The Future Of Teamwork

The Future Of Teamwork

The future of work is teams. That’s a trend that’s been around for a long time.

Jobs that could have been alone at one time or another happen more efficiently and at higher quality because we work in teams. The easy problems in work and in life that could have at one time been solved by a lone genius are gone. Only complex problems that require creativity at the team level remain.

So, if the future of work is teams, it’s worth examining the future of teamwork. And here, there are several trends worth focusing on that will dictate how teams will work, and how they’ll work best, in the future.

In this article, we’ll review four trends shaping the future of teamwork as well as what leaders need to do to respond to these changes.

Teamwork Trend One

The first trend shaping the future of teamwork is that team culture matters more than company culture. This trend has been going on for some time. While company culture remains important, most employees feel the impact of that culture only after it’s been filtered through their manager’s and their team’s culture. Many organizations tried to create an experience in their office or their entire campus full of perks and benefits—free food, onsite childcare, dry cleaning, etc. But all the perks in the world still didn’t overcome being stuck on a toxic team. In the past two years, because of the “great work from home” experiment triggered by the pandemic, those perks have obviously mattered even less so. At the same time, people’s experience of culture has been even more strongly shaped by the team on which they serve.

For leaders, this means that creating a positive company culture is important, but the focus ought to be on making sure leaders at all levels, and even individual contributors, know how to shape a positive team culture.

Teamwork Trend Two

The second trend shaping the future of teamwork is that teamwork stays virtual, even if people are back in the office. And this trend isn’t just about hybrid work (which may or may not be the future of work). For any organization large enough to have multiple offices, the tools of virtual collaboration are going to be used much more often—and travel between those offices will happen much less often. When the “great work from home” experiment began, nearly 40 percent of the American workforce went remote (and similar and sometimes greater numbers elsewhere in the world). Millions of people were forced to learn to use new software programs and new ways of coordinating work with people far from them. Those skills create a new reality where teams can be formed not based on who is working in what office but based on who is best for the project at hand no matter where in the world they are.

For leaders, this means continuing to master those tools and keeping a mindset of “right person over right place” even if your office is open and people are coming back. Because that mindset will be a big advantage in forming the best team you can.

Teamwork Trend Three

The third trend shaping the future of teamwork is that teams are built by the project, not the position. Most leaders use the term “team” to refer to the 6-8 people who report directly to them. But most work done by organizations today requires more people than just those 6-8. Originally, these started to be called “cross-functional” teams and grew into “matrix” organizations. But those were all attempts to keep “team” defined by a traditional organizational chart. Many forward-thinking companies are moving away from those types of structures and forming teams based on the needs of specific projects, with roles and even reporting responsibilities rotating as often as project-based work demands. That trend is likely to continue and organizations who switch to the building block of organizational charts being the project, not the position, will be better able to adapt to changes in the marketplace and unforeseen events.

For leaders, this means reframing how you and your “team” see the definition of team and showing them how their work fits into the larger whole. Even if they work together devoid of any other function, odds are they still hand their work off to a new function and as such, the “team” working on the project is larger than they may see.

Teamwork Trend Four

The fourth trend shaping the future of team is that teamwork grows more boundaryless. And this trend is really an extension of the previous one. If the future building block of the organization is the project, not the position, then many organizations will realize the financial (and creative) benefits of building project teams from more than just their employees. This already happens on large scale projects. It’s almost impossible to build a building or create a complex website or software application without contracting with other firms. But it will start to happen for smaller and smaller projects as well. Just like physical location ceasing to be a barrier to hiring the best employee, actual employment won’t be a barrier to working with the best people. It’s as Charles Handy predicted 40 years ago, more and more organizational charts will look like a shamrock or cloverleaf with a core of full-time employees, freelancers, and vendor companies all contributing nearly equally to project teams.

For leaders, this means developing your influence skills to be able to lead a team of people when you only have position power over a few of them, and the rest either report to someone else or work for an entirely different company.

Most of these trends have been in existence for a long time, but all of these trends have accelerated in the past few years. All four have reached a speed where they can’t be ignored. Leaders who ignore these trends will feel their influence diminish. But leaders who adapt themselves and their people to these trends will help their whole team do their best work ever.





About the author

David Burkus is an organizational psychologist, keynote speaker, and bestselling author of five books on leadership and teamwork.

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