The world has become very complex and is moving to an age of artificial intelligence. Toffler would have defined it as the fourth wave. This age is characterized with quick dissemination of information, a globally connected world with services being provided digitally over the wire. The markets, including financial markets are interlinked, connected and inter-dependent. The orderly world, in which companies knew and understood their business environment, knew their competitors, could predict and prepare strategic plans has now given to a world where their business could be upstaged by a disruptive technology from a startup on the other side of the world. Competition is always on heels threatening to bite if pace slackens.
Organizations can only survive by building teams that can respond to changes in environment, take decisions and implement them. These are teams that have the authority, responsibility and accountability for their decisions, something similar to football teams (https://rajneeshrastogi.wordpress.com/2017/02/26/what-corporate-managers-can-learn-from-football-teams/). With increasing complexity and increasing dependence of tasks, a person could be member of multiple teams that may run horizontally across functions or may run across vertically in a functional area. (https://rajneeshrastogi.wordpress.com/2015/02/26/team-based-on-organisations-a-new-organisation-structure/). For example CFO in a country office would be member of senior executive team and also a member of finance team. The structure can be a strategic choice for the organizations to succeed.
The role of CXOs (CEOs, COOs, CMOs, CFOs etc) would be to build effective teams and build a culture with shared values that binds teams together. Effective teams are characterised by cooperation, collaboration and seamless interchangeability in roles. Teams, like Tribes, also have their own norms that all team members are expected to follow, and use peer pressure or social pressure to ensure compliance.
Organisations need to provide an enabling environment for teams to flourish and succeed. This would require changes in structures, policies and workflows. Some of my experiences are shared below
- 1. Recruitment is team’s responsibility
- 2. Successful teams sit and work together.
- 3. Democracy in organization and teams
- 4. Team is the Boss
- 5. Communication, Trust and feedback
1. Recruitment is team’s responsibility
Interpersonal relationships are an important element of team success besides trust. Hence it is essential that primary responsibility for recruitment resides with the team. The team could recruit by building consensus amongst its members or giving each member a veto. At Srijan Technologies, a company I worked with, our philosophy was that recruitment is everyone’s responsibility. Beyond functional skills, it is attitude and other soft skills that are important but are difficult to gauge through questions.
Attitudes and biases can be sensed by individuals. That is why we preferred in-person interviews over ones on skype or phone. While the immediate team got more weightage, the interviews also included extended teams or other stakeholders who would be working with that candidate. We once had a situation where a senior developer and the CEO had differing judgements on a business analyst candidate. We had an open discussion on the issue and finally went with the senior developer’s choice.
Another instance I recollect is from CARE, an international NGO. We were interviewing for a project manager for a program with commercial sex workers (CSW). The project director included some CSW’s in the interview panel. His hypothesis was that if a candidate is not comfortable interviewing with a CSW then they would not be comfortable managing the project, and a CSW could best assess the candidate’s comfort. I would say the same logic extends to teams.
2. Successful teams sit and work together.
Getting all the members to sit together is the most effective way to minimize information asymmetry within a team. Physical proximity promotes and encourages transparency. There are no barriers to communication such as inertia of lifting a phone or calling someone when s/he is busy. The team members can see each other’s availability and quickly resolve issues. One of the biggest advantages of such arrangement is the formation of deeper bonds within team members. Teams provide an emotional anchor especially to new members.
The company does not have to run a mentorship program. The team members act as mentors and guides. Since the same cannot be done for Distributed teams – other tools and practices need to be adopted. For example, scheduling a daily team meeting; Tools like common folder with access rights to everyone. Thanks to tools like google docs, chatbots, etc., Distributed teams can collaborate effectively.
3. Democracy in organization and teams
One of the ways to improve decision making in teams is to encourage team to take decisions by consensus. This may seem like wastage of time, but it ensures ownership of decisions by all the team members. People understand democracy as decision making by voting or decisions of majority. But actually democracy is much more than that. ( https://rajneeshrastogi.wordpress.com/2015/04/27/indian-experience-with-democracy/ ). At Srijan we encouraged teams to take decisions by consensus.
4. Team is the Boss
We delegated all operational decisions to the team such as negotiations with the customer, pacing the project, allocation of work to the team. Decisions on approval of leave or work from home was delegated to the team. A supervisor is supposed to monitor the work, but its peers or team members who can provide the best assessment of whether a person has turned in an honest day’s work or not. In my work life, I have come across situations where companies have multiple layers of authority delineation.
In practice, I have seen managers trusting the teams or person on the ground and approving those requests without even simple questions. Organizations can cut down on decision making processes by delegating most of the approvals to the teams and also empowering teams by giving them authority but also hold them accountable.
5. Communication, Trust and feedback
It is essential to build trust and communication between the team members. This helps in reducing politics or charges of favouritism. At Srijan, we would even have 360 degree feedbacks with all the team members sitting together and providing feedback to each other. The rule was that anything that cannot be said in open should not be said. The fact that the organization was structured around roles and not positions also meant that there was no competition amongst team members.
At the organization level, the company used to keep open books. We had sessions where the balance sheet and profit & loss account was shared with everyone. The most important behaviour that seniors have to demonstrate is to allow juniors to question them on their decisions. Give out a message that no subject is taboo and all conversations are welcome.
Teams can only work when the team shares rewards and frustrations of defeat and no single person is singled out for either. It is no wonder that football (soccer in US) does not have man of the match award like cricket has ( https://rajneeshrastogi.wordpress.com/2014/12/28/teams-and-performance-appraisal-systems/ ). A good team of learners who are motivated and enjoy their work would like quality output and ease out anyone who slows down the team.
More often than not, the person would automatically move out. As Gen. Stanley McChrystal mentions in his book “Team of teams” most often repeated reason for dropping out of Seal’s training program BUD/S was that I cannot slow down the team. Rather be the weakest link in the chain, people move out.
Replace Performance appraisal with performance feedback and counselling. Use it to provide feedback to an employee. https://rajneeshrastogi.wordpress.com/2015/07/07/salaries-and-performance-appraisal/. We at Srijan used system of Salaries and performance bonus to reward performance during the year.
7. Define purpose of the organisation and teams
In this fast changing business environment, the companies will have to redefine their indices for growth. The inspiration to growth will come from purpose. What the organization plans to do and achieve. Similarly teams find meaning in their work if they identify with its purpose. If the team knows its purpose, it will also be more confident in moving away from established procedures to ensure that the purpose is met with.
8. Define values and hold teams and people accountable
The team has to fit in the larger organization and should share the same values and culture. Culture and values act as glue and bind the teams together. A very good example of it is Mckinsey that operates as distributed teams but come together as one company with one culture.
In a nutshell, if companies can create teams with diverse set of people, develop a culture of trust and decision making by consensus and are willing to share information with the teams, remove barriers to flow of information within the organization, then the organizations can create self-managed, self-learning teams