The ability to collaborate, communicate, and work effectively in teams are some of the competencies most in demand by employers today. However, companies are not preparing people adequately for these
mutually cooperative functions. Susan Adams writes this in Forbes:
Can you work well on a team, make decisions and solve problems? Those are the skills employers most want when they are deciding which new college graduates to hire. The next-most-important skill: ability to communicate verbally with people inside and outside an organization. Employers also want new hires to have technical knowledge related to the job, but that’s not nearly as important as good teamwork, decision-making and communication skills, and the ability to plan and prioritize work.
Sodexo’s 2017 Global Workplace Trends Report summarizes research that points to collaboration and teamwork as critical to the workplace today. The report explains the critical importance of organizations having agility and that the key to agility is having common goals and working in teams to achieve those goals. The authors write:
An agile mindset embraced by management fosters adoption throughout an organization; once adopted, agility yields benefits both inside and outside. To get there, businesses can set their sights on three principal characteristics:
- A common orientation toward organizational goals
- An emphasis on teamwork
- A principle of adaptive performance
The Sodexo report points out that teamwork has been important for a long time but that now employees across organizations and across generations must be committed to collaborating for the purpose of flexibility, adaptability, and speed, characteristics of any successful, 21rst Century organization.
In the Knowledge Economy, cross-functional teamwork is how work gets done. It's no longer about managing hands, as was the case in the Industrial Economy; today it's about managing minds. That means helping people become more competent, capable, and engaged in contributing to the success of the organization. It’s about maximizing the collective intelligence of people which is why work is done in teams more now than ever.
Workplaces are being designed to facilitate collaboration and teamwork. Open spaces, flexible work areas, and smart offices are all contributing to a culture that supports work in teams as needed. This is quite a change from the Industrial Economy standard of private offices for executives and cubicles for everyone else.
However, even with this awareness that much of the work that needs to be done today needs to be done in teams, we don’t do a very good job of preparing people for this role. Pulling people out of the workplace for training in teamwork, is not the best way to learn about collaboration and teamwork in our fast-paced world. Part of the problem is the way leaders think about learning in organizations. As Elizabeth Doty writes in strategy+business:
"...leaders tend to think of learning too narrowly — equating it with training, mentoring, or “constructive feedback” during performance reviews. But all of these are inputs that may or may not correlate with the results we want to create...If you want to accelerate learning on your team, first engage them in a meaningful challenge, then design a feedback system that enables them to learn naturally, every day."
The Economist warns us about the downside to collaboration. When it is not done well, attempts at collaboration can eat up precious time trying to connect with others and meetings can be a waste of time. True! But this is why people need help developing their collaboration and communication skills, so that they minimize unproductive communication and maximize productive collaboration and teamwork.
Training departments can explain the need and lay the groundwork for good communication, collaboration, and teamwork skills, but it is up to managers to help employees hone these abilities in the context of the workplace. Managers need to create ways (with the help of learning professionals) of developing good collaboration and teamwork in their work groups. These are learnable abilities that require a continuous process of feedback and reflection.