Decentralised teams in the digital era

Power to the People

By Peter Ivanov April 16th, 2018

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— Over the course of the last decade, the digital revolution has been disrupting the way we work. Thanks to the Internet, the percentage of employees working physically inside an office and with set shifts is decline. In fact, according to a study carried out by Nasdaq in 2017, “many Americans are saying goodbye to the traditional 9-5 lifestyle”. The number of freelancers, too, is predicted to reach 43% of the total workforce by 2020.

It is clear that we’re gearing towards global and delocalised structures, where members of the same team work in different areas throughout the world. This switch has to be followed by a change in management — but how?

 

I call this new way of working the “Virtual Power Team”. A team which is virtual because it is, by definition, set in more than one location. “Power”, instead, comes from the fact that the individuals share a goal, a purpose. Virtual working can be compared to an atom: it has a nucleus, which is not a boss per se but the team’s overarching goal, and it has particles – the members who circle around this goal. The objective from a management perspective is to keep the team focused on one side, and to retain gravity on the other.

 

The main issues of this workflow usually comprise of the following: from the team's perspective, the individuals can feel frustrated and isolated; from a management perspective, it’s harder to keep everyone focused and collaborative. How, then, can we solve these new problems and make virtual working effective and successful, while empowering its main components at the same time?

 

A virtual power team needs to stress its efforts across 10 key factors. First of all, the main focus should be on the personality of each individual in the team. What the manager should ask himself, and retrieve from the team with simple bottom-up brainstorming, is the following question: which skills and what knowledge make this person valuable for the company? This helps makes each component of the team unique, both in a professional and personal way. The second and third factors are the strengths matrix and the interdependent goals. The manager has to set a purpose and establish its foundational protocols together with the team. Such a goal has to be divided into very specific tasks and responsibility delegated accordingly by the team members themselves.


If we picture the Virtual Power Team as a human, these first three factors are linked to its “head” ­– they’re the mental side. The next elements can instead be compared to the skeleton: they make up the structural side and are linked to communication within the team. This should happen through dynamic platforms, as they are the most efficient and immediate means we currently have. As per the agenda, in a traditional business the manager usually calls for a meeting only when a problem arises. To make a virtual power team work, instead, there should be a set agenda and regular team calls where each team member has a chance to express themselves. This allows the individuals to speak up and give both professional and personal updates; it also keeps the management updated and aware of the team’s situation.

 

Finally, the heart: these final factors include recognition, diversity, and the establishment of a winning spirit. Each individual has to perceive the recognition they receive for their work from both their coworkers and from the management. Also, as there may be lots of cultural diversity, it would greatly benefit the team to discuss and try to have a shared idea about what is good leadership, how best to foster smart decision making and how to mitigate, or avoid, conflict completely. The establishment of a winning spirit within the team is also a key factor in this sense: the members themselves should decide a team building activity and make it happen. This makes each individual feel unique and more valued, and helps the management get the most from their employee's skill set. The last element consists of involving younger generations in specific programmes that are designed to nurture their talents. Such programmes boost innovation and benefit both the leaders of the future and the company itself.

 

The decentralised and virtual path that we are currently experiencing is becoming more and more relevant to all businesses across the world today. People are always resistant to change at first, but it’s about understanding that decentralised models are now a fact of life: something which have already become intrinsic to the current global business climate.

 

That is why changing traditional management models is no longer a choice: any business, in order to be relevant in the future, has to go through it. At the end of the day, it’s all about empowering the members, facilitating communications, and ultimately recognising the team’s work: the success of your company relies on them.

The end.