High performing teams in a disruptive age

September 2019 

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

Written in cooperation with

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We’ve been conducting extensive research over the past 20 years to identify the core factors distinguishing teams that are high performing, from those that are simply functioning. While these factors remain fundamental, the world in which teams exist has changed significantly. Disruption is in every facet of business.

This disruption is not just in the form of technology or business innovation. Disruption is also shaped by demographic changes, business complexity, globalisation, and macro-economic changes.

And with this new context comes new considerations for teams.

A team can still be accurately defined as “a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, set of performance goals and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.” But, working in a team today is a very different experience to that of a few years ago.

In the past, researchers implicitly assumed a team also had the following characteristics: a relatively stable purpose over time, bounded and reasonably permanent membership, consisting of individuals assigned solely to just that one team, and people working together, face-to-face, in a common location.

These assumptions are no longer true.

The nature of teams has already evolved, and as disruption continues to redefine the business landscape our approach to teamwork must similarly adapt. But, research suggests organisations have been slow to respond and retrain their high performing teams. As the following statistics illustrate, the context of disruption brings new considerations and opportunities for team performance which are currently being overlooked. As a leader, it’s vital you understand the challenges and opportunities these disruptors bring so you can turn them to your team’s advantage.

Disruptor 1: The pace of change

As businesses strive to stay agile in this volatile, rapidly changing environment, teams are becoming ever-more dynamic in their structure. Specifically, temporary teams, multiple-team membership, and team restructuring are all becoming increasingly prevalent.

of teams are temporary (together less than one year).
between 65-95% of people are members of more than one team at a time.

Disruptor 2: Global and multicultural

It’s now much more common for teams to be globalised and multicultural in nature. However, research suggests leaders are yet to maximise the potential of this contextual shift; research shows that while 48% of teams have over half their team members made up of people from other nations, almost one in four global teams are currently failing to reap the benefits of cultural diversity.

of teams have over half their team members made up of people from other nations
Almost 1 in 4 global teams are failing to reap the benefits of cultural diversity.

Disruptor 3: Increasingly virtual

Advances in technology have triggered what’s been called a ‘spatial revolution’ with flexible and virtual working becoming the new norm. In the UK, for example, working from home has increased by a fifth (19%) over the past decade, with other studies showing how 46% of organisations use teams who interact primarily through virtual communication.

of virtual team members report never to have met their virtual colleagues face-to-face.
organisations use teams who interact primarily through virtual communication.

What’s not changed in teams?

While the context of teams has changed, human nature hasn’t. Trust remains a critical ingredient to any effective team. Similarly, other well-established predictors of team performance (many of which interrelate to trust) remain fundamental, including: communication, collective belief in ability, psychological safety, shared mental models, task conflict and shared leadership.

Developing high performance teamwork in today’s disruptive business environment is therefore less about discovering any new factors and more about understanding how these fundamental ingredients play out in different contexts. It’s about knowing what to focus on, and when.

Are your teams keeping up?

As technology, innovation, demographic changes, complexity, globalisation, and macro-economic changes continue to disrupt and reorganise the business environment, so does the nature of the teams we are working in. And, teams with a new nature have new needs. To achieve high performance, leaders and team members must be skilled in the art of building swift trust, preventing fault lines from forming, harnessing shared leadership, and working as one team through multiple digital channels.

As discussed, these new contextual factors have the power to dramatically help or dramatically hinder team performance, depending on how they are managed.

Similar to the following team (on the visualization bellow), teams and their leaders needs to rely on each other and nurture their mutual trust and team resilience.

First sociomapping6M later after sociomapping

And similar to this team which was new to collaboration across time zones and different cultures majority of teams and their leaders need some support with adaptation to the new context. Luckily, it is not rocket science to manage the team dynamics and turn these new contextual opportunities to your team’s advantage.

Do you want to develop your team effectiveness?

Get in touch with us and find out more details about sociomapping programs for your company.

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