Collaborative teamwork is certainly not a new thing in the
business world, but how teams are used and how they function
is changing. In this report, the term incorporates a number of
characteristics. Interviewees often use the term “virtual teams”
in describing them, although they involve more than mere
In this new organization, teams break down rigid structures,
environments in which people work in role-based,
cross-departmental, cross-functional and international groups.
Knowledge sharing is fundamental to how these teams operate,
and their success hinges on effectively using the expertise of each
member. Teams are by their nature flexible and open to change.
While there will always be standard operating procedures, and
the need to show results will always be preeminent, teams must
have a degree of self-management to be successful.
This autonomy means organizations can put more energy into
innovation and less into bureaucracy. As a result, less – but more
relevant – communication is shared. Executives who have played
midwife to this change say it boosts productivity, reduces errors
and helps retain high-quality talent at all levels.
When successfully deployed, these teams combine the strengths
of small start-ups and of large, mature organizations: nimble,
entrepreneurially minded teams are sheltered in the midst of
big, stable companies. They can spot and respond to market
developments more rapidly than can conventional large
organizations, and they are able to throw more resources at
opportunities and errors than small outfits can.
These teams have elements of social networking. Both involve
self-organization and groups that are focused on shared interests,
and both depend on frictionless, informal communications.
Custom-made analogues of Facebook, Wikipedia and Twitter, as
well as high-definition, high-bandwidth telepresence systems,
which allow people in different locations to feel as if they are in
the same room, weave teams together
formation of more virtual and collaborative teams. Throughout the report these
leaders are compared with companies that expect to garner benefits from new work
structures either within a year or more, or not at all. Those firms are classified as “all
others” in the charts throughout the report.
The research also shows, however, that there is no single model for such teams, nor
a single best path to implement them. How they are deployed reflects a company’s
tolerance for decentralization, shared decision-making, collaborative innovation and
change itself. Some firms create teams at strategic points, straddling marketing and
production or research and development and legal, for example. Others integrate
them deeply into the organization’s fabric.
While one might think that the digital generation – the Millennials – would be the
main driver for this sort of change in companies, the research shows that they are
not playing that role. This may reflect the current economic environment, in which
labor is abundant. What matters more than age is mindset: Companies are adopting
a variety of tools and collaborative methods because they increase competitiveness,
not necessarily to attract or retain a specific employee demographic. Nevertheless,
organizations that are at the forefront of this transition may be better positioned to
attract new workers when economic growth tightens labor markets.
To implement collaborative virtual teams, organizations must overcome several
hurdles, including resistance to change and the risks born of greater openness.
Executives must be sure that the teams are well coordinated and do not work at crosspurposes.
And although companies that have embraced these teams say they are
integral to their organizations’ operations, they do not have quantifiable measures
of their impact. Developing a set of metrics to prove the value of collaborative virtual
teams is among the main challenges to their widespread adoption. Executives who are
able to quantify results will gain credibility to lead their companies’ transformation.