The definition of a team, in a business context, used to be “a group of people with the complementary skills required to complete a task.” But today’s changing workplace requires more than that. Today, a team can be defined differently as “the competencies required to complete a task.”
What’s the difference? In the second definition, “competencies” and the people who possess them can be viewed as distinct entities. Competencies may be captured and redistributed using state of the art software in a manner that allows members of the team to move on while their competencies remain, embedded in the workflow, as a resource available to any member of the team on demand. As a result, the productivity of the team is greatly enhanced.
The definition of a “team” is thereby expanded to include its current members as well as the knowledge and skills of those who are no longer on the team. This is the bionic team, an aggregation of carbon and silicon, people and competencies that together address a common task. The software that is capable of supporting the team is now available and is beginning to be deployed by several global corporations.
One reason for this new development is the rise of the contingent workforce. Both new economic realities as well as lifestyle choices have resulted in contingent workers—people working project to project, or as temps—making up an estimated 36% of the workforce by 2020. We may think of a contingent worker in two ways– first, as someone who moves from company to company; and second, as someone who moves from team to team within the same company. Both have similar needs. The contingent worker encounters new tasks, new knowledge requirements, new situations. As people move in and out of teams, support is required to allow them to contribute and gain to the highest possible degree. And as they depart, all of their knowledge and capability departs with them.
But today, software is available to capture that capability and enhance team productivity. Innovative software embeds the knowledge of the contingent worker into the team’s learning and workflow software, and unites the two, so that everyone’s knowledge is shared and gained while they are on task, even when the team members are no longer present in the team.
Some real-world examples make the innovation clear: One company, using the new software, was able to embed the knowledge of each team member into the tools they were using, a process that took place largely in the background while they were actually using those tools. Tacit knowledge was shared in two ways: in the traditional manner (real-time collaboration) and asynchronously, taking advantage of the knowledge embedded in their workflow tools. Downsizing occurred, and some key knowledge workers had to be let go. A new team member was given a task requiring the knowledge of his laid-off predecessor. While the individual was not available, his tacit knowledge was. The new team member was able to obtain insight and capability from his laid-off predecessor even though his predecessor was no longer with the company. His capability remained embedded in the work tools required for the task. (See the full story here).
One other example: Some companies are using cloud-based software to not only capture the knowledge of their employees, but to automatically update it in real time and make it available in the tools they work with. This new approach has been called Smart Tools. In many cases this approach completely eliminates the need for traditional training methods, such as workshops. In fact, some companies are finding Smart Tools to be far more effective than discrete training. Since the knowledge is gained in the course of actually doing the job, it is sticky. And, as suggested above, it actually enhances the team concept by allowing the value of each team member to be shared, even after some move on.
With these tools, we can begin to reevaluate the concept of “What is a team?” With the software available today, we can begin to think of teams as being comprised of their members as well as the knowledge of all who currently are–or at one time have been–a part of the group. This is the bionic team, a task force of capability comprised of all of the resources needed to accomplish its task.