The world of work has changed, and it changed long before Covid and lockdown worked their way into our everyday language. And yet some organisations are still holding on to the comfort blanket of hierarchical structures and top-down reporting lines.
Organisations need their teams to be nimble, agile and innovative. Instead, they’re all to often bogged down in silos, communication breakdowns, conflicting ways of working and slow decision making.
We know that the traditional hierarchical structure isn’t fit for purpose. Matrix and cross-functional teams have taken us so far down the line, but we believe organisations need to push even further in that direction if they’re going to survive and thrive in this complex world.
Andy Chevis, our head of design and research talks about Teams of Teams and explains why another structure change on its own isn’t enough and why the answer might already be in your organisation.
Traditional hierarchical structures aren’t fit for purpose
Designing an organisation used to be like building a machine and then tweaking with it in the hope that it would bring success, whilst not paying enough attention to the way teams work together, or the leadership behaviours and learning mindset that really would unlock the wealth of knowledge and expertise sitting amongst employees.
How can Teams of Teams energise your organisation and improve performance?
Our Head of Design & Research, Andy Chevis, spoke to a room full of HR leaders back in March and asked them, ‘what would you like to inject into your business to improve performance?’ The answers were unanimous:
- Great communication – no more blockages, instant access to knowledge, insights, data and ways of working
- Empowerment – people empowered behind a common vision and purpose
- Autonomy – no more hesitancy and waiting to be told what to do
The answer isn’t a new organisational structure
If you want to put a label on this new way of working, it might be Teams of Teams or Multi teams system. We carried out some research into it with the London School of Economics in 2021 and it’s a subject we feel strongly about.
Because the Teams of Teams way of working dials into our belief that teams lie at the heart of an organisation’s future and to get the most out of them, we need to rethink how we organise and lead them. Teams of Teams enables you to do just that but it means a total shift in mindset in the way you think about your organisation, teams and leadership.
‘It’s a mistake to put in place a new structure and hope that it’ll fix the problems created by a hierarchical system and not help people to change the way they behave. That’s the key to Teams of Teams. A learning leader, leading a learning team – that’s how you create a learning organisation.’ Andy Chevis, Head of design and research
Teams of Teams might sound like the working world’s version of utopia. A world where businesses flourish under free-flowing communication. Where teams are fluid, and empowered employees are open to feedback, learning from each other’s successes and failures. Informed decisions are made swiftly by employees no longer restrained by their position in the hierarchy or waiting to be told what to do.
What’s the good news?
The good news is that we’d put money on there being Teams of Teams in your organisation already. What you need to do is identify them. Find those cells and give them the support they need to thrive and get them to spread the word. Encourage them to show others how they operate as a team and that’s delivering results and happy, engaged employees. Empower them to disrupt the status quo, against the backdrop of a common goal.
What’s the tricky bit?
This organic approach to running a business will feel scary but we firmly believe it’s no good clinging onto old ways of working just because they feel comfortable or that’s the way things have always been done. Plus, bringing in a new structure and won’t work on its own either unless it’s accompanied by a change in mindset and behaviour too.
An essential component of this learning mindset is a culture of psychological safety. Responding to calls for help, that things aren’t working, ideas and feedback positively.
‘The aim is to release people from the controls of a silo or hierarchical structure, not to impose new controls. Think about how you can empower people to share and spread knowledge and understanding.’ Dan Meek, CEO
How does Teams of Teams enable learning and innovation?
- Teams communicate openly and work collaboratively to share learning, knowledge and ways of working. United by a shared purpose and vision – that they helped to shape.
- Leaders support teams by creating a positive culture of psychological safety where it’s ok to ask for help, shout that something isn’t working or share an idea.
- Leaders are ‘custodians’ of multiple teams with boundaries (real and/or imagined) between teams are dismantled
What’s next for HR leaders?
- Identify the Teams of Teams in your organisation and support them, encourage them to grow and spread the word
- Focus on enabling a culture of psychological safety across the organisation to support a learning mindset
- Support open, collaborative channels of communication, especially between teams where most of the learning and work gets done
Teams of Teams or Multi Teams System (MTS). We carried out some research into it with the London School of Economics in 2021 and it’s a subject we feel strongly about. Because the Teams of Teams way of working dials into our belief that teams lie at the heart of an organisation’s success and to get the most out of them, we need to rethink how we organise them and what that means for leaders and leadership. Contact us to chat about energising your organisation with Teams of Teams.