Thursday, 8 May 2008

Net-work, not more teamwork (1)

This is the title of one of the chapters of my new book DISRUPTIVE IDEAS which builds upon Viral Change. Disruptive ideas will be available by the end of this month, May 2008. Organisations have become proficient in team management and teams have become the natural structure for collaboration, the default position. But in these days of inter-dependence between roles and jobs, many collaboration solutions can be found in informal networks, not in designed, cohesive teams. Let me inject another contrarian idea: you don’t need any more teams. I know, I know, teamocracies rule the waves. We all talk about teams and how to make them stronger, more effective, etc. Teams are at the centre of organisational development and somehow we have equated them to ‘collaboration’ or people working together. Teams are here to stay and I’m not going to waste any more space justifying their existence. But what we really need to do is not to refine the team machinery, but to exploit the net-work one. The organisation is composed of a number of collaborative spaces. Some of them are relatively rigid and designed - teams, task forces - while others are composed of looser connections between individuals, with different degrees and nuances of the word ‘looser’. Some communities (of practice or interest) are semi-loose, with a more or less defined membership. There are other networks of connections of a much looser nature, represented by people who sometimes know very little about each other and/or only communicate from time to time. There is a wide spectrum of connections available, but traditional management has only focused on one end; the one where structures are designed and borders given: the teams. In recent years, people of different disciplines interested in organisational life have begun to suspect that the structure of teams may not be as universally desirable as we first thought, particularly when the organisation needs to tap into intellectual capital wherever it is. We need more and more people who are able to navigate, to ride the looser informal connections where many answers to innovation lie. Teams are too predictable in their capability to answer questions such as, “is there a different way?” Even if the answer is yes, chances are ‘that way’ is to be found within the confines of the team. We need to favour looser network structures, even if we won’t have the same command and control capacity as we do with teams and taskforces. This is the price to pay. It is from those sometimes un-structured conversations that true innovation originates; it is there that many answers to questions can be found. What can you do? Next post!

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