The pressures of today are conspiring to make teaming in our places of work exceptionally difficult, more so than any of us have ever experienced before. Understanding these current day dynamics will help us to equip ourselves to better deal with them.
In our places of work, we are enduring digital transformation after digital transformation, each one taking us into unknown territories. Agile working, robotics, automation, and AI are all producing huge disruption as we are forced to innovate, migrate expensive architecture and shed thousands of jobs. Many organisations are now grappling with the cloud and how to best leverage it. Most teams, no matter where they sit in the value chain, are smack bang middle in the world of VUCA. The uncertainty and pace of change is so fierce, for some of us we might as well be in the jungle surrounded by flesh eating piranhas and jaguar.
We all have to become far more intelligent in how to team these days. We have to understand, at a far more pronounced level, how to create the conditions that produce team outcomes rather than individual outcomes.
One of the consequences of tech advancement has been the adoption of virtual working. The reality is COVID-19 simply turbo boosted an already existing trend. As we all know by now, it is much tougher to lead and participate in the virtual team, or partially virtual team than a non-virtual one. It’s not just a question of making sure we are presentable and sharp on screen. Ensuring the team is on the same page, well-coordinated, with minimum interpersonal conflict are the main challenges we face.
Complexity from Diversity
We all know that diversity is a good thing from a moral and ethical standpoint, but did you know that diverse teams, if well led, perform better than the more homogenous? More diversity means more complexity, though, and more complexity usually equates to more stress. These days, you have to deal with diversity in diversity.
Globally, we have seen retirement ages rise from an average of 60 to 65 with some forecasting it will go up to 75 within the next ten to fifteen years. Coupled with falling birth rates, particularly in developed countries, this means that we can expect to see the proportion of older workers, our Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) increasing. Meanwhile it has been estimated that by 2025, the younger Millennial generation (born 1980–2000), will make up 75 percent of the global workforce. And let’s not forget the Silent generation (born pre-1946). However, managers are now leading teams composed of all these generations plus Gen X (1965–1980) and Gen Zs (1995–2010) all at the same time. The inclusion of an unprecedented four different generations in the workplace, with a fifth on the way, is expected to create more complexity and ultimately more conflict to manage in the team. Telling stories and anecdotes and using language that connects with all ages can’t be easy, nor can employing a leadership style that works for all.
Diversity of Tenure
In our places of work, Millennials are less tolerant of role uncertainty than their older colleagues and as a result, they move around more. They are also in a better position to move jobs as they are more likely to be single—three times more in fact than “Silents” were at comparable ages. Additionally they are far better educated and much more likely to be living in cities than their predecessors, both of which provide them with even more mobility. All the above explain why they are more likely to move jobs and take on more jobs over their careers than Gen Xers, and spend less time in each job than Boomers. The median tenure for workers aged 25to 34 is only 3.2 years whereas for those aged sixty-five and over is over three times longer at 10.3 years.
The good news is that we are seeing more equality, and thanks to the #MeToo movement, far more social awareness of gender equality than at any other time in our working lives. The bad news is that we are nowhere near where we need to be, and gender bias remains very alive and kicking, especially at the top of our organizations.
Racial and Ethnic Diversity
Only eighty-five of 1,050 director positions in the FTSE 100 are held by people from ethnic minorities. Although 14.4 percent of the working population in the UK are BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic), only 12.5 percent of employees are BAME and only six percent of management positions are held by BAME individuals. It is expected that the UK working population made up of BAME will grow over the next few years from its current level of 12.5 percent to closer to 20% More recently, the Black Lives Matter movement has helped put racism squarely onto board room tables. Attending inclusion and diversity training courses is all very well, but sociologists believe that it is only really by actively encouraging interaction of diverse ethnicities in our workplaces that we will be able to build greater trust.
If you work in a large organization then the chances are your team is now probably composed of members who also belong to other teams. Your team members are not solely “yours,” yet you want them to be loyal and committed to you. They have to divide their attention, adapt to different leadership styles, adopt different team norms and deal with conflicting demands. Last year I worked with a very senior team in a UK financial institution of fifteen people. The ideal number for a team is between four and six. Many commentators report dysfunction when numbers exceed ten to twelve.
Growing Societal Individualism
You may have realized this already, but we now live in a more individualistic world with less of a “team comes first” mentality and more of a “what’s in it for me” mind-set. It has been calculated that individualism has increased by about 12 percent worldwide since 1960. For many the compassion shown in the COVID-19 epidemic has been a breath of fresh air. But will it last? Most countries are witnessing community spirit diminishing and compassion being replaced by personal ambition.
The Mental Health Challenge
Mental health is not easy to maintain when working in extreme environments. It’s sad but true that as a species we are getting more and more depressed. We know this not just because sales of antidepressants are going through the roof but from a plethora of studies conducted in the area. In the UK, mental ill health is amongst the most common causes of long-term absence at work along with musculoskeletal injuries, stress, and acute medical conditions. COVID-19 has made things worse, not better. And we haven’t even started to cope with the economic impact of the virus.
Undoubtedly, team working has never been so important and never been so complex. If you’re feeling more under pressure to get the most out of your team than you have at any time in your career, then perhaps you can now understand why. If you are a leader, you could probably do with a bit of help. Maybe a practical tool you could rely on to guide you through this most hostile of terrains would be of some use. Perhaps even a code that you could apply to help you get the most out of your team.
The Team Up Code
After much study and statistical testing to demonstrate its reliability and validity, we have identified a code that met every single one of the criteria we set. No other code is available, anywhere, that can claim to do this. We call it The TeamUp Playbook™, a purposefully simple, memorable four-part code for any team to apply with absolute confidence.
First the team Gets Set by sharing and forming agreed mental models in order to rapidly build swift trust and to immediately propel the team forward. While it is making these agreements, it enters the Get Safe phase. Here it is more purposefully building trust, deepening relationships, and forming a climate where the team can freely exchange opinions and feelings and where it is able to learn. When the team accumulates sufficient psychological safety, it will then be in a better position to engage in value driving interactions defined by autonomy, commitment, and reliability in the third, Get Strong phase. It is these interactions that then produce the desirable outcomes we all want to see in the Get Success phase. Of course, the reality is that teams don’t sit in any one phase of a linear journey at one point in time. Rather they occupy the Set, Safe, Strong, and Successful phases all at the same time, only at varying degrees of competence. However, when it comes to improving the way a team works, we absolutely advise leaders to follow the code in the order it is set out. The code is structured in such a way that competence in each phase builds more competence in the next phase. In the team development journey, the team focuses its energy on developing its competence at each stage until it has reached a satisfactory level before then progressing to developing itself at the next phase. The code doesn’t stop there; there’s a code within the overall code. Each of the three development phases are divided into three skill sets, each containing three behaviours. We therefore have three lots of three behaviours across three phases, totalling twenty-seven high performing team behaviours. The code is therefore simple, comprehensive, measurable, actionable, sequenced, and builds swift trust.
Finally, we can now say that leaders have a code they can confidently use to build their teams. One they can back. One that tells them what to do and in what order.
This is an extract from George Karseras’ new book Build Better Teams: creating winning teams in the digital age which is available now on Kindle and is published in paperback on 18 January 2022. For more info about the TeamUp™ code, read George’s book and go to www.team-up.company