The reinvention of teamwork

Technology gives us the power to communicate, collaborate and learn across great divides – but ultimately, it remains a tool. The real key to 21st-century business success is teamwork, writes Graham Winter

The reinvention of teamwork

Business Strategy


Disruption is the buzzword of business.

And why wouldn’t it be, when tech-centric companies like Amazon, Uber, Netflix and Twitter are transforming the way we shop, travel, play and communicate?

Perhaps your business is trying to disrupt itself. If not, then you can be sure that someone else’s is, and chances are they’re doing it with quite different teamwork practices than what you treat as the norm.

Is it technology that’s making the difference inside these disruptive companies? Yes, to the extent that product technology supports their exponential growth. However, inside the company, everyone has the same access to pretty much the same technology at the same time, everywhere. It’s cheap, easy to use and mobile. And let’s remember that instant messaging, email, smartphones, video, collaboration software and the like are tools – and tools only.

Where’s the difference?

Share and share alike 
There’s a clue in the common purpose of many of these new technologies: to facilitate the sharing of information.

Indeed, this is exactly why the Internet was invented in the first place. Social media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are popular because people like to share. We have social brains, and our evolution has programmed us to connect (because it saved our early ancestors from the disruption of sabre-toothed tigers). Even Daniel Goleman, the acclaimed thought leader in emotional intelligence, now speaks of social intelligence.

We are genetically wired to engage and share with others and, in doing so, to adapt and respond and learn, which is precisely what the disruptive teams in places like Uber and Dropbox are doing so brilliantly. And they’re doing it with the help (and at times hindrance) of new technologies.

Here are six things you can do to lead your team to be disruptors, or at least nimble adaptors.

1 Find the secret
We live in an age of information overload, bombarded with data 24/7. 

We are most certainly sharing, and it’s on a global scale that’s faster, more frequent and, some would argue, less meaningful than ever before. The importance of focus can’t be underestimated, as we must navigate through the distraction of always being ‘on.’ 

The better performers in this digital world derive their focus from the core belief that it’s not so much which collaborative technology they use to share information (the tools are very similar), but whom they share it with and what they (collectively) do with it.

Fast disruptors know that technology can be duplicated, but there is one thing that can’t be. In a disruptive world, the secret to success remains what it was thousands of years ago: the ability of people to work together toward a shared purpose. In a word, teamwork – but a more fluid and flexible style that suits a world that has seen its boundaries shatter in the face of globalization.

2 Make the secret scalable
While technology and globalization continue to disrupt the business landscape, they are not reinventing teamwork in their wake, but rather scaling it as a capability and culture.

The typical company circa 2016 has people dispersed across multiple locations and issues arising at the speed of light, which is why teamwork makes the business more than the sum of its parts. Great teamwork scaled across the business makes anything possible.

This is why a national 2014 employment survey in the US, as reported by Forbes, found that the skill employers looked for in their new recruits was the ability to work in a team structure. The second most important skill was the ability to communicate verbally with people inside and outside an organization.

3 Accelerate and share the learning
Business has always been a team sport, and there are many good reasons for this; however, one now stands alone as pivotal to organization survival and success.

Business is consumer-driven (or more specifically, customer-experience-driven), which means our teams must be agile, innovative and constantly learning how to optimize that experience for a customer who has abundant choice.

Shared learning is the key, because working alone or in silos of expertise reduces learning,growth and creativity. When there is no one to challenge us, we simply don’t leverage our experience and ideas.

4 Escape the gravity of hierarchy and structure
Daniel Pink, acclaimed business thought leader, argues that we are now in the Conceptual Age, in which right-brain thinking reigns supreme. There is much evidence for this. 

Pink talks of the necessity for organizational symphony: through empathy, intuition, play and meaning. The disruptive companies are enterprises more than organizations, unencumbered by the gravity of organizational hierarchy, process and division.

They play like they’re in the Age of the Entrepreneur: risk-ready, nimble, wellconnected folk who thrive on change.

5 Harness the power of the whole team
The leaders of the most successful disruptive companies share their vision and move others to see it, too. They’re marvellous storytellers, connecting with others, who in turn connect with them. They inspire people to think as one team, to move as one team and to learn as one team.

Think of a flock of migrating geese, which always fly in a V formation. Geese innately know the secret to great teamwork. They have a common destination and work in perfect unison. When a goose drops out of the V formation, it quickly discovers that it requires a great deal more effort and energy.

Geese help each other, too. When a goose gets sick or wounded, two geese drop out of the formation and follow their fellow member down to help provide protection. They stay with this member of the flock until he or she is either able to fly again or dies. Then they launch out on their own, creating another formation, or they catch up with their own flock.

6 Share the truth
The disruptors share the reality. They are not afraid of the truth. In fact, what they fear most are hidden agendas, silos and the status quo. As in professional sports, they make sure the whole team knows whether they have won or lost and why. The focus is always on what is best for the business, even if getting to the marrow of this takes some tough conversations. The leaders insist that they be challenged. They embrace feedback and tap into the power of their people, because a good idea can come from anywhere.

Make the secret yours
Technology gives us the power to communicate, collaborate and learn across great divides. Very few of us do this well. To prosper in today’s markets takes real teamwork, and we are just beginning to harness technology to this end. Beware those who see technology as an end itself. Technology is the vehicle. It is who you take along for the ride and how you use the technology to share the challenges and opportunities that make the real difference. This is what it’s really all about. 

Graham Winter is the bestselling author of Think One Team. Learn more at www. 

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