The Secret to Building Successful Teams in the Digital Age

July 1, 2019 | New Workplace Leadership | 4 min read
The Secret to Building Successful Teams in the Digital Age

Chris Sly, Solution Principal for Technology & Developer and Transformation, at Skillsoft in EMEA, and I, recently began a new podcast series hosted by James Hilliard. It’s a great opportunity for Chris and me to work together and share our different perspectives and experiences, given that my background is working to assist organizations through cultural transformations and Chris operates in the technology realm. Of course, in today’s workplace, these traditional delineations are disappearing as the various lines of business are weaving together ever more thanks to the impact of digital transformation.

However, as anyone currently working in such an environment knows, this coming together of the different siloes is not always seamless or harmonious. In fact, often, it is quite a fraught experience. Partly to offer organizations a process for improving the outcomes of these new relationships, and partly to promote the benefits of these very amalgamations, Chris and I used our first podcast,“Building a Culture of Digital Dexterity”, to explore the framework that enterprises can use to ensure everyone is symbiotically working towards a brighter future for the organization.

How to ensure successful teams in the digital workplace

#1 Develop a common vocabulary

Have you ever sat at a meeting and thought I have no idea what these people from [fill in whatever department is appropriate] are talking about? I think we’ve all been there. However, this does not have to be the case. It is essential to acknowledge that although now working together on a specific project, you all come from different backgrounds, each with its nomenclature that is indecipherable to those outside the sector or department. Therefore, it is critical that as a first step, you establish a common tongue, so regardless of an individual role or function as a team, you can communicate effectively. This is particularly important when the project includes the use of an emerging technology in a new way or new process.

#2 Establish a safe place

In many ways, this follows on from the first point. Again, in a team composed of roles and departments from the entire organization, it can be hard to admit that you don’t understand a term, a technology or the intricacies of another area or line of business (LOB). Technology presents many challenges to those outside the IT department, and it is a drawback made more problematic when it is someone at the executive level, or the entire group, who lack the skills and knowledge to understand. I think it is rare that someone will admit that they don’t understand the data so it is incumbent upon the team to create an environment where anyone can say “I don’t understand” without fear of appearing weak. What is ideal is that not only can people feel they can admit to not knowing something, but that they will then receive the support and L&D opportunities to acquire the relevant skills.

#3 Define the mission

As the song says, “We’re all in this together.” Successful teams define the desired outcomes, assigns responsibilities to the relevant parties, and determines who is responsible for each deliverable that will ultimately contribute to the achievement of these goals.

#4 Promote innovation

One of the potential drawbacks of teamwork is that thinking outside the box is rarely encouraged. All too often, what happens instead is that the team develops a type of group-think, stifling innovation. However, and we cannot emphasize this enough, innovation is critical. Take every effort to ensure that your teams feel secure and encourage everyone to share any ideas, suggestions, or proposals that might alleviate the problem, improve the business, and so on. Make it easy for people to share their innovation. Create a platform that facilitates the secure sharing of innovation. I also think it is critical to have leadership backing and a willingness on their part to listen to everyone in the organization.

Who is responsible for implementing the team blueprint?

One word: Everyone. However, establishing and executing these plans will take time and concerted effort. It’s about continually reinforcing the “we’re all in this together” mindset, and working to instill a new company culture where people take the time to share their knowledge and areas of expertise for the greater good of the entire company.

Kristin Shackelford is the Solution Principal of the Business & Leadership Portfolio at Skillsoft.