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  • Writer's pictureKate Earle

Making the Shift to Teaming

Any of us can learn how to do “teamwork on the fly,” but doing so rarely happens by chance. Getting good at flexing this collaborative muscle happens by intentionally fostering conducive mindsets and developing effective skillsets.

From experience, we've seen clients who excel at teaming make five critical shifts in how they think and act.

SHIFT #1: From Advancement for Some to Growth for All

Opportunities to learn at work have often been reserved for select groups of employees with the intent to help them advance up the organizational hierarchy (think high-potential leadership development programs). This mindset narrowly defines who “deserves” to be developed. For teaming to have the opportunity to thrive in your organization, this old way of thinking needs to evolve. A shift needs to occur that moves decision makers away from valuing the growth of the individual to valuing the growth of the collective.

SHIFT #2: From Fixed Roles to Fluid Competencies

We’ve gotten good at teaching people new concepts and techniques that set them up for success in their role. People absolutely benefit from those experiences, yet what they’re mostly doing is sharpening skills tailored for a specific set of responsibilities.

Teaming requires people to move in and out of roles over time and within diverse contexts. To perform effectively within these shifting sands, people need to develop ways of working rooted in content expertise (what they know) and adaptive mental models (how they know). To make teaming possible, organizations need to shift from a belief that the most effective skills are static and role-bound to a belief that the most effective skills are dynamic and evolve in response to changing conditions.

SHIFT #3: From Onboarding Runways to Midstream Plunges

In the old days (think 2 years ago), we had the luxury of sending new team members to rich, engaging, and informative onboarding programs. Often these programs spanned weeks, if not months.

The current pace of change and scope of disruption makes this type of onboarding a luxury most of us can no longer afford. We need to get new team members up to speed and peak performance pronto—and leveraging the mindshare of their new team is one way to do that. Organizations that are shifting from bespoke onboarding programs to dynamic on-the-job immersions are well suited for this challenge.

SHIFT #4: From How Work Gets Done to Where Belonging Happens

Teams are where the work gets done. That’s a core principle we hope will never change. What is changing is the role teams play in how we engage and belong at work. For many of us, as a result of shifts towards hybrid working, our team has become the primary social network we engage with at work.

This creates new pressures and opportunities for that network to significantly impact our on-the-job experience. It’s no longer reasonable to hold leaders solely responsible for fostering a sense of belonging and inclusion. Organizations need to shift to a belief that the team—a living, breathing ecosystem—is where belonging and inclusion happen. When that happens, workplaces are priming the space for teaming to thrive.

SHIFT #5: From Episodic Development to Just-in-Time Development

There is an improvisational quality to teaming—it happens organically and often on the fly.

Learning how to excel in a teaming environment requires a similar experience. We need to shift our way of thinking about learning as a time-boxed event to learning as something that happens all day, every day at the very epicenter of our work experiences.

In organizations that are doing this well, formalized learning events such as offsites, workshops, and meetings are still the norm. The change is that more frequently, those events are being strung together to create dynamic learning journeys that lead workers on chartered development expeditions over time. And traditional “down time” between events is being replenished with more informal self-paced and peer learning to sustain knowledge and skill acquisition.


Before your organization commits to teaming as a way of working, take the time to lay the groundwork for success.

  • Decision Makers - Clarify expectations. Set up guardrails. Make sure everyone is clear in the ultimate objective.

  • Leaders - Bring together the best team members available. Make sure they have access to necessary resources. Be brave enough to step back and let the team take over.

  • Team Members - Reach out to one another. Make good decisions. Take rational action.

  • Everyone - Lend support when it's needed, guidance when it's asked for, and praise when it's deserved. That's what make teaming work.

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