As organisations become increasingly digital, they face a growing imperative to redesign themselves to move faster, adapt quicker and embrace the dynamic career of a younger talent pool.

A critical part of adapting to the digital world of work is moving to replace hierarchical organisational structures with models where work is accomplished in teams. 

According to the Deloitte 2017 Global Human Capital Trends report, only 14% of executives believe that the traditional organisational model – with hierarchical job levels based on expertise in a specific area – makes their business highly effective. In its place, leading companies are pushing toward a more flexible, team-centric model.

Deloitte describes this new mode of an organisation as ‘a network of teams’ with a high degree of empowerment, robust communication and rapid information flow. Moreover, it’s sweeping organisations around the globe.

Top companies are built around systems that encourage teams to interconnect and to share information transparently. Also, individuals need to be able to move from team to team, depending on the issue they need to address.

FIGURE: The organisation of the future: Arriving now 2017 Global Human Capital Trends.

The importance of teams in the world of work cannot be overstated. Teams exist in every organisation; most people will work within a team structure throughout their careers.  Despite the growth of teams and teamwork in the modern organisation, a curiously low number of companies emphasises the importance of high-performing teams – or Elite Teams – as a decisive capability required for business success.

Merely working as a group doesn’t automatically translate into working as a team. Real teamwork binds an assortment of individuals into a superorganism with a collective function. The team’s focus transcends into a living, breathing biorhythm powered by collaboration, communication and acknowledgement of common purpose.

As each team member’s potential is added as an ingredient, the collective cup starts running over with synergy. Team members’ greatest strengths are concentrated at the right time to achieve the objective at hand.  

With the right leadership at the helm, this high-functioning group evolves into an Elite Team. Each member cultivates fundamental confidence in their ability – as well as in that of their teammates – when pulled together. Team leaders examine individual strengths and place people in roles where they are likely to thrive and provide the most value.

Each member’s fortes are being fully utilised. Their roles within the team are aligned to fit their expertise. (Along these lines, research even suggests the concept of engineering the work to fit the available talent.)

This alignment does not happen by chance: leaders need to assess and profile each team member individually.  Profiles include not only strengths but also weaknesses and ways to grow their developmental areas.

The Elite Team is now an interdependent group of stable, role-defined individuals who share mutual trust, values, responsibility and a clear focus on a common goal. This powerhouse can outperform in anticipated productivity.  Each individual is a crucial cog in the supermachine. This collective pool of potencies is a safety net to catch and replace individual weaknesses. 

In essence, team members are more likely to reach their full potential by being part of this team.

Does this hold in all circumstances? Are there situations when opting for a  single star performer over a well-functioning team is warranted?

In 2006, researchers Robert Huckman and Gary Pisano from Harvard Business School set out to determine these answers. Choosing a high-stakes scenario as the backdrop to their research questions, they put cardiac surgeons’ success under the spotlight.

The research measured the success rates of more than 200 cardiac surgeons working in 43 different hospitals, explicitly examining the patient survival rates of highly experienced (freelancing) cardiac surgeons compared to those of surgical teams.

Huckman and Pisano analysed more than 38 000 procedures. Their findings were astonishing.

It turns out that the performance of individual heart specialists did improve significantly with practice and experience – but only at the hospitals where they usually worked.

When the same surgeons left their familiar teams to scrub up at a different hospital, their success rates returned to baseline.

This study suggests that working within a close-knit team of colleagues helps develop interactive routines that harness the unique talents of each team member.

Huckman and Pisano concluded that elite performance is not as portable as previously thought and is more a function of the “familiarity that a surgeon develops with the assets of a given organisation.” Decoded, this means that even the star performers can only shine with the support of their colleagues and within the context of a high-functioning team.


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