What workplace teams need—and how HR tech can help

What makes a “genius team?” A new article in Harvard Business Review says these groups excel in handling complexity. They achieve more, work faster and—with good management—can deliver exceptional results.

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But a team doesn’t have to start as “genius” to impact the organization. According to new research from the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), even an average workplace team could improve their productivity by nearly 40%. How do we make that happen? Improved collaboration.

How do workplace teams thrive?

i4cp’s research shows that improving team effectiveness doesn’t require significant time or money. It does require intentionality, developing what i4cp calls “high-quality connections that generate efficiencies and energy”, “improve team effectiveness and ultimately the organization’s market performance.”

The report, called The Team Network Effect, is based on over 200 interviews, case studies and a survey of more than 1,500 participants from i4cp’s boards in 76 countries. Participants were 42% senior executives, 28% mid-level leaders, 5% frontline leaders, 19% individual contributors and 6% other.

The research finds that thriving teams succeed not through heroic leadership but through intentional collaboration. Rob Cross, senior vice president of research, and Katheryn Brekken, Ph.D., senior research analyst at i4cp, found that people report their best career experiences often come from being part of a team characterized by a sense of purpose.

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Conversely, these same people told i4cp that their worst experiences—marked by a dread of work, overwhelm, stress, burnout and a lack of purpose—were often attributed to the teams they were on at the time. This contrast is due to outdated team-building methods that don’t fit today’s interconnected work environment. According to i4cp, this creates “collaborative dysfunction,” which can deliver an average estimated performance loss of 60%.

Today’s workplace teams are larger, more diverse and more transient, factors that i4cp says impact how they interact and function. Many old assumptions about team performance—such as teams must meet in person, be selected by leadership, be small and prioritize being “nice” over being “dependable”—no longer apply.

i4cp research found that 80% of teams fail to reach their productivity potential due to collaborative dysfunctions, both within the team and with external collaborators. According to the study, priority overload is the most common dysfunction, while misalignment—manifested as a lack of trust, competitive posturing and insufficient leadership—is the most toxic dysfunction.

How does HR tech impact teams?

Katheryn Brekken, Ph.D. , senior research analyst, i4cp

Cross and Brekken say that HR tech has a role to play in boosting collaboration, but employers and HR leaders must avoid placing too much stock in a new tool or platform.

Looking back on significant productivity-centered inventions, Brekken points out that scholars found that progress was due more to changes in how work was done than to the inventions themselves.

She says this is relevant today with AI and new tools: “It’s less about the tools, but the patterns of use.”

This philosophy is in place at some of today’s most admired employers, and i4cp identified two examples of successful tech use in building high-performing teams: Edward Jones and Microsoft, which contributed insight to the new report.

Edward Jones builds teams with people analytics

According to the i4cp findings, few organizations track team performance metrics across the enterprise. Still, financial services firm Edward Jones does, according to a case study included in The Team Network Effect report. The company’s people analytics function includes a role for assessing team performance, collecting data through individual and leadership surveys as well as an employee experience survey.

“We can actually look at what are the experiences of individuals on these teams versus experiences of individuals not on the teams, even for different members of the team,” says Buddy Benge, head of talent insights at Edward Jones.

Microsoft’s talent marketplace boosts workplace teams

According to i4cp, Microsoft is another workplace where HR technology supports dynamic internal teams. Cross points out how the tech firm uses talent marketplaces that employ technology to give visibility into employee capabilities.

He says successful projects were led by leaders tuned into making team connections. “They were also always seen as energizers of those people,” says Cross. “The technology enabled the visibility of the capability, but what mobilized that capability was [a broad] network.”

Karen Kocher, global general manager of future of work at Microsoft and co-chair of i4cp’s Future of Work Board, said in the report, “As we go forward, far more will be done with teams and through teams than we’ve ever done in the past.”

Team building begins with onboarding

Rob Cross, senior vice president of research, i4cp

One area where HR tech can have the most impact is onboarding, according to i4cp. The research shows that the best teams can quickly integrate newcomers into the networks they need to deliver results and perform better.

Typically, new hires go through general onboarding and meet their team, hoping networks form by chance or intuition. “There’s not a lot of focus on that, either in terms of processes or technology in organizations,” says Cross. “It’s not geared towards the team as the unit.”

However, employers could be more precise in guiding newcomers to meet everyone they need, including those affected by their work, so they quickly get the whole picture.

As employees become further surrounded by tech solutions, human skills—starting with collaboration, interpersonal communication and dependability—will always be crucial, says Brekken: “Networks are going to be even more integral to getting the work done as we continually adopt more technology.”


Learn more about The Team Network Effect in the upcoming HRE webinar featuring Cross and i4cp CEO and co-founder Kevin Oakes. Save your spot here.

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Jill Barthhttps://hrexecutive.com/
Jill Barth is HR Tech Editor of Human Resource Executive. She is an award-winning journalist with bylines in Forbes, USA Today and other international publications. With a background in communications, media, B2B ecommerce and the workplace, she also served as a consultant with Gallagher Benefit Services for nearly a decade. Reach out at [email protected].