In an interview with Harvard’s Amy Edmondson, the professor points out that today’s managers have to work with teams that cross distance, discipline and hierarchy—a task that doesn’t come naturally. She refers to the task as “extreme teaming,” arguing that with the complications of 24/7 global operations, more people than ever are required to collaborate outside the context of a formal team.
Edmondson is extremely cautious in her conclusions. For example, when asked why we’re seeing more extreme teaming, she responds, “beyond the increasingly globalized workplaces, there’s a recognition that we’re not always going to rely on vertical integration to solve all of our challenges. It sometimes just makes sense to team up with another organization to get something done.”
Note the language: “not always going to rely…” “increasingly globalized workplaces” “sometimes just makes sense.” That many caveats and qualifiers in just two sentences of 37 words including articles? Really? In medium-sized or large corporations, 90% of execution is cross-disciplinary. And in small tech firms, close to 95% of execution is cross-disciplinary.
There actually are hurdles, as the interviewer writes, “Many managers are not equipped with the skills to capture the full value of these multifaceted collaborations.” And what about the ordinary workers who are involved in all these cross-disciplinary teams?
Actually, team failures abound in virtually every organizational change. One recent study of 95 teams in 25 leading corporations found that nearly 75% of cross-functional teams are dysfunctional. Engineers don’t converse well with designers, marketing doesn’t converse well with development, and so on. It’s becoming rather clear that the real business of business is conversation. Yet few have these skills at the level necessary for today’s successful business person.
And what about the few that have these skills in spades?