The Future Team
Posted on 30th January 2022 at 17:18
Teams are broken. We can keep pretending they're not, but they are.
We’re firefighting this all the time. Absence. Poor performance. Presenteeism. Retention. The ‘great resignation’ of the 2020s (and beyond…). Profits declining. Profits increasing but at the expense of reputation and likely even common decency.
All symptoms. Constantly patching a symptom creates new problems, moving the pressure to previously unseen cracks. And these cracks are everywhere. The mundane teams, the okay-performing teams, and the high-performing teams - all are susceptible to succumbing to symptom overload.
When individuals break it puts pressure on the team. When teams break it’s likely the whole organisation won’t be far behind them.
Teams don’t want to be broken. Team’s want to thrive. Often though, the requirement to simply survive overwhelms.
We’ve tried to help. We’ve spent decades investing in the problems, yet this is also part of the problem. As let’s be honest, we’ve not invested in teams have we. Our focus has been somewhere else. We’ve talked ourselves into believing we’re helping teams, but in reality we’ve added to the breakage. We took one member of the team and decided that they were the team’s salvation. That if we invested our time, energy, and a tonne of money by pretty much every assessment of organisational learning and development spend, on one person, then we can heal the breaks.
Sounds crazy, but this is exactly what we’ve done by focusing on leaders for decades now. An almost exclusive focus. And it’s not worked. We’re spending more and more money on leaders, yet the stats show that every negative indicator of a team’s struggles are going up.
In 2019 Deloittes recorded 19.9 million working days lost in the UK due to mental-health. Gallup research in 2020 showed that 71% of millennials aren’t engaged in their work. And a comprehensive Mind Matters report in 2021 showed that presenteeism (where people show up for work when they shouldn’t and so are unproductive) accounted for a loss of somewhere between €255 and €304 billion euros across Europe every year.
What we are doing to address these issues isn’t enough. More money is being lost that ever before. More people are disengaging in something that takes up at least a third of their life. And we continue to hurt people.
We can’t just keep doing the same things to fix these problems.
We need to go even deeper. We need to go beyond placing the responsibility for solving this on the shoulders of a group of people we call ‘leaders’ and reengage with everyone who has a stake in this - the whole team.
Leaders may have a foot in the door as far as starving towards solutions, but often they are simply acting as a door stop, unable to see what’s really trying it’s best to slam the door in their face.
This isn’t to say what’s being done isn’t helpful - team training, some wellness courses thrown in here and there - but it’s not enough. And what doesn’t help is that it usually comes from outside the team. Designed to tackle symptoms rather than root causes.
We’ve even come to expect the solutions to come from the outside. Media, articles, books, all talk about leaders as if they are the salvation of any organisation. We’re taught to revere leaders. To strive to be one. To lead. But by definition a leader stands apart. In many organisations they stand apart intentionally.
This them and us environment is a primary reason to why teams are broken. The makers, shakers or process, policy and practice have kept them broken for the sake of their egos. It protects the status quo. It justifies the climb to their position, their decisions and, importantly, their sacrifices. It makes leaders feel special simply for leading.
It’s time to stop focusing on leaders.
We absolutely need to invest in leadership - it’s a critical skill, and ironically one we need to invest more in - but it’s time to stop restricting it to certain roles and job titles. There’s already enough support for a future organisation to figure out the best way to benefit from leadership. It’s time to place our attention somewhere other than leaders.
We need to refocus on where the ability to observe, mend, and grow truly exists: In the heart of every member of a team, no matter the job title.
We need to have conversations that connect, reconnect, and engage in useful, safe, exciting ways - no matter the work. Growth is no longer just for certain job titles anymore. It’s not even just for professional growth anymore. It’s time to accept that we want more. We want professional growth AND personal growth. And, dare I say it, spiritual growth - the opportunity and space to see why we’re doing something, what meaning it has, and reflect on whether that’s what we truly want.
We need ways to go wide with all of this for the team, and then come back to the unique, special, and amazing individuals of each and every team in an organisation.
The expertise and the desire to use this to create an impact needs to come from inside the team. It may need help being seen and heard. It may need help articulating what it knows and needs to know. It may even need inspiring, kickstarting, and the odd challenging question - yet that can all still come from inside. Somewhere closer to the problems and possibilities.
What we are doing right now within organisations isn’t working. We’re bringing wellness into the work place, yet absence numbers and the cost to health services across the world as a result of workplace burnout are only going up. We talk about offering more flexibility at work to appeal to more employees, yet we are seeing mass resignations as people aren’t getting what they truly want from the roles they are in. We’re seeing flexibility introduced as incentives to stay somewhere, yet presentism and the loss to opportunities and the bottom line is hardly even acknowledge in the majority of companies.
We need to do something different. We need to do more than just pay lip service to the one area that is truly suffering in all this. If we don’t do this, teams will continue to struggle. Value will slip. Positive impacts on the world will be missed. People will continue to be hurt.
It’s time to mend out teams. It’s time to stop relying on something external to where to power actually sits. It’s time to create a team that’s looks, acts and feels powerful because it’s built from the inside out.
This is the Future Team.
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