Becoming a high performance, agile organisation (Performing)

In this final article in our series on building high performance teams with SWOOP for Teams, we look beyond the single team to the network of teams; or what we refer to as the “Team of Teams”. We look at how three SWOOP Enterprise functions, in particular, provide a facility whereby the organisational leaders can measure and track their journey to becoming a more agile organisation.  

Team of Teams  

The term ‘Team of Teams’ was coined by Bill Drayton to describe a new form of organisation based around teams he created for his non-profit firm Ashoka. The intent was to base the organisation around a constellation of teams that come together around specific goals. The term was further popularised by US General Stanley McCrystal who’s book describes how he used this fluid structure of teams to combat the guerrilla warfare tactics employed in Afghanistan.  

Our observations to date indicate that most digital Teams roll-outs pay little attention to how teams interact or work together. Some organisations locate their initial teams within the boundaries of the formal organisation, and hence inherit governance procedures from there. Others are looking to leverage teams across the formal lines of business. In this case, the governance practices are often missing or not visible.  

The SWOOP for Teams product provides a ‘Team of Teams’ interactive graphic that indicates how teams are connected via overlapping memberships. For many organisations, this will be the first opportunity to see their overall ‘Teaming’ structure.  

The graph above shows teams of 10 or less members, that share at least 3 common members; which on the surface appears excessive. Are there teams with overlapping purposes here? Could some of these teams be conducting redundant activities? Even this simple representation can provide many insights into potential overlaps in team missions and purposes.  

On the other hand, having overlapping memberships can speed the transmission of best teaming practices across the organisation. The trick is to manage the balance between sharing and duplication. This Team of Teams graphic is a good place to start that analysis.  

Controls on the above team network map allows the user to explore connectivity between teams of different sizes; and/or overlapping membership strengths. Where tight clusters of teams exist, like the one toward the centre of the map above; one could infer a competency strength exists. On the other hand, you may be looking to develop a core competency but your Team of Teams map shows no density of connections in that competency area.  

Cross Enterprise Collaboration  

This SWOOP widget can also be used to provide insights into how an organisation’s teaming activities are bridging the formal organisation silos. 


The “Cross Enterprise Collaboration” map shows how the formal lines of business (business segments) are being bridged through teaming activity. The example above shows some very strong interconnections now exist (thicker links). This widget is also available at the Team level, identifying how an individual team is bridging business segment boundaries.  

The Business Segment Activity widget shows the degree to which the formal lines of business are participating in teaming activity. Note that while the above graphic shows formal business units, a business segment can represent any attribute that your staff profiles contain e.g. geographic location, organisational level, gender etc.. 

For organisations looking to become more agile and responsive, one would anticipate many cross-business segment teams to be operating. If teams do tend to only fall within the formal lines of business, then the levels of agility will be limited.  

Teaming Champions  

For those organisations undertaking a managed rollout of Teams, the use of  “Teaming Champions” is often essential for accelerating broad-based adoption. Teaming champions are regularly early adopters who have mastered the craft of digital teaming within the teams they operate. Because they are active in multiple teams, each team gets the benefit of their diverse experience. As a group, the Teaming Champions could represent a significant proportion of the organisations best performing teams; and therefore provide the catalyst for adoption organisation wide.  

The Teaming Champions widget provides a ranked list of those staff members who are most active across multiple teams. Each champion will have scored highly on their diversity index. This candidate list of Teaming Champions can be reviewed for the potential recruitment into a Teaming Champions program. The intention would be to spread best teaming practices from their own experiences, with other teams; either as a guest member or a fully-fledged team member. The list is sortable to assist with the selection process.  

In our previous article, we intimated that pervading the high performing team experience across the whole organisation is best achieved through shared experiences. And pragmatically this means some key staff being members of multiple teams.  

In a sense, being a member of multiple teams is not a bad thing. In fact, according to a recent ADP Research Institute study on Employee Engagement, the world-wide average of staff being fully engaged in their work is only 16%. However,  

“… being part of a team makes a huge difference. In the UAE, 29% of workers who are on a team are fully engaged. But for workers there who aren’t on a team, that figure plummets to 7%”.   

64% of respondents reported that they were members of multiple teams, many of which were not formally identified on an organisation chart. The study also found that remote workers were far more engaged when part of a work team, and that having multiple roles on multiple teams also builds stronger engagement. The inference is that we should therefore encourage our staff to become involved in multiple activities/teams to help them become more engaged in their work and therefore more productive; raising the productivity of the organisation as a whole.  

Risk of Overload?  

Well, of course there can be too much of a good thing. The issue of collaborative overload is real and addressed by Rob Cross et al in their Harvard Business Review article, which suggests that overloaded individuals need to be given permission and encouraged to say “no”. Those staff most likely to be overloaded are often, by nature, generous ‘givers’. Cross provides an assessment tool to help assess if you are collaboratively overloaded, by looking at how you currently are managing your time. 

How many teams you should participate in will depend on the role you have in each team. If you are a software developer working on a new software project, it’s unlikely that you will have the time to devote to many other teams. On the other hand, if you are, say, a specialist in quality assurance, you might be able to play that role in several teams without becoming overloaded. 

 Those forming teams also have a part to play. It is important to only invite members that can play a clear and active role. By inviting passive members, you may not only be placing an obligation on these staff to spend their valuable time on something of only peripheral interest, and adding to their potential overload. Additionally, the presence of a large gallery of passive observers may in fact impact the team dynamics of the working core members, negatively impacting team productivity.  

Summing up  

Summarising the main points from this article:  

  • Agile organisations require a network of teams within a peoplecentred culture. 
  • Teams are best networked through overlapping memberships, to create an effective “Team of Teams”. 
  • Being a member of a team is highly correlated with high employee engagement and a peoplecentred culture. 
  • Remote workers in particular are far more engaged when part of a team.
  • Participating in multiple teams not only helps bridge agile teams, but can also build engagement for the individual broker. 
  • There is a risk of collaborative overload if you are a member of too many teams. 
  • Team leaders can help by being mindful of who they invite into teams and the potential impact on peripheral members, as well as the active core of members. 
  • “Teams of Teams” is an alternative organisational structure which promises maximum agility and flexibility when compared with traditional command and control structures. 
  • The SWOOP Team of Teams; Cross-Enterprise Collaboration and Teaming Champions functions collectively provide the tools for assessing progress toward becoming a high performing agile organisation. 

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