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Ways of Working: What is stopping your team from optimizing its work?


Teams are the primary vehicle through which we experience our organizations and our work. Moreover, that experience is more within our collective control than we think.

What happens within our teams is more important than what happens in the boardroom, with the corporate strategy or the corporate culture. It has most direct and immediate impact / relevance to us in our daily lives. It shapes our ways of working, as well as key factors such as performance, job satisfaction and well-being much more than we realize. Moreover, it is something that we can directly shape.

Shaping Our Work

We often hear executives say ‘if only the organization would do this, or do that’. Their work experience is dependent on C-suite decision-making, changes in organizational culture, shifts in strategy or the adoption of new ways of working. But, the reality is that what happens on our teams is more important than any of these things. That is good news because, unlike organizational strategy, it is something we can shape.

Hidden Executive Power

Executives have more control than they think over the set-up of their team and the organization of their work. They can be creative within any given structure, tweaking and adapting how they work as a team:

  • People can find the best roles for team members and ensure that people ‘play to their strengths’.· This can be done without re-drawing the organizational chart or changing job titles.·
  • They can prioritize and allocate work in the most efficient way possible, to meet the deadlines and deliverables expected of them.
  • They can find the best way of working together as a team, without having to re-shape the culture or norms of the organization.·
  • Experiment with new approaches as well as new processes and tools, without calling on the corporate IT department for help1.
  • Be agile and responsive to change, tweaking the plan to reflect changing conditions and greater knowledge.· They can continually review what is working and what is not, thereby adapting the approach to get the best results.
  • Most of the everyday improvements that team’s might want to make to how they organize and structure their work are already within their grasp.

Without getting approval, most teams can optimize how they:·

  • Organize, prioritize and allocate their work· Meet to discuss or review the work· Interact in doing the work
  • Shape how the team and its work is seen by the outside world· Interact with the rest of the organization – presenting a united front and a consistent message to stakeholders
  • Tackle many of the impediments or frustrations that they face in getting the work done.
  • Optimize the environment that they are working in.

Most important of all, team members get to determine how much of their talent, creativity and skill they bring to their work.

They also have the power to find the best way to:

  • Bring out the best in each other· Leverage and develop each other’s unique talents, interests and skills
  • Live the values and norms that they espouse· Foster an environment that is supportive, promotes growth, drives performance and sustains well-being.
  • Support each other in tackling the inevitable pressures and stresses of work· Foster an environment that is supportive, promotes growth, drives performance and sustains well-being.
  • Support each other in tackling the inevitable pressures and stresses of work
  • More courageously address issues of conflict and tension when they arise.

As the above lists suggests, there is a lot that a team can do. The first step is to for teams to realize that they have the power.

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” 
Alice Walker

Leaders Have the Power

Leaders often say: We have the people, resources and rewards that are given! Moreover, the results we must achieve and the work that must be done has already been determined’. For example, they feel disempowered to do anything about the set-up or structure of their team, such as ensuring that the right people are in the right roles.

They may feel similarly disempowered to change ways or working or norms of behavior within their team – seeing it as part of the larger amorphous organizational culture and structure. All this unnecessarily robs leaders of the ability to use one of the most powerful levers of success.

A mistaken sense of helplessness strips leaders of one of the most powerful strategies and tools for performance, engagement and workplace vitality or wellbeing – that is their teams. To yearn for power and control is one thing, but to have power and not use it is another.

  1. For example, thanks to software as a service all it takes to avail of the latest productivity tools is a monthly subscription rather than a capital investment spend []

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