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Is your teamwork future proof?

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.

Andrew Fieldhouse is a speaker, writer, blogger, advisor and founder of The Team Space

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