With the traditional workplace in flux and employees across many industries now working remotely for the short- or potentially long-term, company leaders have been forced to assess their infrastructure and take appropriate measures to power the same level of output and service in a virtual operating environment. That introspection might first have begun out of sheer necessity during the early stages of this global health event, but it’s a critical step in any digital transformation journey, no matter the circumstance. Such transformational efforts often find companies adopting an agile approach and building dynamic teams that are laser-focused on specific business outcome-based work. The good news is those teams can thrive remotely.
Some companies are becoming more agile in real time as demand shifts and unprecedented challenges call for a change in the way work gets done. Others have had such systems in place, having laid the groundwork for an efficient response. ADP is one such company, having essentially gone from a centralized unit to nearly 58,000 individualized units overnight. By moving to a dynamic team approach nearly four years ago, we have been able to maintain and exceed work output while working remotely.
Traditional vs. Dynamic Structures
Many companies are managed in a way that buckets employees within their own domain of expertise or function. Within the world of technology, for example, software developers might work alongside other software developers, and content creators with other content creators. In this more traditional workplace, associates are further organized by phases: planning, building, and running. Planners only plan or architect, builders only build, and so on. This structure has traditional benefits but also limitations.
Matrix management, in contrast, is a dynamic model that strategically taps employees with specialized areas of expertise to come together temporarily to work on a particular project or solve a business challenge. By pooling skill sets from multiple disciplines, the dynamic team will be stronger and more nimble than a purely functional team. For the same reason, these teams are more likely to create something—be it a product or solution—that’s innovative or differentiated. And because they require fewer people and accomplish tasks more quickly than dedicated teams, dynamic teams are a great way to cut costs, energize the work output, boost employee engagement, and enable employees to leverage their untapped skills or learn new ones.
“A lot of times the tech isn’t a good fit for the problem. So, reverse it. Understand the problem and then find the right piece of technology”
Building Dynamic Teams
If you are contemplating a move to the dynamic team structure, here are a few important considerations:
1. Be specific. First, identify the incoming project or high-level business challenge you want to solve, then create a team around that sole purpose. As you map out the skill sets of associates, it is important to also factor in personalities when possible, as this group will spend plenty of time together. The goal is to create a high-functioning, harmonious, tight-knit team.
2. Put tech second. As you are identifying your purpose and assembling your group, be mindful to not put technologies at the forefront. Many technologists will find a shiny new piece of technology and then ask how they can solve a business problem using that technology. But a lot of times the tech isn’t a good fit for the problem. So, reverse it. Understand the problem and then find the right piece of technology.
3. Create a common language. As you conceptualize the team, figure out how the members will best be able to communicate with one another. For example, network engineers, database engineers, and storage engineers do not speak a common language in that each uses different technologies. In this case, you might decide ahead of time that the group will use a general-purpose programming language that will be accessible and understoodby everyone on the team.
4. Deploy the right tools. Right from the start, equip the team with the tools they’ll need to be successful. A program or process that helps create meaningful outcomes by tracking challenges, completed work, and upcoming priorities can provide the team the freedom and flexibility to do their job without feeling micromanaged. Whether it’s video conferencing or more specialized programs, you’ll want to make sure technology is supporting the efficiency of the team.
5. Be accountable. As you’re building a dynamic team, there are three reporting structures to choose from, each with its own advantages—but the real key is to clearly choose and communicate one with your team. One option: Team members directly report to one project manager, and the functional teams lose those employees for the duration of the project. Another approach is to have members report to the project manager and their functional manager simultaneously. Lastly, team members can report to their functional manager about their usual tasks as well as the project they’re assigned to, and the onus is on the project manager and functional managers to communicate. You want to avoid a situation in which team members feel conflicted between managers, so be sure everyone is firmly on the same page.
6. Learn and apply. Leaders are the glue across any highly dynamic organization. As the team you’ve assembled produces results, consider what makes the group a success and how you can replicate that success elsewhere in the company, across various projects or challenges.
As you explore the matrix management model of dynamic teams, these are just a few of the nuances to consider. Executed thoughtfully, agile teams will be able to function as nimble and responsive units and should contribute greatly to the success of your business as you navigate the path forward.