With the speed of technical change across the broad levels of our socioeconomic world, teams seem to be the only viable tool for adequate innovation to match the pace of growth. More than ever, companies are falling behind due to unavailable workforce talent to get the job done. Our workforce talent is challenged by multinational resources that include human capital, specialized technology, and even materials such as “rare earth.”
A vital question or challenge in the disruptive speed of change in the workforce is the place of traditional teams that work effectively together while the unexpected has become of rule of thumb for innovation.
One of the most fascinating articles written by Amy Edmondson on teaming should give us pause to reflect on the viability of our search for effective traditional teams. Her article appeared in Harvard Business Review, April 2012 issue, Teamwork on the Fly. It recounted the 2008 Chinese Olympic building of the Water Cube.
The Water Cube was an unusual endeavor, but the strategy employed to complete it—a strategy I call teaming—epitomizes the new era of business. Teaming is teamwork on the fly: a pickup basketball game rather than plays run by trained units. It’s a way to gather experts in temporary groups to solve problems they’re encountering for the first and perhaps only time. When companies need to accomplish something that hasn’t been done before, and might not be done again, traditional team structures aren’t practical. It’s just not possible to identify the right skills and knowledge in advance and to trust that circumstances will not change. Under those conditions, a leader’s emphasis has to shift from composing and managing teams to inspiring and enabling teaming.
Given the speed of change, the intensity of market competition, and the unpredictability of customers’ needs today, there often isn’t enough time to build… a stable… team. Instead, organizations increasingly must bring together not only their own far-flung employees from various disciplines and divisions but also external specialists and stakeholders, only to disband them when they’ve achieved their goal or when a new opportunity arises.
Because of the volatility and complexities of today’s disruptive chaos, spontaneous teaming fills in the urgent demand of the moment. However, stable teams must be developed to have the agility consistent with the flow of innovative growth. The trick is to be alert and in touch with what is showing up over the horizon. This will necessitate the constant lookout for those with skills that can rise to the moment.
However, this cannot be done by waiting for ingenious talent to just appear. Industry must provide a depth of preparation for unforeseen possibilities. This must be done through appropriate launching of programs and opportunities for experimentations in all levels of art, science, technology, robotics, artificial intelligence, and whatever surfaces out of the human mind. In spite of the ambiguity and uncertainty of the world we presently live in, we must not sit on our hands hoping for the best.
As Amy Edmondson summarizes our challenging future:
“Situations that call for teaming are, by contrast, complex and uncertain, full of unexpected events that require rapid changes in course. No two projects are alike, so people must get up to speed quickly on brand-new topics, again and again. Because solutions can come from anywhere, team members do, too.”
This “getting up to speed” urgently demands that our entire social, political, educational, and financial conglomerate awake to the need for laying the foundations of learning skills early on in the development of our children. Amy Edmondson pulls it all together with her closing statement: “We need a commitment to learning that drives employees to absorb, and sometimes create, new knowledge while executing.”
 Edmondson, Amy (2012), Harvard Business Review, April 2012.