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Dynamic Teams – We often get it wrong, but when we get it right.....

I was recently asked to write this piece on the nature and value of dynamic teams and when I sat down to write it, a number of words and phrases started to leap out of my mud-mapping brain;

  • agile teams
  • tribes
  • high performing
  • the A-team
  • team cohesion
  • synergies, collaboration
  • flat- structures.

We can add dynamic collaboration and whatever other phrase you think fits. But you get my drift. We have, for want of a better phrase, been to this rodeo before.

The Secret Sauce of Dynamic Teams

There is no deep mystery, secret sauce or witchcraft to creating a “team” that displays a level of cohesion, drive and candour that help create an environment where failure is not feared, rather where testing and failing are expected and therefore space is made for it. Failure is expected – if you are not failing, you are not learning and if you are not learning, then you aren’t pushing yourself, your team, and the company forward. But yes, these are just words. Because for all the talk about candour or transparency in the workplace and pulling brilliant minds together for great outcomes, it often has mixed results. And in my experience the mixed results are from not having fully committed to the model. Think of all the “innovation” projects we start in the office and never get to finish, or the “half-baked” commitments that can be made in a business unit, where we simply stop ourselves from going all the way, because we are hesitant to share information or be vulnerable when it comes to our thoughts in the office environment.

Building a Dynamic Team

My starting point for a successful “dynamic team” is that you have to commit 100% to the development of what it takes to build your squad. Another big mistake we can often see, when we think we are creating a dynamic team, is that we create a team that brings us comfort and a team that is loyal and creates a boundary. This often happens when a new leader enters an organisation. We’ve all been part of a company or a business unit that when a new leader comes in, so does a steady stream of new “talent”. Talent that’s worked with the new leader before. Talent that acts as the eyes and ears of the new leader. This is not the A-team, these are cleaners. A team sent in to assess who stays and who goes.

In my experience the best example I can provide of what a “dynamic team” is that of the ‘Squad Model’. A squad in common parlance is a group of people pulled together for a critical mission. We might identify them as a sports team or even a team with a military focus [special forces]. It is a team made up of different people with different skill-sets, strengths and styles and they only come together for the specific assignment - once the assignment is completed, the team goes back to their “day jobs”.  As marketing thought leader Seth Godin describes a squad/tribe - "A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea."

Your Squad or Tribe

I’ll go further than Seth Godin's description and explain why we have to get out of our own way in order to ensure our squad is able to deliver:

  1. Permission - to create an environment where dynamic teams can thrive. Accept that at different times throughout the year, different groups of people will be pulled together to execute on a unique deliverable. Individuals will move in and out of organised teams.
  2. Variety & Difference [not one and the same] – the best squads, might have a common goal to unite them, but they come from different departments and bring different capabilities to the newly formed squad. They also bring diversity of thought through their different lived experiences; be that through their profession or otherwise.
  3. Celebrate the wins….and as Netflix would say ‘sunshine the failure’ – squads ensure the wins are noted, acknowledged and celebrated. They also ensure they take what knowledge they can from them and ensure its recorded so it can be replicated. Perhaps more importantly though, they talk about what went wrong, openly. This means being prepared to be vulnerable in your squad and in the broader organisation. If an idea didn’t work, why didn’t it? Share what was learnt, do not file it away never to be discussed again.
  4. Cohesion – squads rally behind each other, there is a common goal that binds them together, and they know that they get to the end-point only if they have each other’s back. They focus on cohesion amongst their team, even when disagreements arise. A disagreement isn’t a “derailing’, rather it’s an opportunity to pull something apart and put it back together again, better. The squad creates space for everyone within the group, so ideas can be tested.
  5. Straight-talking – squads understand that the best outcomes come from creating an environment where candour or straight-talking is encouraged. It not only saves time and expedites discussion, it also ensures hierarchy doesn’t get in the way of ideas, and ideas being challenged.
  6. Finally start small – identify a project that needs a variety of talents, but that can move forward without significant impact or disruption. The first squad is often the first test for the conditions we’ve noted here as being critical to setting up this squad or dynamic team. Use it as an opportunity for  your company or business unit to test their appetite for this new way of engaging team members to deliver outcomes. Because if you can’t get the foundations right, then go back to paragraph 2 and my point about half-baked.

Be Courageous to Create

In a year’s time, there will be a new phrase bandied about that means more or less the same thing. The point here is not so much the team itself, but whether the business or the leader of the business has the courage to open up the business environment for dynamic teams to exist alongside the 'Business As Usual' environment. The outcomes can be astonishing - not just in terms of the work product, but in observing the interaction and evolution of teamwork within the organisation itself. It provides an opportunity for development for your team, great outcomes for the organisation and an environment where knowledge sharing and ideation are part of the fabric or DNA of the organisation.

Natasha Norton