A diverse group of SIOP members are serving as Trend Champions for the people-related work trends that SIOP members collaboratively predicted to be the most impactful in 2021. Each Trend Champion has expertise in and professional passion for their trend subject. SIOP appreciates their service to the profession in providing quarterly updates on their chosen topics.
Find the full list of topics and links to the other Top 10 Work Trends here.
We’re (Virtually) a Team!
Teamwork in the Digital Space
COVID-19 has forced most teams to go virtual and adapt to new ways of working, but whether teams have improved or even met employers’ expectations over the past 18 months is a different matter. A high performing virtual team can be defined as one that achieves sustained superior results, adapts well to changing situations, and improves over time.
Three things are needed to enable virtual teams to become high performing, and they are rather like what one needs to embark on a cross-country road trip: 1) a map – adopting a common framework for building virtual teams; 2) a GPS – getting benchmarking feedback on team dynamics and performance; and 3) a method of transportation – employing tools that improve how teams perform.
A good team framework is like a roadmap, in that it lays out what route teams need to take to become high performing. If ten people are asked how to build high performing virtual teams, then they will likely provide ten different answers. Frameworks should accurately describe what teams need to do to in order to excel, be supported by research, apply to a wide variety of team types (e.g., launching new teams, combining teams, fixing broken teams, groups rather than teams, or virtual teams), and be easy for teams to understand. Some of the most popular team models fail to meet these four criteria. Better team frameworks include the Rocket Model or the 7C Model. Adopting a framework is a critical first step toward building high performing virtual teams.
So a team gets their roadmap – they know the landscape and route to take to succeed. But where are they now, and just how far away are they from their desired goals? Teams need their GPS: What are they doing well, what isn’t going well, and how do they compare to other teams? Collecting data on team dynamics and performance, aligned with the adopted team framework, is essential to this process; identifying strengths and improvement areas so they know where they are and where they’re going.
Finally, road trips need a mode of transportation –some are highly reliable whereas others may need a few repairs. Likewise, some virtual teams are operating fairly well and only need minor adjustments; others need a major overhaul to move beyond first gear. And just as mechanics use the right tools for repairs, so should team leaders and facilitators implement the right activities to improve teams. Team performance data should determine which tools to use, and they ought to address targeted team issues and help teams do real work. Popular team building activities such as ropes courses, games, and sharing personality traits or types are not particularly effective, and may even reduce remote worker engagement.
Great road trips take planning and data (ask anyone who’s followed an old map into a river!); great virtual teams need the same. Our I-O skills are needed in the virtual team world now more than ever.
Generally speaking, virtual and co-located teams must meet three criteria to be considered high performing: First, they need to achieve sustained superior results. Benchmarking is critically important to high performing teams, and this leads to two key questions for virtual team leaders: (1) Has your team routinely achieved its goals over the past six months; and (2) How does your team’s performance compare to other teams? Second, high performing teams are adaptable. The Coronavirus pandemic has been a great test of the adaptability criterion, as some teams have been able to achieve more despite the challenges of working remotely whereas the performance of others has greatly diminished or ceased entirely over the past 20 months. The key adaptability question for team leaders: Did your team die, survive, or thrive during the pandemic? Third, high performing teams become more capable over time. Team performance increases because of teamwork and taskwork improvements. A key capability question for team leaders: Is your team more capable now than it was before the pandemic?
Many virtual teams have struggled to meet these standards. With the increasing popularity of “Boomerang Workers” on teams, it will be even more important to consider what makes teams work in a virtual environment. Feitosa and Salas have provided empirical suggestions, andl Harvard Business Review chimes in with ideas as well. The next quarter will likely be defined by how many companies return to “business as usual”, with fully in-person work, as well as how organizations and teams navigate hybrid models of work.
The Coronavirus pandemic has fundamentally changed the world of work. Those who used to commute to offices are now working from home, and this shift has had a major impact on team dynamics and performance. Team members can no longer discuss projects with each other over lunch or coordinate activities during informal hallway interactions. Some are juggling work with simultaneously educating their children at home. New hires have been unable to meet fellow team members in person, and after a year many teams are suffering from Zoom fatigue and burnout.
Groups and teams are fundamental structures for organizing work, and larger organizations are made up of thousands of teams. But if organizations are made up of teams, and believe teamwork to be important, then why are so few teams high performing? Although every organization wants effective teamwork, they inadvertently do things to prevent it from happening. New research from SIOP members Stephanie Zajac, Scott Tannenbaum and Edward Salas offers teams tips for success, including the value of psychological safety, trust, adaptability, and resilience. In addition, the ability to build high performing teams is rarely featured in leadership competency models. As a result, according to SIOP member CGordy Curphy, organizations do not recruit, select, on-board, develop, evaluate, promote, or reward leaders on their ability to build teams.
Organizations can go a long way towards improving the base rate of high performing virtual teams by adopting these practices. Virtual team leaders can learn a common model for building teams, get benchmarking feedback on current team dynamics and performance, and be taught tools to improve virtual team performance. For this to happen, organizations need to get beyond wishful thinking and be more deliberate about fostering effective teamwork. In Q2, look for this trend to pop again as organizations contemplate return-to-work strategies that will put team leaders in the hot seat for managing a hybrid team environment.
Champion: Gordy Curphy, PhD
Gordy Curphy helps C-suite, business unit, and functional leaders develop business strategies; implement major change initiatives; hire, develop, and promote leadership talent; and build high performing teams. Taking a scientist-practitioner approach to leadership, Gordy has spent the past 30+ years researching, teaching, practicing, and providing consulting advice on leadership. He has written 23 books, numerous articles and book chapters, and sold over 100,000 copies of the number one selling textbook Leadership: Enhancing the Lessons of Experience (10th Ed.). He is also the architect of The Rocket Model®, The Rocket Model: Practical Advice for Building High Performing Teams, Ignition: A Guide to Building High Performing Teams, and the Team Assessment Survey®--tools intended to help improve teamwork across the globe.
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