Work is a team sport that relies on multiple people and groups coming together to achieve something. These teams can either be formally structured or be created on as as-needed basis. Sometimes these teams comprise individuals in the same geographic location, but in today’s globally distributed and connected world, it’s far more likely that these teams are spread out all over the world. Today we think of teams in terms of departments, such as marketing, sales, research and development, HR, and so on. However, teams need to be thought of as groups of people that can be pointed at various problems that need to be solved or opportunities that need to be uncovered. This means that someone in marketing could be a part of an R&D team that is looking to design and develop a new product or someone in HR could be part of a sales team that is looking to sell consulting services to other organizations. Teams are meant to be dynamic, nimble, and adjustable versus being confined to the common organizational chart. An article written by Susan McDaniel, president of the American Psychological Association, stated that “errors in aviation and healthcare were often linked to traditional hierarchies that shut down communication from anyone but the leader. Teams with diverse membership, flattened hierarchies, and rich communication were more likely to have positive outcomes.”
Priyanka B. Carr and Gregory M. Walton from Stanford University tested this idea further in five experiments. Participants were asked to solve a puzzle and were told that they could have as much or as little time as they needed. Half of the participants were given hints and cues to suggest that they were a part of a broader group working, and the other half of the participants were not, suggesting they were working independently. Those who felt they were working on the puzzle as part of a team worked 48% longer than those who didn’t. Not only that, but participants were also asked to complete a survey after the experiment, and those who felt like they were part of a team rated the puzzle as being more interesting. According to Walton, “Simply feeling like you’re part of a team of people working on a task makes people more motivated as they take on challenges.”
Our organizations, and for that matter our educational institutions, haven’t done a good job of shifting from focusing on the individual to focusing on the team. In fact, many trading programs or courses on team building and development are actually designed for individuals to take them, which is a bit paradoxical.
When you join an organization, you want to feel like you belong, like you are a part of something, and like you are around peers. You want to feel like you are a part of a team where you are in this with others and where you know you can rely on others to have your back. This is why companies like LinkedIn are so explicit in creating a sense of belonging and why Airbnb’s mission is to allow people, not just customers but also employees, to feel like they belong anywhere.
According to Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends 2016, this is one of the key priorities and strategic imperatives for organizations around the world. Employees are more empowered than ever, customer expectations are higher, competitors are moving faster, technological change is growing exponentially, and products and services need to be created and pushed out faster. Our organizations are simply not structured to deal with this. One very clear sign of this is the focus on the annual individual employee review—the very concept and practice already signals that employees are being analyzed as individuals, not as team members.
At Facebook, all the language used internally is focused on teams and not on specific individuals. In fact, job titles inside the company don’t really matter. All the business impact that Facebook sees is brought back down to the team level, and the company is constantly hosting team-building events and contests to help drive home this mentality. At Facebook, you are a part of a team.
Employees who don’t feel like they’re part of a team will be more reserved, conservative, and less inclined to share their ideas, to think outside the proverbial box, or to go above and beyond expectations to help others. When employees feel they are part of a team, they trust the organization and their coworkers more, which leads to more communication and collaboration.
To get your business out of the individual mindset, create teams based on needs and opportunities, not around organizational charts. Allow employees to be part of more than one team, and reward teams as a whole, not just the individual star performers. When you run your organization as team, everyone wins.
My new book, The Employee Experience Advantage (Wiley) analyzes over 250 global organizations to understand how to create a place where people genuinely want to show up to work. Get my free training series to create powerful Employee Experiences, future proof your career and life, or become a member of the new Facebook Community The Future If… and join the discussion.