Digital transformation sounds kind of fun but it actually 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, for example, software companies that traditionally might have sold a software package over the counter for a one-off price, now sell online on a monthly subscription, with 24/7 support thrown in as part of the deal. It can mean manufacturing companies moving from mass production for a market segment to bespoke production for individual customers, who order exactly what they want online. It can mean your local café becoming a tech company, providing online access and support and selling coffee on the side.
Of course the impact on employees will be huge, although nobody can say for certain at this stage exactly what it will be. It could be job losses, retraining, relocation, more working from home, robots as line managers, anything.
One thing we do know is that, whatever happens, 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. Another thing we know is that teams are ever more important and are becoming a key factor in all this change.
And therein lies a problem, 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 any more, rather a collection of individuals who come together to get something complex and costly done then disband.
Individuals within a team will generally be working on multiple projects at the same time, can be based anywhere globally, probably won’t all speak the same first language and will have wide cultural differences. 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.
Teams, therefore, are more important than ever and effective teamwork has got a whole lot more complicated. 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.
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. If all this leads to an improved reputation, you can also more easily win new business from new clients.
If you take just a few minutes to dig into any one of these additional benefits of effective teamwork you will quickly see that they can significantly reduce your costs and increase your revenue and margin, making improving teamwork a very attractive option for any business reliant on teams.
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.