This Ukrainian CEO reveals what it takes to maintain a high-performing hybrid team (even during a war).

by Ana Lopez

Opinions of contributing entrepreneurs are their own.

The past few years have been incredibly challenging for companies around the world. No one was untouched by the ongoing crises of global warming, Covid-19 or inflation. When the pandemic hit, companies had no choice but to adopt a new hybrid model of work culture. We all had to step out of our comfort zone and learn how to master working from home quickly.

Just when we thought the pandemic was over, the large-scale invasion of Ukraine posed a new threat to the global economy and politics. The entire generation of Ukrainian entrepreneurs was now forced to find ways to support their companies and teams regardless of the war. As the CEO of BetterMe, a company headquartered in Ukraine, I can share the experience of energizing and motivating my team as major crises continue to unfold around us in Ukraine.

On the first day of the invasion, I was sure of nothing but one thing: if my team made it through this crisis, the business would continue to thrive. After almost a year of large-scale war, the Ukrainian technology industry is not only surviving, but continues to grow day by day. According to data from the National Bank of Ukraine, the IT industry actually exports revenue increased by 23% year-over-year for the first six months of 2022 to $3.74 billion. Our teams remain strong and motivated despite the power outages, the mental health burden and the endless bad news that the war brings on a daily basis. How is that possible?

Related: War between Russia and Ukraine and what it does to businesses and consumers

Ralph Emerson once said, “Every great institution is the elongated shadow of a single man.” Even if Emerson hinted at the leader, I believe the company is an extension of everyone who works there. If your team shares common goals and values ​​with your company, it can weather any storm that comes its way.

Values ​​matter: how to motivate better performance in the workplace

Company-wide and individual employee values ​​must be in sync to achieve the best results on both sides. Such alignment makes them equals and works together towards one common goal. In fact, the company must know how to channel these values. If the candidates are aware of these values ​​during the interview, they will know whether this company is also a fit for them.

As a result, a value-united team will share a sense of mission that they want to achieve together. At BetterMe, for example, we strive to make healthy lifestyles available to millions of people worldwide. Our mission is to create happiness from within, which spreads not only to our users but also to our team. People are our greatest asset, so we prioritized caring for them when war knocked on our doors.

Helping others became the greatest motivation and value of our team in 2022. We thought of ways we could support people, our compatriots, during this nationwide crisis. On the second day of the war, we opened free access to BetterMe: Health Coaching and BetterMe: Mental Health to all Ukrainians. Even though it was a challenging task, the team recognized its immense value to the people and worked hard to make it happen. We had numerous volunteer initiatives throughout the year including holding donation events or launching a charity sportswear collection to raise money. We stay on track because everyone on the team is highly motivated to contribute to the well-being of others and to continue helping those affected by the war.

Building a strong team starts with hiring the right people

But great teams are not formed when the crisis hits – this process starts much earlier. According to recent research, a bad hire is not only bad for the team, but can also cost a company an average of $15,000. That’s why we’re raising the bar: it’s a great tool to cut unnecessary costs and make sure we’re hiring the right people. This practice applies to the final interview stage, with the aim of “scanning” a person and seeing if they align with the company’s values.

During the interview process, our C-level staff can ask the candidate anything from how they would act in different imaginary scenarios to how they envision their professional growth going forward. These questions can clarify their motivation, values ​​and professional potential.

Based on their answers, your employee can assess whether this person is a good fit for your company. Raising the bar can bring you closer to that match between employee and company and ensure successful long-term relationships. Hiring ‘your’ people creates stronger teams and companies that can handle any crisis.

What to do when a crisis puts your values ​​on hold

A crisis is only dangerous insofar as it affects the well-being of your team. Evolutionarily speaking, a situation of danger puts all humans in a fight-or-flight mode, invoking our basic survival instincts and making everything else unimportant. Because how do you stay productive and motivated on a falling plane?

When an airplane is about to take off, all passengers hear instructions: “Put on your oxygen mask before helping others.” This rule applies perfectly to business: Prioritize your well-being to help your customers later. Taking care of your team first is crucial to getting your business back on track as quickly as possible. When the full-scale invasion began, I immediately prioritized the safety and security of our team and their families. After helping with the evacuation, we encouraged our team to stay on track with our mental health app, regular exercise, online English classes, drawing and planting masterclasses, floral art classes, etc. Despite continuing to work hybrid, regular activities provided stability for our team in uncertain times.

Related: Back-to-Office: Why Putting Employees First Will Be Your Best Business Move

In some cases, a hybrid work culture can even contribute to a sense of belonging in the workplace. For example, an online initiative can unite people who work remotely and make them feel like they are all playing a part in an important project together. In our case, we organized one Flash mob on Vyshyvanka day when everyone shot a short video wearing their national garment and singing our national song, which lifted the spirits of the whole team. Under the care and guidance of the company, team performance will gradually improve as everyone learns to better adapt and manage stress. The good news is, you’re all in this together.

In times of crisis and instability, companies begin to see what matters most. People are the most important value of the company: whoever wins the talent race can scale better and faster than his competitors. Implementing these practices will help you get ahead in this race; strengthen and motivate the team to achieve results during the crisis. I know that a sense of shared mission and values ​​in my team will keep our business thriving, even if the power goes out again in Kiev.

And remember: every crisis that comes your way is both a test and an exceptional opportunity to grow. It only matters how you deal with it.

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