Gearing Up for Fast and Frequent Change
Written by Graham Winter, consultant and best-selling author
What’s the greatest threat to Australian businesses in 2013?
Could it be global financial uncertainty, disruptive technologies or perhaps industrial relations?
No doubt that these are big disrupters but nimble and adaptive businesses will always handle those with much the same agility that we’ve seen from the Sydney to Hobart crews.
The single biggest threat isn’t external. It sits in amongst Finance and Marketing departments, in IT and Sales, in Operations and Engineering and across every sector of the economy. It’s laughed about, cursed and treated as inevitable.
And it emerged in research for the recently released First Be Nimble: How to adapt, innovate and perform in a volatile business world, as the single biggest inhibitor to productivity and performance across Australian industry.
What is it?
To put it bluntly: It is the experts in silos (from every discipline) whose inability to align, collaborate and learn with other ‘experts’ is rendering Australian businesses uncompetitive because they can’t adapt fast enough.
Adaption and Communication
Reflect for a moment on this question:
What value would it add to your business if the experts in silos aligned better, got on the front foot to collaborate earlier on the big challenges, and learned and adapted together?
Chances are that you’d get new products out faster, implement change with less disruption, address the big adaptive challenges with genuine innovation, and drive out the costs of duplication and disconnection.
And yet, is it reasonable to suggest that your business has spent a small fortune in recent years on developing the leaders and teams that work in these silos?
As the COO of a resources company recently remarked to one of our team members, ‘It never occurred to me that we were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on building teams and zero on connecting them!’ Maybe that’s not surprising when you consider that conventional approaches to team development miss the point that the majority of team leaders are promoted because they are subject matter experts and more than likely introverts. Not surprisingly, the team building does help them to build their own teams but does nothing to connect them because it’s mostly designed for extroverts by extroverts.
How do you tackle your big problems?
At a recent workshop we asked the Australia leadership group of a major electronics company to list their top seven business challenges. The list wasn’t surprising and included: getting new products to market faster, driving out costs along the value chain and penetrating the developing markets.
The group then mapped how effectively they were addressing these challenges as ‘one team’. The key learning moment came when the CEO observed dryly: ‘Not one of our big challenges fits into our organisation structure and yet we mostly solve problems and make decisions in the functional silos’.
It’s a dawning and daunting thought for Australian business leaders that the days of problems being addressed in a silo (be that Finance, Engineering or even the Executive Team) are over, and yet few organisations have a system that defines how to lead, build and connect teams so they can make this a reality.
Team systems – the new approach to team building
Traditional team building is based on the assumption that teams are stable entities that have the time and opportunity to go through the well-known forming – norming – storming – performing stages. In a business world where problems don’t fit inside functional silos and where the matrix and virtual team are the norm, we need something better than a linear team building process that was developed in another era when change was slow and predictable.
Team systems offer a new approach that combines some of the conventional elements but like most things in a digital age, they enable organisations to scale up or down and to do it fast.
In simple terms, whether you are in a bank, mining company, government agency or any other form of business, you need to be able to connect the silos and create new teams on the run.
An Example: Think One
The Think One Team™ system (www.thinkoneteam.com) is an example of this emerging approach, which is being picked up by companies and consultants facing the challenge of how to develop organisations that can adapt to fast and frequent change.
Think One Team™ equips people to connect with others to do the three things that high performing teams do:
- Align– values, goals, expectations and resources
- Collaborate– to tackle problems and opportunities
- Learn- by action debriefing and immediate feedback
In fast adaptive organisations this ‘one team’ cycle of align – collaborate – learn is relentless and a key to its power is that it provides a disciplined system that holds up under pressure (when conventional team approaches see people diving back into their silos.)
Reflect for a moment on your organisation:
- Is there a consistent toolkit for the team leaders to lead, build and connect their team?
- Is the approach to team development and performance applied in a disciplined way, or do team leaders and departments ‘do their own thing’?
- Do people know how to quickly align with other teams to foster the all-important partnering relationships?
- Do people from across the business have common tools and templates for problem solving and innovation?
- Is a ‘lessons learned – lessons applied’ approach applied relentlessly?
If the answer to any of these questions is ‘No’, then you don’t have a team system that will enable your business to gear up for fast and frequent change.
A word of caution
Instilling a team system is adaptive change. It will cause people to challenge the approach and might not always prove popular with those who feel that this removes the more individualistic approach.
That might be the case but ask yourself, why the most adaptive high performing organisations in the world such as emergency medicine units, special military forces, elite sporting teams and the really sharp global businesses invest in instilling team systems.
The answer is obvious: Because they want to equip their leaders and teams to handle fast and frequent change. Surely you do too?
Graham Winter is a speaker, consultant and best-selling author of Think One Team and the recently released First Be Nimble, How to adapt, innovate and perform in a volatile business world. He is Client Solutions Leader for Australian-headquartered Think One Team International and can be contacted for bookings and advice at www.thinkoneteam.com or [email protected]
Business Chief Legend: Ho Ching, CEO of Temasek
Ask Singaporeans who Ho Ching is, and the majority will answer the ‘wife of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’. And that’s certainly true. However, she’s also the CEO of Temasek Holdings, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund, and one of the world’s largest investment companies.
Well, she is until October 1, 2021, as she recently announced she would be retiring following 16 years as CEO of the investment giant.
Since taking the reins in 2004, two years after joining Temasek as Executive Director, Ho has gradually transformed what was an investment firm wholly owned by Singapore’s Government into an active investor worldwide, splashing out on sectors like life sciences and tech, expanding its physical footprint with 11 offices worldwide (from London to Mumbai to San Francisco) and delivering growth of US$120 billion between 2010-2020.
Described by Temasek chairman Lim Boon Heng as having taken “bold steps to open new pathways in finding the character of the organisations”, Ho is credited with building Temasek’s international portfolio, with China recently surpassing Singapore for the first time.
As global a footprint as Ho may have however, she has her feet firmly planted on Singapore soil and is committed to this tiny city-state where she was not only educated (excluding a year at Stanford) but has remained throughout her long and illustrious career – first as an engineer at the Ministry of Defence in 1976, where she met her husband, and most notably as CEO of Singapore Technologies, where she spent a decade, and where she is credited with repositioning and growing the group into the largest listed defence engineering company in Asia.
It’s little wonder Ho has featured on Forbes’ annual World’s Most Powerful Women list for the past 16 years, in 2007 as the third most powerful woman in business outside the US, and in 2020 at #30 worldwide.
But it’s not all business. Ho has a strong track record in Singapore public service, serving as chairman of the Singapore Institute of Standards and Industrial Research and as deputy chairman of the Economic Development Board; and is a committed philanthropist with a focus on learning difficulties and healthcare.
As the pandemic kicked off, she not only led active investments in technology and life sciences, with German COVID-19 vaccine developer BioNTech among the most recent additions to Temasek’s portfolio, but through the Temasek Foundation – the firm’s philanthropic arm which supports vulnerable groups close to Ho’s heart, handed out hand sanitiser and face masks.
So, you would be forgiven for thinking that at age 68, Ho might simply relax. But in March 2021, just as she announced her retirement from Temasek, Ho joined the Board of Directors of Wellcome Leap, a US-based non-profit organisation that’s dedicated to accelerating innovations in global health. Not ready to put her firmly grounded feet up yet it seems.