Teamwork quote Vince Lombardi | RobertsSports

Teamwork is not a natural outcome of a flat structure

Teamwork is a value and a notion that’s obvious in many high performance teams. The All Blacks continuous success stems from a strong culture of teamwork. Meanwhile every year at least one Premier League team struggles when their collection of expensive talent fails to gel.

It’s no different in business, where strong teamwork is required to meet tight deadlines and bring new products to market. Such teamwork is often talked about in the same breadth as having flat structures full of empowered employees. But is this link real?

Flat structures can hide serious problems

Does your organisation have a flat structure, but a lack of collaboration? Is teamwork only happening in cliches or silos? Do your staff (or worse, your partners) joke that there are too many chiefs and not enough indians? If so, take 2 minutes and read this Inc article by Minda Zetlin. The article lists 8 reasons  why flat organisations don’t work. To wet your appetite, I’ll give you three:

  1. No-one does the jobs that no-one likes
    When no-one is the boss, everyone feels like the boss. This means everyone leaves the unglamorous but essential work to somebody else. Except with no-one accountable, no-one does it until it’s too late.
  2. There’s no-one to play referee
    With each team feeling empowered to ‘crack on’, they set priorities based on their own goals and timelines. This is fine until cross-team collaboration is required and everyone has a different view of success. At this point the loudest voices tend to dominate, rather than the ones most closely aligned to the organisation’s strategy.
  3. No-one deals with performance issues
    While poor performance is often obvious to other members of the team, no-one has responsibility for coaching or managing an individual’s performance. So rather than talent being developed and nurtured, its ignored and then punished in the dreaded annual review process.

Can flat structures ever deliver strong teamwork?

There’s no single correct way to structure an organisation. So while middle managers might be seen as an expensive luxury, organisations can’t lose sight of the key roles they play. To make the most of a flat structure consider that:

  • Someone needs to be responsible for setting, managing and refereeing priorities. Different perspectives is perfectly natural, but competing priorities aren’t sustainable.
  • Performance needs to be proactively managed and developed, either through formal management or informal coaching relationships.
  • Operational and team plans need to specify how each team will contribute to executing the overall strategy. If each team knows the contribution it makes to the organisations success, and who they need to work with to achieve it, then many of the risks identified by Minda Zetlin can be reduced.
  • The AllBlacks core values include humility, and the tradition that everyone ‘sweeps the sheds’. Literally and figuratively no-one is too big to do the jobs no-one wants to do.

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