Tony Ren has been Head of Impact China since 2009, working with clients across APAC to understand their business needs and implementing people development programmes. In this article Tony discusses what he’s been noticing lately.
Emerging themes in 2023
Across APAC, I’m having conversations with clients who want help dealing with organisational challenges as they return from Covid. Managing cultural alignment and building relationships are core, but time is short and results are needed yesterday. The demand for blended and face-to-face programmes is growing as fast as the fatigue we all have for online meetings.
'I need help now'
C-suite and senior leaders are working to shorter and shorter deadlines. When business results are required within 6–8 weeks, there isn’t time to slowly grow a team; direct action is needed. I regularly ask these leaders ‘if you don’t have time to develop a high-performing team now, then when?’
We know the key ingredients to a high-performing team aren’t created overnight. Strong relationships, trust, psychological safety, an in-depth understanding of strengths and needs: these are human, cultural assets that are built up with experience and effort. But to meet the demands of today’s business environment, an accelerated approach to team development is becoming more common.
Reshaping teams with less resource, support and time
There are several reasons why leaders are aiming to accelerate team development. The ease of global movement, high turnover, and low engagement means many teams are partly or even predominantly comprised of new employees. Secondly, increasingly complex problems require increasingly agile, collaborative responses and that means cross-functional teams. These teams could be made up of individuals from different parts of the business who have never worked together or even met before. Meanwhile, the pace of change and disruption is only increasing, and the challenges these teams are facing will not wait.
All too regularly, senior leaders are finding themselves heading up a new, fragmented team required to respond to a multifaceted business need – quickly.
How to accelerate your approach
So, what are the practical realities of accelerating team development? Here is our three-step process:
1. Create the need for change
The fundamental starting point is noticing the need for change and taking action. Ideally (and most commonly, in our experience), this comes from the leader of the team, department or organisation. But leadership action can and should emerge from anywhere. This change agent provokes the rest of the team to look up from their individual tasks and agendas and notice the issue. They can highlight what will be lost if nothing changes and things continue unaddressed. I would often work 1:1 with this individual to clarify the outcomes required from the team, and the skills and behaviours that will drive this.
2. Align to purpose and context
Once the need for change has been established, the most basic ingredient of the team needs to be addressed: its purpose. A clear, unified purpose is the very reason that the team exists. Purpose brings teams together, regardless of individuals’ backgrounds, skills, experiences, and working styles. The extent to which the team get behind this purpose reflects how well it has been communicated and understood.
Another aspect on which the team must be aligned is their broader context. This means having a collective understanding of the internal and external landscapes they’re operating in: what the industry, organisational and team challenges are, what the risks are, and what the stakeholder expectations are. Without this alignment, teams can become siloed, isolated, or fragmented. They can even find themselves inadvertently working against broader organisational objectives.
I have supported organisations through this process by bringing team members together for a half-day facilitated workshop, during which they reflect honestly on where the team is at and what the need for change is.
3. Have courage to take action
Having originally provoked the change, it is vital that the leader empowers all team members to become agents of this change. This starts with helping them to build personal plans of action. In situations of urgency, the best kind of action plan is a punchy one: a short-term plan that provides clear structure whilst facilitating agility through regular reviews and the flexibility to adapt to challenges as they unfold.
Empowering people to become agents of change also requires providing solid means of support, such as peer support mechanisms, whereby team members can help each other, catalysing relationship building and learning. Providing coaching and regular feedback are also important methods of support, enabling people to develop and stimulating learning in real time.
If not now, then when?
In this volatile business landscape, leaders cannot afford to ignore poor team cohesion or performance. If you don’t have time now, then when will you? Try our simple three-step process to accelerate your team performance.