For centuries, leadership skill has been measured by your ability to make things happen inside “built to last” organizations. Success depended on your ability to build trust, cultivate long-term relationships, and manage stakeholders. But we are now entering a world defined by temporary, cross-functional teams, frequently formed to work on specific issues or goals, rather than more traditional fixed structures. Excelling will require a fundamentally different skill set. Senior decision-makers are taking notice: an EY (formerly Ernst & Young) study of global business executives showed an overwhelming majority (84%) of business executives say that their organization’s ability to develop and manage teams will be essential for future competitiveness. Similarly, Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends 2016 report surveyed 7,000+ business and HR leaders from 130 countries. The results below demonstrate that organizational structure is now a prominent concern: For years, the idea of organizational structure was a topic many companies didn’t pay much attention to; they tended to employ a vertical hierarchy, and information was filtered up – then decisions were made and filtered back down. Two forces – easier digital access and collaboration, and disruptive business models – changed this traditional vertical hierarchy. Now, executives are getting nervous about vertical hierarchy. By the time information reaches them, decisions are made, and information is disseminated back down the chain, it may be too late.
How do you shift toward a team-based model for more effective decision-making and growth alignment, though?Mario Moussa, a lecturer in Wharton’s Executive Education program and co-author of Committed Teams: Three Steps to Inspiring Passion and Performance, recently had a unique opportunity to observe the formation and success – or failure – of teams. He and his co-authors ran Wharton students through a week-long, intensive business simulation, where teams of people with no previous context or knowledge of each other must work together to achieve a goal. Research shows that the highest-performing teams will focus on the following three factors right from the beginning:
- Goals: the team discusses and agrees on its goals or mission
- Roles: the team agrees on who will play what roles on the team
- Norms: the team establishes a set of norms that define the culture of the team
- Ask dumb questions (this is OK)
- Stick to the agenda at hand (no tangents)
- It’s fine to say “I have nothing new to report” (this doesn’t get you branded as a slacker)