Transformation is a team sport

Like many organisations intent on using new (digital) technologies to improve business performance, we've got a strapline running that 'Transformation is a team sport'. The 'rules' of the sport include three that are particularly relevant to organisation design:

1. Working across silos: 'knowing that your customers care less about the different lines-of-business within your company; they simply care about a consistent user experience'. To get to this means structure, systems, process and measurement changes, not to mention associated cultural changes.
2. Leadership evolving to accompany transformation: this can be a stretch when leaders see nothing as 'broken', but have yet to be convinced that what they do see is anachronistic. To help leaders evolve means steering a careful course that avoids the sensitivities that something is 'wrong' instead offering a low risk suggestion that opportunities are being missed. It requires sets of subtle approaches and not a big bang transformation approach.
3. Recognising that 'business transformation is not just about use of mobile, social, cloud and analytics solutions, but also about the entire ecosystem of connections (systems and people), starting with employees'. This means involving employees in the transformation work a 'movement not mandate' approach that is counter-cultural in many organisations.

During the week I was working with a group discussing how we could act on the strapline and three questions each related to one of the rules above arose:

Working across silos: Perhaps predictably, we started on the question 'What is a team?' When we are thinking about 'transformation as a team sport' are we thinking of the whole organisation or are we thinking of multiple teams aka small work groups? Alan Mulally successfully created the concept of 'One Ford' and it's well worth reading the article on how during his tenure as CEO he transformed Ford into a successful company. Depending on the definition ot 'team' comes the ability – or not – to transform.

At one extreme, if we are thinking of 'team' as work groups whose performance is monitored by competitive league tables then we are not going to get transformation. At the other extreme if we are thinking of the whole organisation as one team a lot has to change, as Mulally recognised, to initiate, nurture and embed that concept.

Leadership evolution: Secondly, people wanted to know how we change the culture from one of leadership command and control to one of colleague autonomy and accountability. Here Margaret Heffernan offers some interesting views on social connectedness which involves activities aimed at exploring and acknowledging the interdependence of people in delivering a service and building the bonds that helped to make them willing to work together in search of better ideas and decisions.

Whole ecosystem: In connection with all the people within the ecosystem, came a question about the 'team sport' notion which they thought seems to reinforce stereotypes of winning and losing as well as stereotypes of who plays team sports (young and healthy people in uniform team clothing). Just to check on the stereotypes I googled images for 'team sports' – see what comes up when you do it. Organisations interested in diversity and inclusion may need to think carefully about the messages they maybe unwittingly giving when using sporting analogies. (I'm reading Iris Bohnet's book What Works: Gender Equality by Design that picks up on stereotypes and unconscious bias).

What's your view of the risks and opportunities inherent in the banner 'Transformation is a team sport'? Let me know.

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