Shifting to high-performance teams without stalling out

Posted by Tiffany McDowell on September 11, 2019.

If working primarily in teams is the future of work—and we think it is, given today’s rapidly changing, unpredictable, complex challenges—then organizations need to be set up to enable and support teaming. It’s more than bringing together a smart group of people to work on an identified challenge, it’s about unlocking the power of the group. How you define the mission, who you assign to the team, the resources you give them, the collaboration tools you provide, and the organizational support you offer—all of those things are essential to building the mindset and muscle to boost productivity through teams.

Two-thirds (65 percent) of our Global Human Capital Trends survey respondents say shifting to team-centric and network-based organizational models is important or very important, but only 7 percent of respondents felt very ready to execute this shift, and only 6 percent rated themselves very effective at managing cross-functional teams.

One of the issues we often see is that organizations approach teaming too narrowly. Effective teaming requires an intentional, holistic approach that considers:

  1. The purpose of the team. The problem you’re trying to solve or the opportunity you want to pursue not only unites the team around a shared goal, but it also makes a difference in how you structure the team. Will it be a flex team or project management team that disbands once its goal is met, or a mission-focused team that moves as a whole from project to project? Each of these models has different implications for the following considerations.
  2. Who in the organization is the right fit for the team. How work gets done in an organization is not so much a product of the formal org chart structure as what goes on between the boxes, in the informal networks that spring up. Analyzing these networks to understand who the influencers are in a topic area and which groups work together, lets you select the right people based on the purpose of the team. This analysis can happen in a couple of ways: using the organization’s digital exhaust (from emails, meeting invites, workplace collaboration or social media tools, and the like) or through short employee surveys. Data from these methods help in identifying influencers, where and how decisions are made, and where collaboration and connectivity happen. Once you understand these factors, you can build teams in a way that supports information flow and collaboration, and positions employees where they can deliver the most impact.
  3. What collaboration tools can best support the team. Collaboration technology can be a tremendous boon to productive teaming, but it isn’t “the answer” on its own. Collaboration tools are most effective when combined with the knowledge of the informal organizational networks and how people collaborate today and how they wish they could collaborate in order to get work done more efficiently. This enables organizations to be more strategic and intentional about how and where they implement technology to increase their use and usefulness. Of course, the purpose of the team and outcomes desired also affect what type of collaboration is needed, which then helps determine what type of technology to deploy and where.
  4. The organizational “universe” around the team. For teams to function well and flourish, there needs to be a strong and deliberate support system in place, and this has been a stumbling block. For example, our 2019 Trends research found that most performance rewards (55 percent) are still based on individual performance, almost double the percentage of those based on team metrics (28 percent). Beyond performance management and rewards, other organizational levers originally set up to support hierarchical org models also need to be adjusted for teams—how budgets are allocated, what roles exist, how people are trained, how you accommodate internal talent mobility and career pathing. All of these levers need to be reviewed and adjusted from a teaming point of view.

Owning the shift: HR’s opportunity

One of the biggest challenges with shifting to teams is that no one in the organization is waking up thinking about it and spending their days making it happen. We might have different parts of the organization owning parts of it, HRIS owning collaboration tools, for example, or a PMO overseeing project teams. But to really make the effort take hold…to understand the organizational networks that exist and leverage them to enhance team performance and productivity…and to build or adjust the organizational support systems accordingly…someone has to be responsible for that.

This is a real opportunity for HR to impact the future of the enterprise, the workforce, and how work gets done, which are all critical elements in the future of HR itself.

Tiffany McDowell is an Organization Transformation principal in Deloitte Consulting LLP’s Human Capital practice and leads Deloitte’s Organization Strategies Market Offering, where she focuses on helping companies improve performance by building organization structures to execute new capabilities through their workforce.

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