While new technologies are disrupting the ways organizations are operating, companies are under growing pressure to rethink their approach by replacing human capital at the center of their strategies. They are reorganizing and transforming by abandoning traditional and hierarchical management systems that used to prevail.
Over the last years, key- or buzzwords like “digital”, “agile” or “networked” have strongly anchored into organizations that are now striving to learn, evolve and accelerate. Employees are working in heterogeneous and multi-disciplinary teams focused on different project products.
Some technology firms such as Google or Cisco, have pioneered new ways of organizing their workforce, at scale, by organizing their operations and businesses in teams and projects. They continuously promote internal mobility and reallocate their workforce quickly. As a consequence, they have the capability to rapidly create and scale new businesses and are able to launch and stop projects in a flexible way (see Killed by Google).
In order to transform and reach superior levels of team performance today, it is critical to cultivating a highly efficient collaboration at every level: vertically, horizontally and most of the time transversally. Being able to dynamically reallocate the workforce towards the right teams is, therefore, becoming a critical capability for every future-oriented company.
A global reflection to build efficient teams that achieve great results
Accordingly, performance management and optimizing team for success have become a key strategic issue that goes far beyond traditional HR activities. It is a top-priority leadership issue with a global impact. It consists of different levels of reflection:
First, it is important for each company to consider its own ecosystem and to build teams of people that are driven by objectives and are results-oriented. This duality has to be anchored in two realities: internally (with a clear mandate within the organization) and externally (aligned with clients, partners and the whole business ecosystem). Organizing these teams in “network” increases significantly the odds of success of initiatives by fostering efficient knowledge sharing. Additionally, opting for agile communities facilitates multidisciplinary collaboration and local decision-making.
Second, one of the consequences of rapid technological and organizational changes over the last few years is that the team has become the core unit of productivity and performance. Teams are where ideas are born, brought to life, tested and where employees are having their collective and individual work experience. However, this is also where interpersonal issues, sub-optimal competence mix, and unclear objectives cripple productivity and create negative frictions. Therefore, new working methods inspired by the agile manifesto and other innovative collaborative paradigms merged and started to spread within organizations.
Third, unleashing team performance also requires strong managerial changes. The manager is becoming a leader and a coach for its peers. Hierarchies are flattening and sometimes disappearing with organizations relying on people’s entrepreneurial spirit and personalities to create conditions for success. Through their unique combination of soft- and hard-skills, this new generation of leaders encourages their team to iterate, share and learn while being open for change, inclusive and effective.
What about people and individuals in those new organizational models? There is an urgent need to question conventional models of talent development, new ways of incentivizing and empowering people where each individual should be considered as a unique asset that can learn and evolve through its interaction with its peers. Employee happiness (a trendy topic), instead of being considered as a key objective, would and should result from individual/collective working experience and team performance.
The Spotify case
Spotify, the audio streaming platform, perfectly symbolizes this new generation of organizations. The company can be considered as 100% agile with a continuously evolving structure in so-called “squads”: a multi-disciplinary and self-organised team with less than eight team members and in which the main motto is “autonomy” (autonomy to decide what to do, how to do it and how to work together while doing it).
When benchmarked with other organizations, the company strives for its high level of employee engagement and performance. Trust is preferred to control, the teams are strongly aligned and every employee is deeply empowered (and as a consequence much more motivated).
Communities are favored over hierarchical structures. They are based on knowledge sharing and collaboration (one community for each competence domain, one for each center of interest,...). The Spotify example illustrates a strong managerial trend that can be observed in highly dynamic companies: decision-making has to be local, the team leader brings a problem to solve and the team thinks about the best solution to solve it.
Which levers to develop high-performing teams? How team analytics enables to boost performance, dialogue, and efficiency.
There is a set of best practices that enhance team experience and productivity:
First of all, continuous feedback loops are becoming key to regularly exchange and objectify the personal experience of every team member. This enables everyone to share its insights and perception about the work that the team is completing, maximizing alignment between each member. Bringing anonymity to the process also facilitate the transition toward continuous feedback sharing.
Gathering feedback from company individuals can be done in two wars. One vision is to focus on the couple manager-employee and their relation within the organization. This is the use case of mood surveys or employee engagement tools that are focused on employee happiness by improving the quality of the workplace and aiming at reducing company turnover. In that context, the employee is considered as a client that needs to be satisfied. The opposite vision is to focus on the quality of teamwork, more especially team performance and experience. This team analytics solution, such as Steerio, focus on producing highly effective team by maximizing its impact on the organization. They are focused on the “what” and “how” teamwork.
Transparency is essential: aggregated team results and learning have to be widely shared across the team.
A group of scientists at Google carried out research (see Google Aristotle Project) to understand what are the key determinant of team performance. The results showed clearly that superior outputs are not correlated with skills or diploma but with “psychological safety”. The team, in order to become a fertile ground for productivity, needs to represent a safe environment for every team member where risk-taking is encouraged and errors considered as learnings. The modern team leader is responsible for providing these conditions where curiosity, trust and confidence prevail and where every team member has all the incentives to act proactively.
Teamwork direction and target settings are also essential characteristics of high-performing teams. Role and responsibilities and the way core processes are structured are directly impacting team performance. Objectives have to be set at both individual and collective level. They have to be specific, challenging but doable. Leveraging the OKR (Objectives Key Results) methodology can be very handful and impactful for a newly formed team. The meaning one finds in working and getting involved in the group greatly influences the effectiveness of the team. Having a clear purpose, generating impact, seeing that one's work contributes to the achievement of the organization's goals are essential to the good performance of the team.
In order to have a continuous alignment of the team toward its objectives and prioritize efforts towards the most valuable action, monitoring and proactively managing team’s weak signal will become a central capability for highly effective teams. Team analytics platforms such as Steerio enable to identify and proactively optimize teamwork in order to secure productive, work and collaboration as well as the individual and collective experience within the team. Measuring and understanding teamwork’s success factors and gathering people feedback enable to develop and scale best-practices across teams: leveraging collective intelligence for team excellence.