My wife jokes with me frequently about the stacks of books, magazines, newspapers, white papers, and research papers piled up high in my office. Lately those stacks have been mostly about the future of work, human capital, leadership, and engagement, and I’ve enjoyed sifting through those materials and getting a sense for what might be ahead for us. As I do so, I find myself being reminded of the quote, attributed to great philosopher Yogi Berra:
“Forecasting is very difficult, especially when it involves the future.”
Many of the forecasts and trend reports are based on initial indicators that researchers are seeing today…which may or not fully blossom into the changes that are predicted. There may very well be deviations from the forecast. For example, while the percentage of workers working from home has grown, the projection that 43% of the workforce would work from home by 2016 (Forrester Research) has clearly not materialized. Companies like Best Buy and Yahoo, in fact, have notably changed their policies related to working from home with the desire to build better collaboration and communication between their employees by having people being physically located in the same location.
With that caveat, one of the things that I keep seeing over and over again is how the roles of teams and leaders of teams are changing. For example, in the Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends 2016 report, it’s noted that most organizations are now looking at their organization design. They are exploring new organizational models, particularly organizational structures that move away from functional department structures and towards structures built around empowered teams that are organized by customers, markets, products, or projects.
Gallup research reminds us that we still have large numbers of our employees who are not engaged in their work, and numerous other studies remind us that between generational, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, political, and a host of other individual differences that the workplace is becoming more complicated.
Given these new realities, leaders of the future will likely be focused even more on leading teams, as well as engaging those teams and managing differences more effectively. Here is a summary of the key roles that team leaders will need to perform in this evolving environment:
Serving as the Network Hub. Team leaders will need to serve as the nexus of their team’s network, connecting team members to each other, across to other teams, to clients, and to needed information and resources. Team leaders will play key roles in ensuring that data and communication flows freely to, between, and across the team members and project teams. Team leaders will also need to serve as talent brokers, managing a talent marketplace of both internal and external team members, including contingent workers. Team leaders will need to be superb at building collaborative networks with their team members. The team leader, further, would need to serve as the project management hub, ensuring that team members are aware of key project deliverables, project status, barriers, and so on. There are a host of technology tools evolving in this space, which may enable team leaders to serve in this network role even more efficiently than they do today.
Anchoring and Curating. Team leaders will need to anchor the team’s work as it relates to the purpose, strategy, and culture of the organization. They’ll need to clarify and align roles, goals, and key metrics of the team to ensure that they are anchored properly to the project, and to the strategy and culture of the organization. Team Leaders will also play a very important role in curating information flows and work requests, cutting out things that don’t fit the project’s mission, and helping prioritize and focus the work of the team.
Managing Differences. Given the significant impact of team member differences in the workplace, leaders will need to be able to help navigate and resolve conflicts within and across their team. They’ll also need to encourage the differences that drive innovation and creativity, and to recognize that engagement and motivation factors vary considerably by person and adjust their approaches to meet individualized needs.
Providing Feedback and Development. Team leaders will need to provide frequent feedback and developmental support to team members as it relates to both project progress and individual development progress. Performance issues will need to be addressed immediately and not waited on until a formal evaluative process takes place. Team leaders will also need to help team members learn from mistakes and set backs and help them re-focus and re-engage.
Looking Outside and Ahead. The best team leaders will be regularly looking outside of the organization at what competitors are doing, how customers are reacting to the business, how the market is changing, what new technologies are coming in to play, and how those things will impact their project and their teams. These approaches help team leaders to anticipate changes, to make adjustments, and help their teams become more flexible in dealing with challenges that may be ahead.
Some of these things are not new. But the need for skills and experiences in these areas seems to be even more urgent, if we want our organizations to not just survive, but thrive in the changing world of work ahead.
Todd Averett is the President of Leading People Partners, LLC, a consulting, executive coaching, and training firm that specializes in partnering with leaders and HR professionals to more effectively lead the people side of business. Check out our new podcast, “Leading the People Side of Business”, on iTunes. Additional white papers and the "Leading the People Side of Business" blog can be found at www.leadingpeoplepartners.com.