I’ve come to the conclusion that organisations are really just a collection of teams, and successful organisations a collection of successful teams.
It could be the ‘leadership team’ or a product teams, or a software team or an event team. At every level and in every way, the success is delivered by teams. It’s teams that do stuff, that make things happen, that produce the outcomes.
Yet teams hardly feature in the way we structure and manage or even think about organisations.
Organisations tend to look above and below teams.
They look at ‘culture’ and organisational development, things that work across the organisation.
Or they look at talent management, people development and performance assessments, things that are relevant to individuals.
They seldom look at teams despite the fact that people do most of their work in teams (and most of their best work whilst in teams). I don’t just mean the functional and management teams they are in, as shown on the org chart. I mean the teams that their day-to-day activity relates to. The project teams of various sorts that rise and fall, or the long-standing teams focused on products, or branding, or some specific aspect of the organisation’s activity.
There are also the informal teams that people belong to, that spring up over time. The ‘gangs of mates’ that grow from a team and endure, maintaining strong links long after the original reason for their connection has passed.
This is where the real heart of the organisation lies. These are the places where people form deep relationships and trust. This is where the creativity and inspiration lie. These are the places where the magic is. It’s where work of the organisation really gets done
Yet if you ask most organisations how many teams they contain, they would be unable to tell you. In fact, if you asked an individual how many teams they belonged to, they’d have to think twice before answering (and that’s not even asking them about all the informal groupings they are part of).
Yes, there is often a lot of training about how to work in a team and there is a focus on helping team leaders but that is about as far as it goes. Team leaders, despite doing a crucial role, are often expected to do it on top of their own workload.
As organisations seek to address a more uncertain future, they long for greater creativity, innovation and collaboration. Yet they continue to overlook the places where those things lie, the very crucibles for the gold that they seek.
As they struggle to create a more human workplace, they ignore the very spaces where the humans they have are connecting and growing and thriving.
It’s time to throw the org chart out of the window, forget about the culture programmes and get focused on the teams.
That will keep the heart of the organisation beating strongly whatever the future holds.