Is your team­work fu­ture proof ?

An­drew Fieldhouse dis­cusses the im­por­tance of de­vel­op­ing the way your team works to­gether


It doesn’t take a guru to tell you the world is chang­ing, and fast. Pow­er­ful in­flu­encers like tech­nol­ogy (es­pe­cially ro­bot­ics and AI), so­cial me­dia and glob­al­i­sa­tion are in­flu­enc­ing every as­pect of hu­man ex­is­tence, with a di­rect im­pact on our work­force.

This change is be­com­ing ex­po­nen­tial, and sub­ject to Moore’s law – orig­i­nally coined for the semi­con­duc­tor in­dus­try, which ob­served a dou­bling in ca­pac­ity every 18 to 24 months. It is now be­ing

ap­plied across busi­ness struc­tures and prac­tices and it’s only go­ing to get faster.

One of the cru­cial pieces of ev­i­dence that sup­ports th­ese changes is Deloitte’s an­nual Global Hu­man Cap­i­tal Trends

Report, pub­lished for the fifth time ear­lier this year. The report high­lights what is hap­pen­ing in the busi­ness world, with ev­i­dence gar­nered from more than 10,000 sur­vey re­spon­dents in 140 coun­tries.

The report’s num­ber one pri­or­ity for the sec­ond year run­ning is or­gan­i­sa­tional de­sign – how busi­nesses are evolv­ing away from tra­di­tional, 20th Cen­tury hi­er­ar­chi­cal struc­tures to far more agile and re­spon­sive or­gan­isms suited to the fluid na­ture of life in the dig­i­tal age.

“The work­force is chang­ing,” opens the report. “It’s more dig­i­tal, more global, di­verse, au­toma­tion-savvy, and so­cial me­dia pro­fi­cient. At the same time, busi­ness ex­pec­ta­tions, needs, and de­mands are evolv­ing faster than ever be­fore.”

It goes on to talk about the op­por­tu­nity that this presents for busi­nesses, but there is a big prob­lem: the style of team work within busi­nesses is hold­ing back progress.

Why is this the case?

While all of this change is hap­pen­ing, hu­mans are work­ing with a set of hard­wired team dy­nam­ics that have gone un­changed for tens of thou­sands of years. We evolved as great col­lab­o­ra­tors with peo­ple we know, but with an in­grained fear of change and the un­known.

Change meant threat – quite lit­er­ally: the rustling in the bushes could have been a dan­ger­ous an­i­mal for most of hu­man his­tory. We de­vel­oped a strong re­sis­tance to any­thing we couldn’t con­trol or didn’t know. We work from an as­sump­tion of mistrust rather than choos­ing to trust strangers in­stantly, fear­ful of the im­pli­ca­tion that vul­ner­a­bil­ity presents.

With all of th­ese great op­por­tu­ni­ties we are dis­cov­er­ing also comes threat. If you don’t adapt, you will be left be­hind, and the con­se­quences are se­ri­ous. Deloitte’s report talks about “the ever in­creas­ing gap be­tween tech­no­log­i­cal so­phis­ti­ca­tion and the amount of work ac­tu­ally per­formed”. The cause? “We be­lieve the prob­lem comes down to hu­man cap­i­tal strate­gies – how busi­nesses or­gan­ise, man­age, de­velop and align peo­ple at work”.

Too of­ten, busi­nesses ne­glect to fo­cus en­ergy, time and money on what is ar­guably most im­por­tant – chang­ing the way your peo­ple work in teams in or­der to suc­cess­fully ride this wave of change. There’s no point de­vel­op­ing and har­ness­ing all this awe­some tech­nol­ogy if your big­gest re­source – your work­ers – is not go­ing to change with it.

With­out man­age­ment in­ter­ven­tion, per­son­nel will re­vert to the work­ing habits of mil­len­nia – habits not suited to the fast paced, agile and con­stantly chang­ing play­ing field where busi­nesses ex­ist today. Deloitte says: “Tech­nol­ogy is in­creas­ing at an ever faster rate while hu­man adaptability rises only at a slower, lin­ear rate”.

For busi­nesses in the GCC specif­i­cally, this is a dou­ble- edged sword. On one hand, com­pa­nies have the op­por­tu­nity to act be­fore this trend to­wards flex­i­bil­ity and agile teams re­ally takes hold in this re­gion, as busi­nesses here are mostly still run­ning on the old struc­tures and model of man­age­ment.

On the other hand, teams face tougher chal­lenges when it comes to cre­at­ing team co­he­sion and com­mit­ment than else­where. Fac­tors like the huge di­ver­sity of cul­tures and na­tion­al­i­ties, and the tran­sient, ex­pa­tri­ate na­ture of the work­force, with peo­ple com­ing and go­ing from work teams with greater fre­quency than else­where, make it hard enough to gel a team to­gether as it is.

Gulf busi­nesses there­fore need to take note and be pre­pared to help their work­ers and teams adapt to this new way of work­ing.

Never be­fore has it been more nec­es­sary to take an in­ter­est in and de­velop the team skills and prac­tices within an or­gan­i­sa­tion if com­pa­nies and their teams are to sur­vive and thrive in the dig­i­tal age.

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