The dynamics of fluid teams

In my recent post “Making time for teamwork when there’s too much to do” I explored how to keep up with changes to the world of work. This is becoming more relevant since many more of us are not only working in teams, but are part of multiple teams. As we identify new problems to solve, our teams become more fluid, shifting and shaping to make sure the right people are working on the right challenge at the right time.

How does working in fluid teams affect our performance? Unless a team is doing the same task over and over again with the same people, then team dynamics will change. If a team is caught unaware of how this can impact them, they may find that they hit a roadblock, derailing their productivity and flow.

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Want to build more innovative products and services? Innovate the way that you work

Innovation is not just for products and services. The best teams also find innovative ways of working together to support them in producing game-changing work.

There are many great examples of collaboration techniques and rituals that successful companies have used to support an innovative culture – Pixar’s Braintrusts, Etsy’s Blameless Post-Mortems, Amazon’s Two Pizza Rule, Google’s secrets for effective brainstorming to name just a few. It’s tempting to want to copy these ideas, but these final versions may only be part of the story. These ways of working may have come about through a process of trying and tweaking that is specific to the company, their people and their environment. You can certainly try them, but it’s likely that they’ll need to be adapted for your context. 

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5 skills for the future of work

This is a summary of the talk I gave at Creative Summit 2017 in June.

Flexibility, self-management, project-based working, networks and collaboration. These were some of the characteristics of The Creative Economy, which was also made up of many independent, self-employed workers.

Today, these ways of working are not just for freelancers. They’re emerging in any company that has a need for creativity and innovation. These changes are also being driven by technology, as well as the desire for a more flexible working life from employees. Organisations are becoming more networked and dynamic, as people form temporary teams to get work done.

So the skills we’ll need to thrive in the future of work partly comes down to our ability to work well in these teams, ensuring that we create the conditions for people to do their best work together.

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Making time for teamwork when there’s too much to do

In 1924, the organisational psychologist Professor Elton Mayo, started a range of research studies at the Hawthorne Works factory to explore the impact that the working environment had on employees productivity (it’s where the term “The Hawthorne effect” comes from, which describes the tendency for people to alter their performance when they know they are being observed).

As part of the studies, which lasted until 1932, Mayo pulled together teams of workers who were observed over a period of time. The teams had various factors changed – such as the number, and duration of breaks – to see how this affected their output. But a huge discovery from the research was the positive effects the team reported as a result of working together. Whereas previous studies had focused only on the individual worker, Mayo’s research was the first to identify the relevance of teamwork in the workplace. And it changed management thinking.

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Great workshops, great teams, great culture

Moving from workshops to workshop culture”

Something I’ve been thinking about recently, based on what I’ve seen with clients, is how workshops can play a part in transforming the way a team works together. I think of it as three levels:

Level 1: workshops as an event

A group of people meets on a one-off basis to have a focused discussion. It might be a rare opportunity for people to come together, so it needs to be productive. An external facilitator is brought in to run the session, ensure collaboration and creative thinking, but also that there are concrete outcomes. With great facilitation, the group can make a lot of progress in a short space of time.

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How workshops helped to accelerate a culture of innovation at Emerald Publishing

As the first head of innovation at Emerald Publishing, Bec Evans had the opportunity to shape the role to suit her and the business. What she thought would be a very product-focused role, turned out to be something completely different – about changing the culture. And workshops played a big part in discovering that.

Emerald Publishing is a global academic publisher that specialises in business and management. Although it had a very traditional business model, it became interested in bringing new techniques such as lean and agile and encouraging an intrapreneurial mindset within the company.

Emerald offered Bec Evans, who had her own startup on the side, the new head of innovation role, which she had the opportunity to shape herself. Coming from a part-time position in the product development and innovation department, Bec started off by making a call for ideas from across the company. However, she soon realised that this was the wrong approach:  

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10 tips for effective workshops

The ability to run great workshops is becoming an essential skill for anyone that works in creativity and innovation. The difference between an effective workshop and an unsuccessful one has a major impact on the success of an overall project — the quality of ideas generated, an engaged team, and even whether participants felt they had the opportunity to contribute.

Workshop facilitation is not a secret art. It’s a skill that anyone can learn to do. The key is to think of workshops as a three-stage process, each with equal importance. It’s easy to place emphasis on the actual event, but that’s only the middle piece. The day of the workshop should be seen as a means to an end, not the end itself.

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How to improve your team culture with workshops

The insights and breakthroughs that participants experience in a great workshop can have a big influence on the way they think about teamwork. An effective workshop demonstrates what can be achieved with focused and purposeful collaboration in a short space of time.

As Jake Knapp from Google Ventures said in “Sprint”, the book that outlines their 5-day workshop for building and testing new ideas:

“After your first sprint, you might notice a shift in the way your team works… you’ll build confidence in one another’s expertise and in your collective ability to make progress towards ambitious goals”

There are few principles you can adopt to make sure that workshops have an positive impact on your team culture:

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Reasons to run a “Big Picture Thinking” workshop with your team

What did you set out to achieve last year and how did it go? What did you learn about your work? How can you use that knowledge to plan for the year ahead? What trends and opportunities did you pick up on that might shape the work that you do?

These are all useful questions to ask yourself at this time of year, to set intentions for the months ahead. Allocating time to step away from your tactical day-to-day work and think about the long-term is a great way to regain some focus.

This is a useful exercise to do individually, but there’s also huge value in doing this with your team. I call this a “Big Picture Thinking” workshop?—?a collaborative session involving a series of activities and discussions to help you to look at the overall direction you’re heading in (there’s a link to a template at the end of this post). It’s an opportunity for busy teams to step away from their to-do lists and stretch their strategic thinking muscles.

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Into 2017: five teamwork and collaboration takeaways from 2016

These are some of the key themes and ideas that have continued to emerge for me this year, around the topics of teamwork and collaboration:

1. Teamwork is changing

Collaboration is nothing new, but the way we’re thinking about teams is changing. Faster-moving industries and more complex challenges means the future of work will be organised around fluid teams. For the most forward-thinking companies, this is already impacting their entire organisational structure. Airbnb has elastic teams, Spotify emphasises autonomy, and Basecamp works in six-weekly cycles. Stripe even experimented with hiring whole teams earlier this year.

Takeaway: the nature of work is continuing to change as flexible, agile teams become increasingly common. This requires a new set of skills for leading, and working as part of, them effectively.

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