Future of work: For a team to evolve, the leaders need to evolve

Your team needs to evolve

Start here, and start with this:

A company used to be able to dominate the competition if it focused on creating an effective group of verticals. But in today’s world, leaders using the network model can quickly outpace those who remain focused on winning individual battles.

Now jump to here:

Excellent but siloed small teams are no longer the panacea for all challenges. We must move to a world where all large institutions, from health care to our military apparatus to corporate enterprise, are as nimble and effective as an elite small team. Leading a team of teams is the approach that will win the day in the 21st century.

Yep. It’s time for you to pull your head out of your posterior and start thinking about things differently. Let’s discuss.

Human nature explains a lot of the problems with work: in essence, we’re creatures of emotion — but work wants us to be creatures of logic. That’s a hurdle. That’s where everything kinda begins from.

Here’s what I’ve never really understood, though: in most modern work environments, it’s literally impossible to work on a project without intersecting with other people, often in other departments. The idea of “cross-functional teams” is mostly horseshit, yes, but you do often have to work with people from different teams, etc. Almost everything I’m presently working on at work, for example, doesn’t involve people in my direct team. It’s often not even people in my own state. Silos are everywhere and they’re going to remain everywhere — and people will always have their head in the sand about who “owns a process” — but you still have to work outside of these challenges if you want to get real, ROI-laden stuff done. That’s just a fact.

If you have a team that’s still clustered with their things, their people, their processes … and totally afraid of change or new concepts/ideas? You need to evolve.

You can make money for another decade or two, probably — and that’s good for most people, which is another facet of this problem — but beyond that, you’re going to start to fall behind. Command-and-control type management, or the clustering of information in certain pockets, can’t really be seen as a strategic advantage for that long, you’d reckon.

Here’s what that HBR article up top recommends doing around this whole challenge of moving your team in a new direction:

  • Create alignment
  • Drive inclusion and transparency
  • Be an empathy-focused leader

This kind of stuff makes me feel smart, because I write about it all the time. (PS I’m not smart.) I wrote about empathy just yesterday!

Here’s the real skinny on all this, IMHO: the three bullets above all sound like buzzwords to most employees of most companies. Here’s how most people at the low and middle levels tend to actually think:

  • I have a boss.
  • I have deliverables.
  • My boss sets my deliverables. (Although that’s not always true, either.)
  • When there’s a change, it comes from on-high.
  • If I don’t see the change actually taking place, I’ll probably ignore it and tell everyone I already have enough stuff on my plate.

That’s a description of probably 87 percent of people I’ve worked with in the last 12 years or so. So … if that’s true … and I think it is (for most people), then here’s what you really need if you want your team to start evolving into a “networked team:”

  • Explain to leaders what the ROI of caring about this stuff is (bottom-line sense)
  • Get them to launch something and then stick to it
  • If people are doing it well, reward them in front of others (show people this stuff matters)
  • Be consistent for a year or so (maybe 18 months) and people will start to realize “Oh, this is a new reality…”

That’s maybe what “alignment” should mean. It’s kind of a fool’s errand for “alignment” to be about “aligning people to the purpose and vision of the company.” That’s consultant-sold bullshit. Very few people can even clearly explain what their company does to people at a cocktail party. What they want is a paycheck, a sense of security, and a boss who maybe doesn’t treat them like a deliverables-only farm animal. They don’t necessarily need to be “aligned with the vision” of anything. They need a two-way contract: I do this work, you pay me this much. KThxbye.

If you want to evolve your team, then … it’s gotta come from the leadership levels. The problem is that leadership levels tend to care more about revenue and money (they’re closest to that side of a business), so anything without ROI is going to fall by the wayside. There’s the inherent challenge in every “let’s change the culture!” discussion of the modern era.

You can’t change the culture if the people who need to model the change don’t really care about the culture changing.

It’s a brutal circle, and it happens at most workplaces that I’ve been at or my friends have been at. It needs to start with leaders modeling that something is important, but it often doesn’t. But if you want your team to evolve, you yourself need to evolve as a leader. Think about things a little bit differently. Think about the potential advantages of a “networked team” instead of a team that dominates in two verticals.



Ted Bauer