Great Organisations Are Built Around Great Teams
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Leadership, as it must be, is strategic. It's to step back, see the big picture and, to the extent possible, create tomorrow in the room, today. Covid is but one piece of a chaotic and ever changing political, economic, societal, business and interconnected leadership puzzle. At the centre of all of this is 'the team' … a basic and fundamental blueprint for organisational and personal success.

What follows is intended as a practical guide for:

  1. Setting the scene for a virtual team.
  2. A new or established leader who needs to take the team to the next level.
  3. The executive who feels that, as the organisation navigates the turbulent waters of change, the team is losing its impact.
  4. The HR executive, division head or external recruitment specialist (e.g., the executive search consultant) who, in orchestrating team fit, needs to understand the team they are hiring into.
  5. A manager or external resource faced with the challenge of coaching the team.

Read "Great Organisations Are Built Around Great Teams" leadership insights

Leadership And Discontinuous Change

The three scenarios

Agility and its companion, learning, represent a journey, not a destination: a journey covering three Territories, (T1 - instruction, T2 - exploration, T3 - play); a journey dependent upon the right leadership; a journey punctuated by inherent discontinuity.

The three scenarios portray how learning unfolds in virtually every walk of life. Much as one might peel an onion, beneath agility and learning lies individual and, by implication, the team's mindset: how each of us interprets the world - the mental model we access to define reality. Our assumptions about work and organisational success frame our behaviour.

To survive in the white-water we have entered demands culture savvy and, above all else, an ability to quickly appraise and respond to the ever-changing world around us. The new reality? Personal survival is ultimately about how resilient and agile we are as a leader. And resilience isn't simply about "bouncing back." It means coming out of a world shaking event like COVID-19 even stronger.

Traditional hierarchy

The journey from T1 to T2 and then on to T3 is not for every organisation. Those operating within a commodity-type market, where the value proposition is exclusively drawn out of the price of the product or service, often decide that a T1 organisation is an appropriate fit with a business model built around being the low-cost producer. Managing a group of young software engineers on another continent and a T1 approach may be the way to go. Operating a mine in a developing country where the work population is poorly educated and/or where they lack a common language, then T1 may well be a sound decision.

This does not mean that all T1 businesses eschew empowerment and employee involvement. Through an ethos of continuous improvement and employee development (instruction), a number of leaders have pushed the T1 model to the very edge of what is possible ("enlightened" T1). The dilemma being, because such organisations are very slow to change they are ponderous competitively. The very antithesis of agility.

The process organisation and beyond

A good many organisations (e.g., Toyota, 3M, Google) have evolved, what can best be described as, a "parallel structure" - organisation forms where, although the day-to-day work gives little opportunity for initiative (T1), time is set aside to allow front-line teams to redesign the business process that contains the work being undertaken (T2), and/or are given the opportunity to help create tomorrow's product/service (T2/T3).

Other business sectors have little choice but to move to an organisation form dominated by T2 and beyond. Here we start to find a far more engaged and fully contributing employee. Teams who, as the culture moves into T3, start to self-organise. Organisations that embrace innovation and reinvention as an extension of the freedom to act that a T2 or T3 culture affords. Businesses where the design of the organisation (structure) mirrors, given the choice, how people would choose to work together.

Customers vote with their feet

The ultimate arbiter of organisational effectiveness is the marketplace. Where the value proposition is based on a compelling customer experience, where the business model means the product or service must be continuously reinvented, or where access to intellectual capital defines market success, a T1 way of working will not deliver the level of innovation, organisational agility, or speed of responsiveness needed. Artificial Intelligence/robotics will change this assumption in the future but, as a simple economic reality, T1 work, everything else being equal, sooner or later migrates offshore to a low-wage economy.

Not so fast! The need to be close to the market, tax advantages, security, transportation costs, and a host of other reasons often mitigate against moving offshore. The T1 organisation isn't a throwback. It isn't obsolete. Indeed, even in advanced economies, in more than a few business sectors, it is still the dominant form - and from our own work with clients, far more prevalent than you might think. Microsoft, Apple, and Google get all the publicity but, in truth, they are outliers.

The journey being described (T1 to T2 and, where needed, to T3) is not a journey every organisation will want to embark on, and it is equally not a rite of passage that all leaders are capable of charting.

Insights from "Leadership: Moving Beyond The Crisis", a book series specifically aimed at enhancing the way that leaders respond to times of crisis. Download your complementary copy today.


As passionate experts in the executive search and leadership consulting industry we build leadership teams for our clients every day. Learn more about TRANSEARCH International and our wide-ranging approach to leadership acquisition and management assessment.

Agility and Speed of Learning

Riding the crest of change

In a world with a significantly heightened level of uncertainty, business leaders have little choice but to forge, to the extent possible, alignment between the organisation's emerging culture and (1) factors external to the business that cannot be anticipated (ongoing disruption), and (2) what tomorrow's customer will be willing to purchase (business model).

To succeed and even survive, leaders must learn how to ride the crest of change, how to use the challenge in inherent uncertainty to propel the business into a successful future, and how to harness the energy drawn out of creative tension and a compelling purpose.

In terms of day-to-day performance, creative tension involves two organisational imperatives - agility and organisational learning. First, agility and with it, by implication, the need to push decision-making as close to the customer as possible. Agility, meanwhile, no matter the form it takes, draws on the abiding quest for simplicity. That being understood, simplicity and, its alter ego, responsiveness are far more about mindset than, essential though it is, process reinvention.

To be agile you have to program yourself to "think simple". But not too simple. The second imperative, organisational learning, is a topic that has garnered a great deal of interest but is poorly applied. Without an inherent ability within the body of the organisation to learn from experience, reframe established practices at critical points on the journey, develop a heightened capacity to act, and, as needed, reinvent how the business does business, tomorrow is destined to be a replay of the past. COVID-19 is many things but, perhaps above all else, it's a wakeup call for society and business alike.

Make no mistake … tomorrow will be different! The pertinent question becomes, "Will you?"

The leadership journey

Learning is initiated by an experience. An action which, in turn, spawns a question. The quality of the question dictating the nature of the learning. Learning unfolds in one of three ways:

1) Simple learning - striving to do what we have always done, but better (instruction).
2) Learning how to learn - moving down a new path (exploration).
3) Learning how to learn limited by the imagination of those involved - transformation, innovation, creative destruction, and reinvention (play).

Each of those learning approaches shapes not only the outcome but at each stage the speed of learning increases exponentially. Arguably, the only truly sustainable competitive advantage is speed of learning. Without time set aside for meaningful reflection, of course, there can be no learning.

Learning to act and think about the world in a new way is not a linear process. It is much more like climbing a mountain. A base camp is established, and only once the base has been consolidated can the next camp be set up and supplied. Equally important, assumptions about what it means to be a leader have to be redefined at each stage of the journey.

Leadership and discontinuous change

Agility and its companion, learning, represent a journey, not a destination: a journey covering three Territories, (T1 - instruction, T2 - exploration, T3 - play); a journey dependent upon the right leadership; a journey punctuated by inherent discontinuity.

The three scenarios portray how learning unfolds in virtually every walk of life. Much as one might peel an onion, beneath agility and learning lies individual and, by implication, the team's mindset: how each of us interprets the world - the mental model we access to define reality. Our assumptions about work and organisational success frame our behaviour.

To survive in the white-water we have entered demands culture savvy and, above all else, an ability to quickly appraise and respond to the ever-changing world around us. The new reality? Personal survival is ultimately about how resilient and agile we are as a leader. And resilience isn't simply about "bouncing back." It means coming out of a world shaking event like COVID-19 even stronger.

Insights from "Leadership: Moving Beyond The Crisis", a book series specifically aimed at enhancing the way that leaders respond to times of crisis. Download your complementary copy today.


As passionate experts in the executive search and leadership consulting industry we build leadership teams for our clients every day. Learn more about TRANSEARCH International and our wide-ranging approach to leadership acquisition and management assessment.