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This Ukrainian CEO Reveals What it Takes to Sustain a High-Performing Hybrid Team (Even During a War). These lessons from a successful Ukrainian company amidst the war can help everyone guide their team — even through a crisis

By Victoria Repa Edited by Maria Bailey

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The last couple of years has been incredibly challenging for businesses worldwide. None were left unaffected by the ongoing crises of global warming, Covid-19, or inflation. When the pandemic hit, it left companies with no other option but to adopt a new hybrid model of work culture. Each of us had to step out of our comfort zone and learn how to master work-from-home quickly.

Just when we thought the pandemic was over, the full-scale invasion of Ukraine posed a new threat to the world economy and politics. The whole generation of Ukrainian entrepreneurs was now forced to find ways of supporting their businesses and teams regardless of the war. As the CEO of BetterMe, a company headquartered in Ukraine, I can share the experience of how I charge my team with energy and motivation, considering the major crises that keep unfolding around us in Ukraine.

On the first day of the invasion, I was sure of nothing but one thing: If my team withstood this crisis, the company would keep thriving too. After almost a year of full-scale war, the Ukrainian tech industry is not just surviving — it continues growing day by day. According to data from the National Bank of Ukraine, IT industry export revenues actually increased by 23% year-on-year during the first six months of 2022 to reach $3.74 billion. Our teams stay strong and motivated despite the power outages, the mental health burden and the neverending bad news that the war brings daily. How is that possible?

Related: Russia-Ukraine War And What It Is Doing To Businesses And Consumers

Ralph Emerson once said, "Every great institution is the lengthened 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 business, it will withstand any storm coming its way.

Values matter: How to motivate better performance in the workplace

Company-wide and individual employee values should sync to achieve the best results on both sides. Such alignment makes them equals, working together towards one common goal. More than that, the company needs to know how to channel these values. If the candidates are aware of these values during the interview, they'll know whether this company is a good match for them too.

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

Helping others became our team's biggest motivation and value in 2022. We thought of ways we could support people, our fellow Ukrainians, at the time of this nationwide crisis. On the second day of the war, we opened free access to BetterMe: Health Coaching and BetterMe: Mental Health for all Ukrainians. Even though it was a challenging task, the team saw its tremendous value for 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 funds. We stay on track because everyone on the team is strongly motivated to contribute to others' wellbeing and keep helping those affected by the war.

Building a strong team starts with hiring the right people

But great teams aren't created when the crisis hits — this process starts much earlier. According to recent research, a bad hire isn't only bad for the team but can also cost a company $15,000 on average. That's why we practice bar-raising: It's a great tool to cut unnecessary costs and ensure we hire the right people. This practice applies to the last interview stage, aiming to "scan" a person and see if they align with the company's values.

In the interview process, our C-level employees can ask the candidate anything from how they would act in various imaginary scenarios to how they envision their professional growth in the future. These questions can clarify their motivation, values and professional potential.

Hearing their answers, your employee can assess whether this person is a good fit for your company. Bar-raising can bring you closer to that employee-company match and guarantee successful long-term relationships. Hiring "your" people creates stronger teams and companies that can deal with any crisis.

What to do when a crisis puts your values on hold

A crisis is only dangerous to the extent it affects your team's wellbeing. Evolutionarily, a situation of danger puts all humans into a fight-or-flight mode, evoking our basic survival instincts and making everything else insignificant. Because how can one remain productive and motivated on a falling plane?

When a plane is about to take off, all passengers hear instructions: "Put on your oxygen mask first before helping others." This rule applies to business perfectly: Prioritize your wellbeing to help your clients later. Taking care of your team first is crucial to getting your company back on track as quickly as possible. When the full-scale invasion started, I instantly 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 sports, online English lessons, drawing, and planting masterclasses, floral design classes etc. Despite continuing to work hybrid, regular activities provided stability for our team in times of uncertainty.

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

In some cases, 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're all doing a part in a significant project together. In our case, we organized a Vyshyvanka Day flashmob when everyone recorded a short video wearing their piece of national garment and singing our national song, which lifted the whole team's spirits. Under the company's care and guidance, the team performance will gradually improve as everyone learns to adapt and manage stress better. The good news is — you're all in this together.

In times of crises and instability, businesses start seeing what matters the most. People are the company's most important value: Whoever wins the talent race can scale better and faster than their competitors. By implementing these practices, you can get ahead in this race; strengthen and motivate the team to deliver results amidst the crisis. I know that a sense of shared mission and values in my team keeps our company thriving, even when the power outages hit Kyiv again.

And remember: Any crisis coming your way is both a test and an exceptional opportunity for growth. It only matters how you handle it.

Victoria Repa

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Health Coach

CEO and Founder of BetterMe, a health & wellness platform providing a tailored holistic approach to wellbeing. Since 2017 it has been on a mission to create a healthier world for everyone, regardless of age, sex, physical ability or background.

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