Why smart teamwork is critical for you digital transformation
Digital transformation describes a seismic shift in how organisations operate – not just using technology to enhance traditional ways of working but using it to fundamentally change what work gets done.
This can mean a software company that previously might have sold a software package over the counter for a one-off price, now sells it online via a monthly subscription, providing round the clock support for all users. Or it might mean a manufacturing company shifting from mass production for a whole market segment to bespoke production for individual customers, who specify what they want via an online ordering system. Or it might mean your local café becoming a tech company, providing online gaming and tech support for free and selling coffee, buns and tech stuff to bring the money in.
The impact of all these changes on employees will be significant, although nobody can say for certain what the changes or the impact will be - job losses, retraining, relocation, more working from home, robots as line managers, anything is possible.
The rise of teams
Whatever happens, however, your people need to be able to work together effectively to implement, manage and grow your company during and as a result of your digital transformation. Teams and teamwork, therefore, are becoming ever more important and are a key factor in all this change.
And that represents a big problem for many organisations, because teams are no longer teams in the traditional sense of the word. They are rarely a fixed number of collocated employees working on a single project, rather networks of individuals who come together to get something complex and costly done then move on to the next project.
Individuals will often be working on multiple projects at the same time, can be based anywhere in the world, might not all speak the same first language and will be in completely different time zones. On top of which, decision making is being devolved to the operational level, problems are identified and resolved locally with customers, innovation happens on the hoof and failure is seen as the new learning.
So, not only are teams more important than ever, effective teamwork has got a whole lot harder. But what makes a team effective? In its Aristotle project, which studied 280 of its teams, Google found that effective teamwork wasn’t down to the make-up of the team, the number of high performers involved or even who the leader was. No, Google found that by far and away the single most important factor for an effective and successful team was psychological safety – if team members feel comfortable in contributing and taking risks, the team will be much more effective than if they don’t.
They also found that dependability, structure and clarity, the importance of the work to individual team members and the difference the work of the team made were also important factors. However, without psychological safety, none of these other factors mattered.
In other research MIT found that if team members took roughly equal turns in contributing, the team was much more effective. So, teams where one or two people dominated the airtime were generally not as effective as teams where all team members had equal airtime.
Taken together, what these pieces of research tell us, backed up by a lot of other credible research, is that you can improve the performance of your teams if you make it safe for all team members to contribute and let everybody have a turn.
Take turns and make people feel safe! Can it really be that simple?
Apparently, yes. All that stuff about psychometric testing, hand-picking the highest performers and everybody using the latest project management software doesn’t make much difference without psychological safety and taking turns.
The benefits of effective teamwork
In addition to getting the job done faster and better, the knock-on effects of your teams performing well can be improved motivation, reduced employee turnover, fewer mistakes, failures and complaints, and improved customer relationships. In addition, you are more likely to retain existing business and can more easily win further business from existing clients. And with an enhanced reputation for good service, you’ll find it easier to win business from new clients as well.
This might sound like a bunch unsubstantiated claims but, if you take the time to look into the costs of poor teamwork in your organisation, you’ll quickly see that by improving how your people work together you can significantly reduce costs and increase revenue and margin.
How to enable effective teamwork
You can chuck resources, skills training and the latest software at your teams but it might not improve teamwork and risks making life more complicated for team members. We have found the best way is to help your teams develop the behavioural norms that promote psychological safety, such as listening attentively, not interrupting, allowing people time to finish, not judging other people’s contributions, responding positively to what others say and, of course, taking turns.
Establishing and getting used to these behavioural norms is not easy but can be done, working with team members on real actions where they plan, execute and review desired behaviours over, say, a twelve week period. This approach leads to new working behaviours that stick, meaning the team members involved will be forever able to work in this way and turn others on to working in this way too.
Simple, agile and it works!
Your digital transformation just got easier and better because you paid attention to the people part.
It’s good for your bottom line too.
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