersonal needs.


Want to learn more about the FIRO personality assessment? Check out these resources:

FIRO personality assessment

FIRO tool certification program

FIRO - Another way to look at stress


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