Time for a reset on managing teams

In the first of a two-part article on teamwork Steve Macaulay and Sarah Cook explore the challenges and opportunities in today’s environment

Working in teams today presents substantial challenges, but also big opportunities. People professionals can do much to strengthen how teams can face the changing world with confidence. There is a need to change the emphasis of approach to developing and sustaining high-performance teams in today’s environment, which is undergoing significant change. Modern teams are increasingly operating across the whole organisation and in hybrid environments, with virtual teamwork becoming more prevalent post pandemic. This presents challenges in co-ordinating and building team effectiveness, with employees now frequently collaborating in cross functional, project-based and culturally diverse teams.

It means HR and L&D need to re-evaluate their strategies to make sure they continue to foster high performance across a whole range of the different types of teams, whether hybrid, functional, project or improvement teams.

Four high-priority critical development areas

In practical terms, to meet today’s pressing major issues, developing team interventions need to home in on four high-priority critical areas:

  • Trust: establishing an environment which promotes trust
  • Agility: recognising the importance of resilient and agile teams
  • Collaboration: and cross-functional communication
  • Change receptivity and resilience strategies

Importantly, the needs of each team must be assessed on an individual basis.

L&D need to re-evaluate their strategies to make sure they continue to foster high performance across a whole range of the different types of teams

Opportunities which need to be grasped in teams

Focusing on developing effective teams allows organisations fully to take advantage of the many opportunities open to them. In times of rapid change and technological advances, teams need to be able to work closely together, yet flex and adapt quickly to changing circumstances. Teams which function well also demonstrate enhanced innovation by sharing fresh ideas and creating a learning environment when problems present themselves.

The rise of virtual team working means that managers now have access to a wider talent pool. Hybrid working also provides team members with greater flexibility and opportunity to balance work-home commitments.

Challenges and potential problems

There are however significant potential problems which can arise in multi-team environments, particularly in moving away from more inward and static teams. The challenges teams face in today’s organisations include:

Alignment of objectives, particularly in dispersed teams, it is harder to ensure everyone is working towards a common goal

Effective communication needs a lot of time and the right tools to maintain understanding and information reaches across diverse boundaries and time zones

Cultural and diversity differences can throw up  barriers to effective working, sometimes to the point of ineffectiveness

Coordination and collaboration become far harder to manage

Reduced face-to-face contact with hybrid working and virtual meetings can cause misunderstandings and misperceptions

Accountability and inter-dependency become more necessary but harder to achieve.

Company example: a pan-European project

As an example, the authors have recently worked with a project team responsible for introducing new ways of working across an organisation operating in UK and Europe. As well as cultural and diversity differences, English was not the first language for many of the project team members and communication and coordination were challenging because most the project team meetings were online. In addition, each site had different needs and objectives for the project and the project manager struggled to establish a common, unifying goal.

How HR and L&D dealt with this is discussed in Part 2 when the authors examine how HR and L&D can be proactive in achieving high performing teams.

Read part 2 of this article here

Steve Macaulay and Sarah Cook are development specialists who focus on helping managers and organisations to develop high performing teams. Steve is an associate at Cranfield Executive Development, s.macaulay@cranfield.ac.uk Sarah is MD of The Stairway Consultancy Sarah at sarah@thestairway.co.uk

Steve Macaulay

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