Team - a misunderstood road to simplification and wellbeing
There is an African proverb that says “If you want to go fast - go alone. If you want to go far - go together ”. Unfortunately for you and most organizations, there is no choice between speed and collaboration. You can’t choose one over the other. You need both to continue to be your customers’ first choice.
Not only that, you need to increase your speed and improve your collaboration. That will increase the complexity of your business to a point where the tools you and your management team have today are no longer useful. Fortunately, there is a simple solution. A solution that is obvious to a few, but is misunderstood by everyone else.
Minimum planable unit
The best way to reduce complexity is to change the minimum planable unit (MPU) within the company. In many organizations, the minimum planable unit is still an employee. Managers have large excel sheets with lists of all the different tasks assigned to their employees. It can be 10% skills development, 20% work on project Y, 50% administration of X and 20% support for Q.
I've been one of those managers. It has never worked well, neither for the organization nor the employee.
The solution is to go from planning individuals to planning teams, making teams the minimum planable unit. IT companies have known this for decades, but many believe that it only applies to development teams with programmers. That thinking harms your business.
When you make teams the MPU, a lot more than just the number of planable units changes.
A team, unlike a working group that occasionally meets and exchanges information, consists of 3-12 (preferably 4-5) people who work together every day. They have common goals, a common to-do list and make decisions together. A person can only belong to one team. A team can be the same as a work-group or department in a traditional organization, but are more likely to be a mixture of people and skills from different parts of the organization.
The task to be solved determines how the team is put together. The 80-20 rule can be applied here. The team should be able to solve 80% of their tasks themselves and need to cooperate with other teams to solve the rest.
The first big difference you see when you go from planning employees to teams is that the number of planable units decreases by a factor of five to ten. This makes the organization easier to understand and less complex. Instead of managing 100 different people for example you now have only 10-20 teams to manage.
A team can solve more tasks on it’s own than a person can. This means that the number of tasks requiring collaboration and coordination between planable units are dramatically reduced. A team can also more easily establish cooperation with other teams as more people can share the task of collaborating.
Teams make it easier to harmonise personal goals so that everyone on the team share the same goals. It is then much easier to harmonise 10-20 teams goals compared to 100 individuals’ wishes. That does not mean that the manager now should make a new spreadsheet with all the teams in it. It is often best to let the teams take care of the alignment and planning based on a clear direction and support from management. That will strengthen the sense of shared direction and increase the chance of fulfilling the companies strategic goals.
Working in teams also has the potential to reduce dependency on key people. Team members are more inclined to help each other since they form a social bond. Ideally they do not always perform their special task themselves, but continuously spread knowledge to other team members. More people know more and learn more.
A bonus is that, with common goals and fewer MPU:s, the bottlenecks becomes easier to spot. If a number of teams often need to wait for the same team to finish their task, it is clear to everyone what the current problem is and it will be easier to come up with a solution.
Another benefit of focusing on teams is that the organization recognizes that it needs to put effort into creating effective teams. Effective teams are never just born, they are made. Previously, the focus was on individuals and their development. That is still important, but the team is more important. Growing the team's ability will, as a side effect, provide greater well-being, less stress and greater efficiency for the individual employee. In a well-functioning team you are never alone.
To sum it up: moving your MPU from individuals to teams gives you clearer common direction, more satisfied employees, higher efficiency through fewer collaboration areas and more autonomy, better collaboration where it is needed, lower complexity and fewer bottlenecks. It also gives management an organization that is easier to manage.
Why doesn't everyone do this already?
"Yes, it probably works for you, but we don't work that way”
There is a common misconception that stands in your way. But working in teams is not limited to programmers. All professionals can work more in teams. Often it is you who are most opposed to this idea that has the most to gain. Working in a team you can no longer get away with running in and out of meetings, joggling "many balls in the air” [swedish saying] and not get much value created. Sure - you loose your excuses for not delivering, but you will find yourself in an environment where it is easy to get things done and you will feel more satisfied.
You become responsible to each other. That often means more than when your busy manager half-heartedly asks how things are going every other week.
Working in a well-functioning team is great for almost everyone. Imagine a time when you felt that everyone around you had the same goal. This often occurs in connection to a crisis or a sport. You get more done in a few weeks or months than you normally do in a whole year. That is a real energy boost!
That is how it feels to work in well functioning teams with a few common goals and with other well-functioning teams around you.
Working in teams sometimes also leads to the transfer of responsibilities and powers from top management to those who are closest to the issues - the team. It is a bonus that frees management to work with the right questions. It also give the team members a chance to take more responsibility and act as adults. Even at work.
Henrik blogs at changeforfun.com about change for those who also believe that change will be a natural part of our lives and want to be better at managing it. He writes for you who want to find a way to feel good in change and be prepared when it comes, even when it is not self-elected.
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