It’s the Teams, Stupid!

After five conferences, one HCM trend stands out. Not AI, not machine learning–teams, the present and Future of Work!

In a little more than three weeks since Sept. 10, I attended five conferences: HR Tech (of course), SAP SuccessFactors’ SuccessConnect user conference, Infor’s Inforum user conference, ADP Analyst Day and Workday Rising, its annual customer event.

What stood out after at least 100 hours of HCM content? Not the inflated vendor claims of AI, machine learning, and all the buzzwords now dominating our discussions and creating our confusion. But teams! Teams are the present and Future of Work (#FOW).

I didn’t hear it everywhere, but I did hear it enough times and in different ways that qualifies it in my racket as a genuine trend–and potentially an industry game-changer.

This is a rare area where technology lags behind work and HR practice. Most often, we are used to seeing vendors far ahead of their customers by offering new capabilities in their products, and that’s fine. That’s how it should be. Vendors should be doing most of the technology innovating because that’s their job.

But nearly all the important work in organizations today is already being performed by teams–certainly not by the collaboration of people neatly connected within their departments on org charts. Yet, HR does not have nearly all the technology needed to enable them and help make teams successful.

In fact, most HCM systems designed for the individual employee are virtually blind to teams! Can’t help staff them properly, can’t see them working, can’t help manage them, often can’t measure them and certainly can never know the impact of their work on the organization.

This will soon be changing.

After deciding on the task at hand, the first step for any organization is assembling the team members. Lots of systems assess individuals, know their skills and can help you search for the ones you think are necessary. But what system will help you decide if team members will work well together?

One of my favorite OD people, Steven Hunt of SAP SuccessFactors, points out that the largest impact on a team’s long-term success is effective relationship management.

He writes: “Even if a team has all the necessary knowledge and skills to achieve its goals, there is still a high potential of failure if members do not work together, coordinate their work and trust one another.”

His research (to aid the design of future products) is focused on developing methods to help ensure team members are demonstrating cooperative, collaborative behaviors, including being able to communicate effectively and manage conflict.

Some software is doing some of this already.

Infor has a tool called Team-Fit, which takes individual analysis from its Talent Science module within its HCM Cloud, models team members and assesses people for a team. Infor plans to extend that to gig workers.

Workday seems to be halfway there with its non-hierarchical organizational structure that allows for teams to exist within the system and offers tools for team-based objectives and evaluating how a team is performing as a group. It, too, is working on including non-employees.

SAP SuccessFactors is repurposing many of its existing solutions as tools for teams, including talent search, mentoring, its Jam social network and 360-degree surveys. It already has shared goal management and some ability to rate teams.

But let’s face it, for systems built primarily to focus on the individual employee, much of this is a retrofit. HR is going to need a whole new generation of solutions focused specifically on team management.

As is often the case, the last (or first) vendor in gets to create the latest capabilities. This time it might be ADP.

Years ago, ADP set up a “beard” of a company called “Lifion” at its new innovation center in New York’s Silicon Alley because, as one executive whispered to me, “What A+ software engineer would come to work for legacy vendor ADP in the middle of New Jersey?” So true.

But a well-funded start-up in the city? No problem. For the past several years, Lifion has been working under the radar, briefing no one on the record and rewriting all of ADP’s software from scratch, including its 50-year-old mainframe payroll engine AutoPay.

I’ve known they were doing that, but never the details. On its Analyst Day, ADP finally revealed the details.

As a result, I don’t know how teams-based Lifion’s new applications already were less than two years ago when ADP acquired “Play to Your Strengths” evangelist Marcus Buckingham, his groundbreaking software Standout and his small firm. But ADP is now betting the company on creating an HCM based on team functionality.

Corporate Vice President Don Weinstein described ADP’s Next Gen platform as “uniquely built to serve dynamic, team-based organizations with agile team structures,” adding that ADP acquired Marcus and his assets precisely for his long-honed expertise about teams. Technically, the platform sounds a lot like Workday’s.

Then, the demo showed an org chart–but of teams, not individuals. Hopefully more dynamic and agile than the traditional org chart. And how easy it was to add a freelancer to an empty slot. Then, it demonstrated how a week later, everyone gets an “Engagement Pulse Survey,” one of the five key innovations in Standout.

Marcus may not have been the inventor of the weekly check-ins that are quickly replacing (or at least augmenting) yearly performance reviews, but I heard about them first from him more than two years ago.

In the Standout world, everything starts with a personal assessment test, which resembles Meyers-Briggs but is shorter, less complicated and devilishly clever. There are no right or wrong answers, so the test cannot be gamed, which I have made part of my life’s work.

Especially since I took the same standardized IQ test from three potential schools after finishing sixth grade. What a pleasure when the proctor of the second test went over all the correct answers afterward! And no surprise when I got into the third school. But imagine how I disappointed their expectations.

Once everyone takes the test, the software offers the team leader suggestions for managing each team member based on his or her individual personality mix. “We can use technology to accelerate team leaders’ knowledge of their teams and help manage them,” Marcus told his Analyst Day audience.

ADP is taking Marcus’ work very seriously, not offering Standout team functionality as an add-on product like benefits administration or BPO but by embedding it throughout its Next Gen HCM applications with in-person and online coaching and development also offered.

That alone solves one of the biggest problems of American business: No one is ever taught how to manage anyone!

Senior Vice President of Product Development Amit Maimon at Lifion says he has five live pilot clients, ranging in size from a 115-employee software company and 6,000-employee consulting firm to a current client, a 7,000-employee waste-management company. The software will be global from the start, adds ADP CEO Carlos Rodriguez, like its Next Gen payroll.

The new applications are being built for ADP’s toughest clients: National Accounts customers with 1,000 employees, plus what ADP calls its Multinational Clients, which are as big as companies get. A new one with 130,000 employees was recently signed. The current Vantage HCM offering has been less than a runaway success in that segment for six years.

Then it will move down-market to Major Accounts (under 1,000 employees) where the Workforce Now HCM has been widely adopted, adding 100 new clients every week, according to Weinstein.

ADP is hastening its historically glacial rollout process, once dictated by its old organizational structure and its payroll culture that if an application didn’t work perfectly, it was worthless. While still hardly as fast as traditional software vendors, ADP plans to have 15 to 25 North American clients live on its Next Gen HCM by June 2019. Then as many as 75 in June 2020, with a full global rollout.

If you want to know more about the technology behind ADP’s new platform (and how similar it is to Workday’s), plus details on the Next Gen payroll and a new cash card, read Josh Bersin’s somewhat breathless blog “ADP Unveils One of the More Exciting HCM Systems I’ve Seen.”

But how about quantifying the impact a team has on the business? Hard enough to do for an individual, even for a general HR practice. As always in the software business, another company is operating under the radar right now to add that final critical element to the old and new world of teams. Good thing because the question about impact on the bottom line has been hanging around since I first learned HR didn’t mean “home run” 30 years ago.

I can’t wait for the answer.

Bill Kutik
HR Technology columnist Bill Kutik, as chairman emeritus, is at the 22nd Annual HR Technology Conference & Exposition® in Las Vegas, Oct. 1-4, 2019. Watch Kim Billeter, the new Americas Lead for EY HR advisory group (PAS), discuss the question: Why is Cloud adoption taking so long? Just six minutes for the current video episode of Firing Line with Bill Kutik®. Bill can be reached at