Why is it so difficult to successfully manage teams today? The author cites two main reasons:
- Teams are using the wrong model to organise themselves
- Teams are not keeping pace with the rapid changes in their business environments
Command and control
The underlying model in almost all teams today is command and control. It was invented by the military and was adopted by organizations. It was also a great model for mass production where you needed above all to ensure consistency of action in team members.
The problems with teams
Organisational teams are no longer fit for their environments:
- Nowadays, it is rare to find teams in which individuals all know each other, sit in the same work area each day,
- work the same hours, share common physical workspaces,
- belong to and are paid by the same organization, have a common business culture and enjoy some degree of prior history of working together.
- are a complex alliance of individuals from different organizations, departments, professions, and locations. Each member has a different skill set and
- is accustomed to using different technology tools.
- are comprised of individuals with different backgrounds, languages, cultures and education and involved in team activities in broadly varying degrees.
This is the mission of Bioteaming: a painstaking review and application of the common traits of nature’s most effective biological teams so that we can transfer the learning to our organizational teams. Nature’s most effective bioteams include:
- Single-celled and multicellular organisms
- Micro-organisms such as bacteria and social insects (ants, bees and termites)
- Jellyfish, geese, monkeys, dolphins, big cats
The key characteristics of nature’s teams are:
- Collective Leadership. Any group member can take the lead.
- Instant Messaging. Instant whole-group broadcast communications.
- Ecosystems. Small is Beautiful … but Big is Powerful.
- Clustering. Engaging many through the few.
- Autonomy. It is everyone’s job, not just the leaders
Speed is of the essence
The main reason nature’s teams communicate this way is that if they waited for a response they would probably get eaten before it arrived. Nature’s teams subjugate everything to speed. Speed enables living animals to move to more powerful positions further up their ecosystem. Speed is the essential difference between the species at the top and bottom of the food chain.
Human bioteams need to imitate nature by becoming teams of peers and leaders where every member understands that it is central to their role as a bioteam member to be on the look-out for just-in-time, critical information that may be of value to the team as a whole. Members of a team are generally very busy and they don’t have the time to read and understand complex instructions. They need brief, synthetic, focused, short messages.
As nature’s teams are communicating information rather than orders, it follows that their communications can be broadcast rather than conversational, 2-way communication. Therefore, these messages do not need responses, as they are one-way, enabling very fast team reactions. However, look at our organisational teams. The current school of thought is that you should generally allow, and wait for, a response to electronic communications. This style of working drastically hampers the team’s speed, agility and responsiveness. Everything stops while somebody goes to get confirmation. In”tead”
- Nature uses simple rapidly composed real-time messages; we use complex precisely crafted asynchronous documents.
- Nature sends the message to the members; we try to get the members to go to the message (e.g., email).
- Nature emphasizes quick response; we focus on accurate communication.
- Spend far too much time “word-smithing” complex messages (with attachments that our fellow team members at best only skim read when they return to their desks later)
The focus should be on minimal “downtime”, the least possible time is taken up communicating, leaving the most possible time for what nature’s teams are really good at – well-coordinated mass action.
The review on Newstalk