This post - or one soon to come - will mark the one year anniversary of writing this blog. When I started I thought I'd write about teamwork and productivity. To me it seems there are lots of tools and processes which optimize individual productivity but don't do much for team productivity, so I wanted to create a dialog about teamwork and productivity and innovation.
I'm concerned that we're becoming even more productive individually and less and less productive in teams. One reason is the computing power we have at our fingertips. Most of us can create a financial plan, develop the powerpoint presentation and write up a proposal without speaking to anyone else or leaving our desks. With access to the internet, you too can be an instant expert on almost any subject without speaking to anyone in your company.
When I first got started writing this blog I thought a big problem was a lack of tools for teams. I guess I still feel that way, but the lack of "teamware" is not what is holding back the productivity of teams to any great extent. I wrote a post a while back called "There's no IT in team" which was one of my favorite titles. In it I argued that the problem in many team work environments was a lack of tools to support team work. In just over a year there have been a number of good team space and collaborative software applications to appear in the market. They're not perfect but getting better all the time.
No, I think the real problem in improving teamwork in any organization comes down to cultural and motivational issues, and fear of the unknown. Let's face it - if software tools were the most important aspect of team work, the Empire State building or the Suez Canal would never have been built. What's changed is the concept of the individual as a free agent - able to gather information and process it individually to draw his or her own conclusions. Another thing that has changed is the drumbeat of quarterly reporting - no one can miss a quarter anymore without some damn good reasoning, so everyone lives in fear of the financial numbers. And with modern data processing we can discover right down to the person who was at fault.
So, individual technology that was supposed to make us more productive has made us more likely to process the data to shed the best possible light (using PowerPoint as a demonstration medium) that our group, our team was doing what it should have. As we build these walls around our business functions, geographies and product lines, we make it harder and harder to work across the organization at a time when customers are demanding faster and better business processes across the organization.
No, team work tools are not the issue. Go get one or several if you need them - see Michael Sampson's blog for a list and good overview of many collaborative software packages. But before you implement a cross-functional system, ask yourself and your teams if they are ready, willing and able to work in a cross-functional environment. Do they have the motivation, compensation, management backing and culture to work across business functions, geographies and product lines successfully?
What gets in the way of successful teamwork? Culture, compensation, motivation, loyalty to a business function over loyalty to the business as a whole, turf defense, and many more. Software may be powerful, but no software can overcome these issues.