Leadership and team dynamics in the new millennium
President, Proficient Project Consulting Inc.
There is a pronounced shift in the demands confronting organizational leadership, and these changes are a reflection of shifts in the global marketplace. With globalization, companies need to broaden their economic performance and accountability without compromising on human values and the needs of future generations. Leadership today needs to consider the new work ethic of work-life balance and manage the workforce by creating lean and agile structures to support team-oriented work environments.
This presentation will outline the emerging concepts of leadership where the emphasis is on member capabilities, team-based work systems, and sustainability. As teamwork and collaboration are the core skills for a high performance global workforce, the well-known and new team management theories will be discussed. A special focus on the generations in the workforce and the workplace dynamics explores engaging, managing, and leading the future workforce.
After a decade in the new millennium, there are distinct changes accelerated by technological, political, and cultural impacts to organization strategy. Responding to an uncertain and unpredictable future is not so much an issue of advanced strategy and planning but rather one of organizational innovation, agility, and adaptability (Terreberry, 1968, p. 603).
The result in global economy and competition has resulted in two distinct changes—leadership and teamwork ethic. The first change is in leadership where the visionary leader has also to be successful in implementing the vision in organizational life. The leadership requirements of the millennium also include an emotionally intelligent style of communication, ethical integrity, and conflict resolution.
The second dramatic shift is team-based solutions and a need to focus on building team member capabilities. With the decline in traditional institutions like family and marriage, workplace has surfaced as a consistent, stable community. Due to this the new workforce seeks qualitative values and a collaborative workplace environment. With the increase in flatter organizations demanding continuous innovation through collaborative efforts, the leadership focus has changed to process dynamics and adaptive solutions. This style of leadership change is needed to build and shape a high-performance workforce.
Leadership as a Collective Genius
The role of leadership in today’s world is not just to define a vision and motivate others to implement it, but to create a workplace that fosters willingness to innovate. Leaders can draw out slices of genius in each individual and assemble them into innovations that represent collective genius (Hill, Brandeau, Truelove, & Lineback, 2014, p. 96). In this global economy, leaders must be able to resolve conflicts created by confrontations between innovative teams to spark new ideas and creative thinking. A different kind of leadership is required for innovation. There is a wrong perception that innovation is all about fun and creativity. In reality, it is hard work that can be both intellectually and emotionally taxing. Innovation occurs when diverse teams collaborate and when there is a passionate disagreement. For example, Pixar’s track record is unique when it comes to creative breakthroughs. Creativity at Pixar involves talented people from different disciplines working together effectively. At Pixar everyone is a star and every production is a collective, collaborative effort.
Willingness to innovate: Besides being a visionary, leaders today should not only consider how to make innovation happen but also think of ways to set up an environment for it to happen. To foster a creative workplace, leaders must create communities that share three elements—purpose, shared values, and rules of engagement as outlined in the exhibit below.
Exhibit 1– Willingness to innovate (Hill et al., 2014, p.98)
Purpose is about why a group exists—the collective identity. Because of this the workforce is willing to take risks and work hard—both of which are central to innovation. Shared values is when the group is aligned in its choices and priorities, and decision making is a collaborative, group effort. Rules of engagement are classified into categories—how people interact and how people think. Rules of engagement can help control the tensions inherent in collaboration, which sometimes threaten to tear a creative community apart (Hill et al., 2014, p. 99). Purpose and shared values when combined with rules of engagement encourage activities that promote innovation.
Innovation Ability: Willingness is necessary but companies also need the ability to collaborate and innovate. Organizations need to develop the following three capabilities for collaboration.
Exhibit 2 – Innovation Ability (Hill et al., 2014, p.98)
Creative abrasion is the ability to generate fresh ideas through debate. Creative agility is the ability to quickly test, reflect, and make appropriate adjustments. The third capability, creative resolution, is the ability to make decisions that work to accomplish the purpose. All the three are prerequisites for an agile product development environment, which leads to innovation.
To be financially competitive, many companies form cross-cultural and global project teams which communicate virtually by phone, emails, and conference calls in order to save time and money. The number of global, virtual teams is increasing and is a new management challenge, which is being addressed at the top business schools. Virtual collaboration will soon be a core skill for leadership. Virtual teams often lack a personal connection, and there is a big disconnect with the big vision of the organization.
Leading virtual teams in this global economy requires a new set of skills. Communication on virtual teams is often less frequent and therefore project managers and leaders need to outline norms of behavior. Establish a charter, which includes the guidelines on expected behavior, for example, while participating in virtual meetings limit background noise and avoid side conversations. Virtual leaders often speak slowly and clearly so that the message reaches the global audience.
To avoid ambiguity, virtual teams need clearly defined direction. It is important to simplify the work and assign clear tasks to team members. Teams don’t work the same everywhere (Meyer, 2010, p.1). While the Swedish teams engage in long consensus building, in Japan decisions are often made via informal face-to-face discussions. Therefore, global teams need a defined process and roles with explicit descriptions on how the decisions will be made during the project life cycle. Also, as the core members interact primarily through electronic means, trust is often based on the reliability—past ability to perform.
The Generational Gap and Workplace Dynamics
Successful teams harness the expertise of all members. Teams are formed to solve a problem, make a critical decision, or fix a situation. A successful team brings together a diverse set of people with experiences and expertise to uncover new solutions. The more effective the team is in using unique perspectives, the more successful the team. Good team dynamics start with an effective project manager. Failure to recognize the importance of team dynamics in project management may limit your team’s achievements. Strategies that work for a set of people may not work for others.
Workplace dynamics involve the relationships of the workplace, including organizational, team, and personal relationships. Today in the age-diverse workplace, there are four generations of workforce—veterans, boomers, generation X, and generation Y. A generation is a group of people who are programmed at the same time in history (AARP, 2011, p. 7). Each of these generations has their own set of values, styles, and work ethic. They bring their own skills and talents, which add a unique value to dynamic corporate work environment. With time, the generational demographics is changing as shared via Exhibit 3 below:
Exhibit 3 – Generational demographics (AARP, 2011, p.8)
The virtual, global project teams with multiple generations adds another level of complexity. The age-neutral workplace supports real communications across all ages to address the intergenerational dynamics. Successfully harnessing the talents and energies of every generation is a challenge but can be achieved if we build a bridge between the generations to help them collaborate and communicate (Gravett & Throckmorton, 2007, p.13).
Future Workforce Gen Y
Generation Y—this group is the most high-performing, over-achieving generation, and companies are investing in them (Raghupathy, 2012). Those born between the years 1980 and 2000 are called generation Y, or the Millennials. Generation Y, with individual needs and preferences, are motivated by work-life balance. To engage this new generation in this age of technology, emphasis must be on messaging, awareness, and concern. In this technological universe, we are always communicating and are ‘plugged-in’ (Turkle, 2012, p.1).
With generation Y entering the workforce, the workplace dynamics are changing. The ‘work-life’ balance mindset of this generation has lead to more flexible work environments and several organizations offer the telecommute option. Generation Y is more socially conscious and is able to contribute positively to the corporate social responsibility vision.
There are several benefits if the multi-generational teams work well together. Managers and leaders need to equip themselves so that they are able to resolve the differences and create a tolerant and productive workforce. As generation Y represents the future workforce, the leaders need to engage, mentor, and transform this generation into an innovative, productive, and socially responsible team members.
Today, the nature of effective leadership remains the same, but it must address the new competencies of change, diversity, and continues innovation. As change is a key to business success, leaders must predict, foresee, and enable change. The organization culture must be focused on readiness for change and adaptability. Globalization has added another level of complexity, as leaders today need to be aware of the cultural and multi-generational differences and respond appropriately, keeping in mind the situations, social goals, and communication technology.
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© 2014, Shobhna Raghupathy, MS, PMP
Originally published as a part of the 2014 PMI Global Congress Proceedings –