How can businesses organise themselves so they can navigate and thrive in our complex, ever-changing world? How can you structure your teams so that you can respond quickly to changing circumstances, challenges and make the most of opportunities?
These are questions that many have grappled with over the years. Happily, we might just have the answer. Because one thing we love doing – almost as much as spending time with clients – is researching the knotty questions about the world of work, making sense of them and sharing that insight with you.
Sometimes we do this on our own, but once a year we join forces with researchers at the London School of Economics (LSE) and carry out a large-scale piece of research into the topic of the day. The 2021 LSE research project was all about teams of teams, and you can access the findings here.
Teams of teams: they’re here already
Teams of teams, also known as ‘multi team system’ is a term that’s been in circulation for a few years now, particularly following General McChrystal’s hugely powerful and successful book of the same name.
But this is more than a new label or piece of jargon. There is mounting evidence that embracing a teams of teams approach is the way forward for organisations. With the right support and focus it can release leaders and their teams from the siloes, functions and hierarchies that so often block progress, enabling teams to focus entirely on the challenge or opportunity.
‘The research showed that the teams of teams approach shouldn’t be limited to a few technology teams. The real opportunity comes when there is an organisation-wide recognition of the potential and opportunity they bring.’
Andy Chevis, Head of Design and Research
What do teams of teams mean for agile, cross-functional and matrix teams?
You might not realise it, but there’s a very good chance you’ve already come across teams of teams. In fact, you might be operating a quasi-teams of teams set-up already. The trouble is, if you don’t know that’s what it is or what it can do for you, your team and organisation, how can you put in place the right support and focus so your teams can really fly?
‘In teams of teams, trust between teams becomes essential to effective execution and requires building relationships outside the core team.’
Andy Chevis, Head of Design and Research
Superficially, teams of teams might share some characteristics with matrix, agile and project teams but teams of teams take it to the next level. And this might feel a little chaotic, so it does demand a different mindset and approach from leaders.
We’ll cover this in more detail in a future blog, but in the context of teams of teams, we see leaders as connectors, untethered from a specific team. Tasked instead with connecting teams, sharing knowledge and insight. Putting people together and freeing blockages that prevent teams from performing.
One thing is clear. Teams of teams allow organisations to flourish and deliver real business impact in complex, fast-moving and confusing times. Just like now.
What are teams of teams? Key characteristics at-a-glance
- Teams of teams: they’re not based on hierarchy or functions. Everyone works towards a common goal
- High Trust: trust is essential both in and beyond the team. Taking it a step further and creating psychological safety across teams will help to build a culture where people feel safe to challenge others and share ideas across teams.
- Leaders and teams are free to work together unencumbered by hierarchy and functional silos
- Innovative: teams work together in a more effective way enabling collaboration across functions, geographies and cultures to deliver results
- Agile: teams form and disband as needed to bring the right combination of skills and knowledge to the situation for as long as needed
- Knowledge sharing: not just data but experience, skills, learning and insight.
Points to ponder
- Is your organisation already a team of teams? Reflect on where the real work gets done, not the formal structures
- Do your team leaders focus on one, single team or do they see the bigger picture and act as the connectors you need them to be?
- Is your organisational communication mostly top down or does communication flow freely across teams?
- What level of trust is there in your organisation? Do people feel safe challenging each other and sharing ideas?
LIW blogs: shining a light on teams and leadership