How many teams are you on? If you are like most people you are part of three, four, five or more teams, each of which has different goals, leaders, cultures and processes. The frequency of multiple team membership is a result of living in the age of hyper-collaboration. Hyper-collaboration has emerged as a response to the need to solve problems and challenges bigger than any one organisation or team can manage alone. In this environment success comes from building individuals’ abilities to be great team members rather than the more traditional approach that focuses on the team as a whole.
Hyper-collaboration is the approach of working innovatively with partners beyond the walls of your own organisation and industry, creating ecosystems which are characterised by five things:
- Technology from different domains is usually an important part of the work itself, and the collaboration is often managed with technology
- Data is freely and widely available to collaborators
- There are multiple levels and means of collaboration
- Collaboration exists between large numbers of partners, including non-obvious partners
- Players and relationships evolve rapidly
The hyper-collaboration mindset is that someone somewhere has probably figured out how to meet your need or solve your challenge, but it is unlikely that this person works on your team, or even in your organisation or industry. That means that when we are facing large challenges we need to work collaboratively with often unexpected partners, leveraging technology effectively to create innovation ecosystems that come together to deliver solutions.
The creation of the COVID-19 vaccine is a recent example of hyper-collaboration, where no one organisation delivered on the creation, testing, release and distribution of the vaccine. It was an ecosystem of partners, some surprising, that came together to deliver a vaccine in a previously unheard of timeframe.
In nature ecosystems are dynamic. If one element changes other elements in the ecosystem change as well, in order to survive. Teams today operate like ecosystems, shifting and changing frequently in their membership as well as their goals. Back in 2002 Richard Hackman defined “real teams” as having stable membership; and many common approaches to team effectiveness were built with team stability in mind. In a hyper-collaborative environment these traditional approaches to team effectiveness don’t apply; instead, team effectiveness is best achieved by building teaming skills in each individual.
Amy Edmondson, in her book Teaming, writes: “Fast moving work environments need people who know how to team, people who have the skills and flexibility to act in moments of potential collaboration when and where they appear.” The characteristics of effective teams have not changed; just the way we get there. We still need teams that have trust, collaboration, clarity of roles and shared vision but the question to ask now is 'what is the role of each individual in creating that reality for the teams they are a part of?'
There are three skill categories in the overall skill of teaming that we should look to develop in each individual in our organisations: awareness, personal leadership and team diagnostician.
Awareness is a power skill that is the starting point for any learning or behaviour change. Edmondson defines awareness in teaming as the recognition of the importance of interdependence with others for accomplishing the team’s goals. Individuals with activated awareness approach their team membership intentionally looking for the interconnections and ways that they can both contribute to and receive benefit from the team.
The types of awareness that we want individuals to bring to their teaming include self-awareness and “other” awareness. True self-awareness, which exists in only about 15% of people, is defined by Dr Tasha Eurich as an alignment between how well we know ourselves and how those around us perceive us. “Other” awareness is awareness of other people’s strengths, weaknesses, hopes and dreams, which, when activated, ensures that all current members of a team are both leveraged and supported to contribute as effectively as possible. Being intentional about awareness is especially important for individuals and teams operating in a hybrid environment.
2. Personal leadership
Given the dynamic nature of teams individuals are most effective when they lead themselves in some key areas that include emotional competence, living above the line and time management.
In the hyper-collaborative world of multiple team membership it is inevitable that conflicts will arise. Individuals with high emotional competence are able to remain grounded during conflicts, not take things personally, and help the team move forward to resolution. Living above the line is a mindset that describes the level of responsibility or accountability that an individual takes for their own attitudes as well as actual progress towards outcomes. The spectrum runs from powerless to powerful, with individuals on the powerful side choosing to accept reality and look for solutions rather than waiting and hoping or blaming others. Time management is especially important when people are on multiple teams, and expectations for time commitments to various projects may differ. Individuals cannot depend on team leaders or the organisation to manage their time across multiple teams, so this is a skill individuals need to build for themselves. Without effective time management skills there is a dual danger of wasted (inefficient) time, and burnout; but as individuals fill their personal skill gaps in managing time, both efficiency and engagement can increase.
3. Team diagnostician
With the dynamic nature of teams operating in a hyper-collaborative world it is inefficient to depend on a team leader or an external facilitator to diagnose and address team challenges that arise. If, instead, every team member has a basic ability to diagnose team challenges, the team as a whole is more likely to be agile and responsive to the shifting needs it exists to address. Embedding a simple model for team effectiveness in an organisation is one way to help individuals develop this skill.
These three teaming skill sets are cyclical and self-reinforcing. An individual who knows themselves, as well as the impact they have on others, and is aware of the strengths, dreams and values of those around them is set up for effective personal leadership. They will know their own tendencies around emotional competence and what their personal triggers are. They will be primed to choose to live above the line, and will be aware of when they slip below the line. They will know their strengths in time management and where their stumbling points are. An individual with all of these skills can diagnose a team objectively; they will be able to see a team’s strengths and will be able to think clearly about what behaviours are most important for a particular team to demonstrate; and then they will be able to draw on their self-awareness to easily identify what they personally can and cannot contribute to the team.
Hyper-collaboration is only going to increase as our world faces increasingly complex challenges. The resulting innovation ecosystems will succeed not by focusing on traditional 'team effectiveness' but as we build strong teaming skill sets in each individual.
Dr Tanya Boyd, pictured below, is learning experience architect, at Insights