Thanks to its ability to share vast amounts of information across distance; the Internet has changed the world in more ways than most people imagine. One of the most unsuspecting ways is in how people work… together.
Working in a team environment used to require a high degree of geographic proximity. Cities literally rose and fell based on the labor needs of various industries – steel in Pittsburgh, automobiles in Detroit, fashion/garments in NYC, movies in Hollywood, and so forth. This geographic proximity made it easier to have meetings that ‘keep us all on the same page’.
Today however, it is easy to spot the trend of businesses utilizing freelancers, outsourced manufacturing, off-shore customer service, and a variety of remote work options.
This puts a new spin on the traditional notion of teams. So let’s look at what it takes to have effective teams in the 21st Century.
The purpose of a team has nothing to do with making a profit, completing a set of tasks. The purpose has to do with making an emotional connection to the intent behind the tasks. Purpose answers the question ‘WHY’ and is the reason for people to be inspired to bring their best/whole self to the tasks at hand.
Without a clear Purpose, people at all levels tend to leave when the challenges or investments outweigh the potential rewards – that is basic human survival. More than mere goals, purpose give meaning and context to our goals.
Direction or Destination
Once a clear purpose is established; it is critical to express clarity in destination or direction. These could be concrete goals (such as; secure 100 new clients by end of next quarter) as much as they can be somewhat vague projections (like becoming a respected brand or thought leader in a new/adjacent territory).
It is difficult to fully invest or contribute when team members don’t know where they are going or how long it will take to get there. Along with Purpose, Direction gives members an objective to focus their various energies.
Not to be confused with management; leadership refers to a system of building trust and accountability among members. This is fluid and shifts dynamically from member to member each time they have something to share. Rather than a title, it is a form of respect that gives members the freedom and privilege of collaborating as equals and understanding different perspectives.
With a properly designed and shared Purpose and Direction, many companies are realizing how more leaders leads to less managers – and drastically improved productivity.
Scrap the organization charts and hierarchies of communications and think more informal. Chats, texts, IM/DMs through social media, and conversations at after-hours are how work gets done and great ideas are shared. It is sloppy, chaotic, unpredictable, and perfectly human – that’s why it works.
As you might imagine; the true power of this comes when integrated within the framework of Purpose, Direction, and Leadership.
Common Understanding or Language
Every business has its own language of acronyms, shorthand, and jargon that helps make complex information easier to communicate. Besides making sure there is adequate training and explanation of this language, be sure to add plenty of words that build and support members rather than limiting them.
A great set of terms to include are the 34 themes from Gallup’s StrengthFinder assessment. Learning each other’s top 5 themes helps members understand areas where they can contribute as well as how to interpret/accept the contributions of others – making Norman Shidle’s concept of praising the skills of others easier to replicate.
Structure and Freedom
Too much structure leads to micro-management, while too much freedom leads to lack of productivity. The right balance produces the best results. Google reportedly encourages employees to spend 20% of time on ‘projects that they think might benefit the company’; while a growing number are offering unlimited vacation days (while encouraging people to take time off).
I’ve often said that creativity without structure is like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without bread – a big mess!
I’d love to hear how you have changed or updated the way your business works in teams.