Teams versus a Teaming Culture,

and why it matters more than ever!

By Barbara Walsh

Having worked as a Systemic Team Coach and spearheading Systemic Team Coach training in South and Southern Africa, I’ve worked with hundreds of companies, individuals and coaches including those ranging from start-ups to NGO’s to Fortune 500 companies. One of the most common misconceptions I’ve encountered is the belief that high-performing teams in the workplace represent a strong teaming culture.

Most of us who’ve worked in a corporate environment have been part of teams in the workplace, in the traditional sense of the word and understand function as the form of the team. This is how the siloed organisations of yesteryear were created and indeed survived. When we think of teams, we traditionally think of function or location based connected purpose. For example, the marketing team or a sports team but teamwork has long evolved becoming more complex, dynamic and diverse thanks to digitization, the evolvement of tools, remote communication, virtual collaboration and sharing of resources.

In today’s complex and volatile business environment, corporations and organizations thrive by creating wholes that are greater than the sum of their parts. To be able to embrace the fast pace of business and to innovate in such a space, organizations have needed to shift rapidly to establishing connected, cross-functional teams as a way to optimize flexibility, creativity, and productivity. This is especially true in the context amidst Coronavirus where effective remote networked teams is the standard in terms of organisational design. Embracing cross functional teams is one step in the right direction but still doesn’t correlate to having a teaming culture. So, what is the difference between having teams that perform well, even cross functionally within the organisation, and a teaming culture, and more importantly why does it matter?

Quite simply a teaming culture means that the organisation’s model is built on developing a Team of Teams as a means for systemic continuous learning, perspective, innovation and delivery. Teaming culture is tangible — it boosts engagement, creativity, innovation, and resilience. Google, famous for its teaming culture, discovered that moving ‘low performers’ into a different team drastically improved behaviour and performance. In a different culture such employees may have been performance managed out the organisation, but a teaming culture values the uniqueness of each person and creates a vehicle for learning, productivity, innovation, and leadership. Embracing an organizational teaming culture is the reason that many companies can and have been able to connect to their purpose, disrupt their industries and outperform their competitors (McKinsey).

“Building the right culture in an era of fast-paced teaming, when people work on a shifting mix of partners, might sound challenging – if not impossible. But in my experience, in the most innovative companies, teaming is the culture.”

~ Amy Edmonson, Harvard Business Review

But what are the pillars of such a culture? There can be many pillars of a teaming culture depending on the narrative but from a systemic perspective in enabling organisations that are greater than the sum of its parts, it comes down to two main foundations;

Connecting on shared purpose

It’s human nature to form a tribe. Originally this came from a need to survive but in today’s complex world it’s increasingly from a need to find meaning and to be connected to one another or an idea as Seth Godin explains in his book Tribes. And as if to prove the methodology the idea of purpose beyond profit is gaining momentum as much on Wall Street and the Dax as it is in coaching circles with new evidence to prove that purpose is one of the biggest yielders of profit. (INC.com) When members in a team share the same purpose, and this purpose is aligned to that of the organization, that team transforms into a more effective, cohesive, and higher-performing unit. (General Stanley McChrystal, Team of Teams). Unlike in siloed organizations, team performance is crucially not at the expense of other teams, but rather in partnership with them.

Collaborating through Shared Leadership

Shared leadership models propose that success in environments, where complex problem solving is required, depends less on the heroic actions of a few individuals at the top and more on collaborative leadership practices distributed throughout an organization. Team members hold different capabilities that move to enable shared desired outcomes. Whilst some might think this a recipe for chaos, the result is quite the opposite; enabling quick decision making, a growth mindset and an agile organisation able to adapt and embrace change rapidly. Leadership in this context does not depict an individual or even a set of individuals such as those in C-suite but rather conceptualizes leadership as a set of shared practices that is embodied throughout the organisation.

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A good culture is one in which team members collaborate, share knowledge, communicate and most importantly support one another. A teaming culture takes this one step further, enabling agility in complex world, providing a platform for innovation, creativity and even disruption. This is made possible by enabling growth and continuous learning through exposure to challenge, diversity and shared decision making across the entire system.

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