Teamwork, The Smartest Play

Getting people working together a key part of organization structure


Have you ever sat down and thought about how fast our business world is transforming particularly as it relates to new products and services? Look at how quickly society adopted Facebook, one of the first social-networking sites invented in 2004.

Since then we have literally been inundated with social-media opportunities and all the challenges that come with it.

At one time, owning and using a Blackberry was the in thing, but today the tool seems passé as competitors such as Apple and Samsung are moving ahead.

Business correspondence is now completed mostly by email, which has forced the postal service to change and adapt.

Changes have also occurred at a corporate level as we see the famous online book store Amazon now offering different products and planning to deliver those products in the future by drones. In fact, drones are fast becoming key tools for agriculture, the environment, the military and police.

We’ve also seen the well-known Target store leaving Canada and local real estate, law and insurance firms merging. Finally, we’ve seen the explosion of technology at work and how this has impacted efficiency and effectiveness. It has also greatly impacted the need for highly trained employees at all levels of an organization.

So it is not surprising to learn over 90 per cent of senior leaders are now concerned about organization design as their top priority and are either currently involved in restructuring and/or are considering it. After all, with the multiple changes and demands occurring in and around organizations, it is no wonder leaders are questioning just what organization structure would work the best in today’s fast-paced environment.

From what I’ve seen in the marketplace, I suggest organizations today continue to be constructed along traditional, functional models. In other words, people and resources are allocated to functional area such as sales, marketing, accounting, production and human resources.

While this creates areas of specialty, it can also create communication issues such that a marketing team might be selling products or services that production either doesn’t make and/or can’t meet the deadline promised to the client.

According to a 2016 HR survey, the big push is going to be an organizational structure model that is based on a "network of teams."

These teams will focus their attention on specific business challenges, but at the same time be aligned and co-ordinated with operational/information centres. These teams will come together for a specific project, be disbanded when finished and assigned to new projects. The idea is agility, flexibility and a focus on customer service.

Frankly, the idea of project-based teamwork is not new. For instance, "skunkwork" teams were developed during the Second World War as a means to allow a team of professionals to engage in radical innovation. These teams were taken out of the normal organization structure and given the staffing and resources to get the job done. And they did.

The lesson learned at this time was individuals working together as a team can create miracles when they are carefully selected and given the right resources, time and support from management.

Yet, this teamwork concept has not been easily nor quickly adopted by organizations. Instead, leaders have applied different mechanistic-type systems such as quality management, re-engineering, process improvement, process mapping, strategic planning, kaizen and, of course, technology to improve performance.

However, leaders have finally come to realize no matter what system is implemented, it’s people and teamwork that make things happen. So, why has the idea of teamwork taken so long to catch on as a trend?

In my view, and as someone with 30 years of organizational-development experience advocating for the implementation of teamwork, I believe there are two key reasons. First, neither academic nor experiential leadership training has been sufficiently focused on the importance of or the "how-to" of teamwork. This results in an organization culture and leadership that don’t understand or support teamwork. This, then, makes it especially difficult to integrate the concept into the organization on a consistent basis.

For example, I consulted with a client over a three-year time frame, training supervisors and staff on teamwork strategies. I saw first-hand how powerful teamwork could be. Production increased, work errors decreased, morale increased significantly and employees were learning, sharing and more willing to take on new responsibilities and learn new things. They were proud of their accomplishments and their contribution to the company. It was teamwork at its best.

Then one day, the owner decided to retire, and his son, an MBA graduate, took over. His lack of support, old autocratic management style and disdain for his high-performance teams drove employees to leave for other jobs. Within five years the company was bankrupt. Gone and lost to history.

The second key reason I believe teamwork is so slowly being adopted is the lack of understanding and training in the area of team-building itself. Taking a one-day course or picking up a few tips in a graduate class is simply not enough. Teamwork for management means letting go, being able to not only delegate, but to guide teams to success. And this is not easy.

Team members themselves need to participate in developing their own mission and/or charter, while at the same time understanding the different stages of teamwork. Members need to know every time a new person is introduced, the team will revert back to the "forming" stage and will stay in this stage until each member finds their right place. Team members need to understand their own best team skill set and to apply this as the project unfolds. For instance, some team members are good at idea creation but are not strong at putting specific processes in place to make it happen. Team leaders must be selected and work on the different stages of the project until success is achieved.

Both team leaders and managers also need to recognize the various dysfunctions of a team and be trained to overcome each area. This includes dealing with the trust issues that will arise, helping members work with and overcome conflict and ensuring all team members are committed to the cause, are accountable and are focused on results.

Team leaders need to jump in quickly to resolve any of these problems because if not, the project or the team will continue to struggle and may not succeed. Team failure is then often used as an excuse to cancel any further teamwork activities. The old organizational culture will quickly retake its hold. The mantra, "We tried that, and it doesn’t work," will soon surface, and teamwork will be lost once again.

I’m glad to learn the 2016 survey is showing over 90 per cent of senior leaders are now concerned about organization design as their top priority, and teamwork is seen as a viable solution to increasing productivity. There are certainly good examples available for study, including hospitals, health-care organizations and larger corporations. These organizations have demonstrated teamwork can indeed deliver service and product results faster, teams can stay dedicated to their mission and teams really do take advantage of employee empowerment to create high productivity and job satisfaction.

However, be assured the size of an organization doesn’t matter, I just know from experience that teamwork works.

Source: Global Human Capital Trends, 2016, Deloitte University Press

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