In a rapidly changing environment like the COVID-19 crisis, organizations must respond with urgency. Waiting to make decisions, or even waiting for senior executive approval, is the worst thing they can do. However, some level of coordination across teams and activities is crucial for an effective organizational response.
The solution to this challenge lies in creating a robust network of teams, empowered to operate outside of the current hierarchy and bureaucratic structures of the organization.
Leaders should focus on the following four steps to quickly create a cohesive and adaptable network of teams, united by a common purpose, that rapidly gathers information, devises solutions, puts them into practice and refines outcomes.
Launch teams fast and build as you go.
Focus on creating a central hub model that directs and coordinates response, while a handful of related teams operate as the spokes.
Pick team leaders that are good fits for the tasks at hand: creative problem solvers with critical thinking skills who are resilient and battle tested. Then, work with the team leaders to staff their groups, bearing in mind what skills, experiences and perspectives are most important, and keeping each team small to ensure meaningful progress.
Once teams are established, empower them to make decisions quickly. Make it clear to the entire organization, including those operating as usual, that these teams get to make the calls within the authority delegated to them, and they do not need permission from others.
Get out of the way, but stay connected.
After creating the initial set of teams, shift toward ensuring that multidirectional communication is taking place – not only across teams within the network but also between these teams and the rest of the organization. There should be steady coordination with the central team hub, perhaps daily stand-up meetings.
At this point, it’s time to step into the roles of catalyst and coach. As catalyst, identify opportunities, make connections across teams, spark ideas for the teams to consider, and provide resources to fuel those efforts. As coach, regularly engage with team leaders and members, resolving roadblocks and helping them work through challenges. The goal is to simultaneously empower and support teams, without micromanaging.
Champion radical transparency and authenticity.
Approach communication by fostering an environment of collaboration, transparency and psychological safety. Psychological safety enables the rapid sharing of information to address changing goals and supports an environment in which individuals and teams can rapidly test ideas, iterate and learn from mistakes.
Recognize people who are taking smart risks. Be authentic in communications and empathetic toward those who are anxious. Do not punish people for failing when they’ve taken risks or exclude those with relevant information or expertise from the conversation.
Once the initial network of teams is established, it should become self-sustaining and self-managing. In a well-functioning network, the central hub stays connected to all the activities but avoids becoming a bottleneck that slows down the response.
Even though evolution often happens organically in a successful network, it’s still crucial to keep it going. Encourage connections between teams. Continue setting the tone, modeling the actions you want to see, recognizing others who are taking risks and making real change, removing roadblocks for teams, and connecting people across the network. Finally, communicate widely, transparently, and authentically about your experience and the implications for others around you.
For further advice to successfully establish a network of teams, please read “To weather a crisis, build a network of teams.”