“The team is the reality of your experience at work”
This HBR article -“The Power of Hidden Teams” – was published in May 2019, well before the pandemic. The authors’ began with a sweeping, but cryptic statement. “The most-engaged employees work together in ways companies don’t even realize.” They then present a case study of “Two nurses. Same job; different hospitals. One provides great care for patients, the other doesn’t.” And they conclude with the question: “Why?” Their article then goes on to answer the question, which is a “disarmingly simple, and hitherto largely neglected, way of increasing someone’s health and productivity at work.” What they said then is even more relevant today precisely because of the pandemic.
The majority of work done today is team-based. Indeed, the authors call “teams” the new “fulcrum of work”. However, the authors’ contend “about half the teams where it happens are invisible to companies.” The reason for this “blindness stems from our tools …. The tools that help us “see” our people — so-called human capital management tools … are blind to this reality, and so, therefore, are we. We can’t see our teams, so we can’t see our work,”
You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus. Mark Twain
The authors call for organizations to become team-centric. “We must push into the richness of real teams doing real work.” This calls for a new way of looking at teamwork. How to really make sense of “the dynamic, ephemeral, informal, contingent, and fluid” nature of teams, To be able to understand “teams, whether they are overlapping, dynamic, spontaneous or designed, long-lived or short-lived.”
The author’s call to action is not a “nice-to-have … (but a) must-have.” Simply put, teams “are the best method we humans have ever devised to make each person’s uniqueness useful.” And herein is the key to unlock the power of hidden teams.
“Know me for my best, and then focus my work around that“
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Research shows “the share of employees who are fully engaged more than doubles if they are on teams.” Just being on a team versus working solo raises engagement.” Furthermore, individual team member engagement must be nurtured and cultivated. The Team Leader is best positioned to play this role by paying ongoing attention to and dialogue with each team member. Based on research, “the currency of engagement is real, human attention.” To wit, the authors also observe: “The team leader’s “span of control” is more accurately span of attention.”
Team Leaders +Team Strengths
Team Leaders must have the requisite training and support to assume the enhanced catalytic role they are best suited to play. It is they who are “the source of truth about what teams exist and who is on them.” It is they who “are pulling team members onto new teams all the time.” As such, “the job of a team leader is simply, and challengingly, this: to create, day in and day out, an experience on the team that allows each person to offer his or her unique best, and then to meld those contributions into something no individual could do alone.”
The Team Ladders’ attention and dialogue must be centered around understanding, communicating, building individual strengths. They are best able to “understand the strengths of their team … (and to) help utilize (their) talents and skills … Team members who use their strengths provide outstanding performance for the organization.” Moreover, “high-functioning teams are essential to a high- functioning organization because they create more opportunities for each person to use his or her strengths by enabling the tasks at hand to be divided according to the strengths on offer.”
“Teams that are engaged and effective understand their strengths and plays to them.” Problematically, according to the authors, only 20% of employees “feel their strengths are in play at work.” Which means, the 80% feel they are underperforming.
Moreover, “we know that the frequent use of strengths leads to high performance, and we know that strengths vary from person to person.” Accordingly, “high-functioning teams are essential to a high-functioning organization because they create more opportunities for each person to use his or her strengths by enabling the tasks at hand to be divided according to the strengths on offer.”
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“Teams make weirdness useful.”
Finally, it is the team leader who understands each team member, their role, and their strengths. Including team members “quirks” and “weirdness” that give the team its humanity. The authors actually suggest calling team leads “weirdness orchestrators.” Like an orchestra conductor, the team lead understand the totality of their diverse strengths. And leads each team member to play their part in harmony with the others. All together performing masterfully with feeling. (See Footnote on “Weirdness”).
“A deep understanding of each individual’s strengths will allow the team leader to provide challenging opportunities for each team member to grow. Continued support to learn and grow is part of the work-life benefit provided by an organization.” The most powerful benefit a team leader can provide to a team … (is to) position team members for success by helping them use their strengths to accomplish their daily work.”
Team-Centered Talent Management
The authors dramatically call for management to “break the shackles of the org chart … (they) can see boxes and lines on the org chart, but those fail to account for many actual teams.” Yet, their vision is simple, practical, achievable, and scalable. “Start with the needs of the team. (This is a) fundamental design principle of work.
- Design teams for human attention – frequent, light-touch attention between team member and team leader
- Design work and career development that is team-based
- Design work intrinsic incentives (meaning, growth, relationships, and so forth)
- Understand, support, and “magnify what the best teams do.”
- Ask “How can we address (any of the following) through our teams?” – Critical initiatives. Innovation opportunities. Diversity and inclusion goals. Performance measurement. Performance problems.
All Star Teams
Our resource enables participating organizations and teams to actualize the recommendations the authors outline in their visionary, highly compelling article. This starts with empowering every team member with:
- Greater self-awareness & empathy
- A holistic picture of their individual strengths
- An overall understanding of their diverse strengths, gaps, & imbalances
- Understand how to harness their diverse strengths to achieve project success
In this way, organizational stakeholders are able to see the power of their hidden teams brought to light visually and immediately useful. We call this an organization’s “Constellation”.
The Power of Hidden Teams. Harvard Business Review’, The Big Idea, May 14, 2019. Authors: Marcus Buckingham, Head of Research, People + Performance, ADP Research Institute & Ashley Goodall, SVP, Methods & Intelligence at Cisco
Footnote: Embrace Weirdness
The words we use are often informed by long histories. They reflect and distill the thoughts and values of generations and eras past. While a word’s meaning may evolve over time, its seed sense remains dormant, deeply rooted in the ground of our collective subconscious.
For example, the word ‘weird’ is used today to describe anything “odd-looking, strange, disturbingly different” (macmillandictionary.com). However, in the Anglo-Saxon of Medieval England, ‘wyrd’ was associated with the power over fate and destiny. In the 1400s, Chaucer wrote, “But O, Fortune, executrice of wierdes … The Wirdes, that we clepen [call] Destinee.” It was then still widely believed that the Three Fates of antiquity were the literal spinners of chance, fortune, and destiny. In ancient Greece and Rome, they were depicted as three elder sisters at their spinning wheel or loom. In the Norse version, they’re called Norns. Aptly, the ancient PIE root of fate is “wer” meaning “to turn, to wind”.
Two hundred years later, the playwright Shakespeare, when conceiving Macbeth, took artistic license with this ancient myth. He re-casted the Three Fates as the Three Wyrd Sisters. The script calls for the actors to appear as “exaggerated or sensationalised hags … in strange and wild apparell … creatures of elder world”
Since then, Macbeth has been staged continuously for five centuries. In addition to a recent 2015 Macbeth film with a famous actor yet another was just announced. This time with two other famous actors in lead roles. Clearly, this long-run play has deeply impressed the modern popular imagination.
However, by default, this play is also responsible for an erroneous understanding of what weird actually is. That is, it ascribes meaning to outward appearance and behaviour while ignoring the true pre-Shakespearean meaning. Tragically, the word is now used in a derogatory sense to hurt, bully, and ostracize those who look or act differently from supposed conventional norms. Words however are mutable as society hopefully evolves. The original meaning ofweird – “having power to control one’s fate” – is being reclaimed. Consider, for example, this Huffington Post article title “9 Reasons Why It’s Okay to Be Weird.” And note the T-Shirt from youth organization, Ditch The Label. “Our mission is to combat bullying by tackling the root issues and to support young people aged 12-25 who are impacted.”