Great teamwork, scaled across the business, makes anything possible with today’s technology giving us power to communicate.
Disruption is the buzzword of business. And why wouldn’t it be when tech-centric companies like Amazon, Uber, Netflix and Twitter are transforming the way we shop, travel, play and communicate?
Perhaps your business is trying to disrupt itself?
If not, then you can be sure that someone else is, and chances are they’re doing it with quite different teamwork practices than you treat as the norm.
Is it technology that’s making the difference inside these disruptive companies?
Yes, to the extent that product technology supports their exponential growth. However, in-company everyone has the same access to much the same technology at the same time, everywhere. It’s cheap, easy to use and mobile.
And let’s remember that instant messaging, email, smartphones, video, collaboration software and the like are tools, and tools only.
Where’s the difference?
There’s a clue in the common purpose of many of these new technologies: to facilitate the sharing of information.
Indeed, this is exactly why the Net was invented in the first place. Social-media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are popular because people like to share. We have social brains and our evolution has programmed us to connect (because it saved our early ancestors from the disruption of sabre-toothed tigers). Even Daniel Goleman, the acclaimed thought leader in emotional intelligence, now speaks of social intelligence.
We are genetically wired to engage and share with others and, in doing so, to adapt and respond and learn, which is precisely what the disruptive teams in places like Uber and Dropbox are doing so brilliantly, and they’re doing it with the help (and at times hindrance) of new technologies.
Here are five things you might do to lead your team to be the disruptors, or at least the nimble adaptors.
We live in an age of information overload, bombarded with data 24/7.
We are most certainly sharing and it’s on a global scale that’s faster, more frequent and, some would argue, less meaningful than ever before. The importance of focus can’t be underestimated as we must navigate through the distraction of ‘always being on’.
The better performers in this digital world derive their focus from the core belief that it’s not so much which collaborative technology they use to share information (the tools are very similar), but with whom and what they (collectively) do with it.
Fast disruptors know that technology can be duplicated, but there is one thing that can’t be. In a disruptive world the secret to success remains what it was thousands of years ago: the ability of people to work together towards a shared purpose. In a word: teamwork. But a more fluid and flexible style that suits a world that has seen its boundaries shatter in the face of globalisation.
While technology and globalisation continue to disrupt the business landscape, they are not so much reinventing teamwork in their wake, but rather scaling it as a capability and culture.
The typical company circa 2015 has people dispersed across multiple locations and issues arising at the speed of light, which is why teamwork makes the business more than the sum of its parts. Great teamwork, scaled across the business, makes anything possible.
This is why a national 2014 employment survey in the USA, as reported by Forbes, found that THE skill that employers looked for in their new recruits is the ability to work in a team structure. The next-most-important skill is ability to communicate verbally with people inside and outside an organisation.
Business has always been a team sport and there are many good reasons for this.
However, one now stands alone as pivotal to organisation survival and success.
Business is consumer-driven – or, more specifically, customer-experience-driven – which means that our teams must be agile, innovative and constantly learning how to optimise that experience for a customer who has abounding choice.
Shared learning is the key because working alone or in silos of expertise reduces learning, growth and creativity. When there is no one to challenge us, we simply don’t leverage our experience and ideas.
Daniel Pink, acclaimed business thought leader, argues that we are now in the conceptual age, in which right-brain thinking reigns supreme, and there is much evidence for this. Pink talks of the necessity for organisational symphony: through empathy, intuition, play and meaning.
The disruptive companies are enterprises more than organisations, unencumbered by the gravity of organisational hierarchy, process and division.
They play like they’re in the age of the entrepreneurs, those risk-ready, nimble, intuitive, well-connected folk who thrive on change.
The leaders of the most successful disruptive companies share their vision and move others to see it too. They’re marvellous storytellers, connecting with others who in turn connect with them. They inspire people to think as one team, to move as one team and to learn as one team.
Think of a flock of migrating geese, which always fly in a V formation. Geese innately know the secret to great teamwork. They have a common destination and work in perfect unison. When a goose drops out of the V formation, it quickly discovers that it requires a great deal more effort and energy. Geese help each other too. When a goose gets sick or wounded, two geese drop out of formation and follow their fellow member down to help provide protection. They stay with this member of the flock until he or she is either able to fly again or dies. Then they launch out on their own, creating another formation, or they catch up with their own flock.
Does it remind you of the peloton in the great cycling tours?
The disruptors share the reality. They are not afraid of the truth.
In fact, what they fear most are hidden agendas, silos and the status quo. As in professional sport, they make sure the whole team knows whether they have won or lost and why. The focus is always on what is best for the business, even if getting to the marrow of this takes some tough conversations. The leaders insist that they be challenged. They embrace feedback and tap into the power of their people, because a good idea can come from anywhere.
Make the secret yours
Technology gives us power to communicate, collaborate and learn across great divides. Very few of us do this well. To prosper in today’s markets takes real teamwork and we are just beginning to harness technology to this end.
Beware those who see technology as an end itself. Technology is the vehicle. It is who you take along for the ride and how you use the technology to share the challenges and opportunities. This is what it’s really all about.
Graham Winter, author, ‘Think One Team: the revolutionary 90 day plan that engages employees, connects silos and transforms organisations’ (Wiley)
This article first appeared in issue 10 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine