This research on the effectiveness of teams was conducted in the early fall of 2020. It is largely supportive of, and consistent with, much of the thinking of others who were paying close attention to the experience of teams and leaders in a virtual environment. And the focus on teams also highlights the important relationship between teams and organization leadership and their interdependencies.
The research also highlights a number of important insights and ‘learnings’ that will serve us well in the coming months; while it is difficult to predict with any certainty, it is possible that new habits will emerge as teams continue to focus on their overall effectiveness in support of organization priorities.
Chief among the findings were the following:
- The recognition that there is always a balance between Task and Relationship in any work setting warranted increased and active attention. The wellbeing of the team and its members extended to not only having the tools and support necessary for the tasks assigned, but also to the whole question of safety and security as teams looked to leaders for assurances and ongoing clarity. (In her book entitled Teaming, Professor Amy Edmundson refers to this important area as “psychological safety”);
- Leaders became much more aware of the need to bring elements of emotional intelligence into their active support of teams and team members; this included empathy and appropriate ‘blends’ of compassion and communication as their colleagues coped with balancing personal responsibilities in addition to work expectations, all in a virtual world. Moreover, the longstanding concept of ‘shared leadership’ assumed heightened importance in a transparent virtual environment;
- Collaboration and Communication are not new concepts as essential elements in support of team effectiveness. What has become much clearer however, is the need for both leaders and teams to actively pay ongoing attention to both in order to have a finger on the ‘pulse’ of the individuals who are engaged in furthering organization goals. Moreover, the notion of collaboration increasingly links to shared leadership in such aspects as greater participation in decision-making and joint problem-solving; and
- Throughout the responses, often implicit, was the theme of how critical ongoing learning was as we ‘navigated’ the uncertainties of a COVID-19 world.
Looking forward, we can probably expect the mutually-supportive relationship between leaders and teams to continue in a more active way. Expectations of continuing shared participation are now more the norm and reverting to an earlier way of working is unlikely.
Further, the research emphasized the importance of dealing with relevant questions, many of which are at an exploratory stage, but all of which will impact both teams and leaders in the weeks and months ahead. Among these are:
- As we move to the new reality in which virtual work will be a preference for some organizations and employees, with others preferring the surroundings of a safe office environment, how will the organization ensure that it mitigates any risk of the emergence of an ‘A’ Team and a ‘B’ Team?;
- Performance Management in all of its dimensions will of course remain a critical aspect of organization life. The question, however, is how it will be managed and how it will be measured. For instance, feedback for developmental purposes has already changed and may continue to do so. As we move forward, what will be the critical areas in which active attention will determine how successful feedback conversations will be?;
- As one recent book –‘Virtually Speaking’ from Changemakers Books (2020) - highlights, we will cease speaking of ‘virtual communication’ and simply refer to ‘communication’. That said, with the ongoing imperative to continue to explore the integration of digital technologies in enabling strong two-way communication--- often in close to ‘real time’ conditions---- what will the new models look like and how will we measure their effectiveness?;
- What will become central to ensuring that there is continuous and shared learning across the organization, both within and between teams but also at and among other levels of the organization?; and
- What models of ‘shared leadership’ will emerge to recognize the speed of change, the multi-faceted issues which challenge organizations and the heightened expectations of positive outcomes in a ‘less-than-certain’ environment?
Finally, as leaders and teams continue to grow and adapt to changing realities, a number of topics will probably be central to the organization effectiveness conversation. Such subjects as the following may become part of their ‘standing agenda’:
- Building and fostering solid trust relationships;
- Continuing to pay attention to the evolving and changing needs of teams
- Making ‘resilience’ and emotional intelligence key organization priorities
- Adapting a range of technologies to facilitate effective communications
- Re-visiting the roles of leaders in areas of shared leadership, problem-solving and decision-making
- Examining new approaches to managing change
- Adapting organization design to be fully responsive to the need for collaboration and agile responses to current and emergent challenges
About the Author
Ross Roxburgh is a leadership coach and organization consultant with several decades of experience with a wide range of clients, both domestic and international across the private, public and para-public sectors. He has a strong interest in the effectiveness of individuals and teams in complex organization environments; in many cases he brings both coaching and consulting experience to client engagements.
Ross positions his client work in a deliberate way. He works with his clients as opposed to adopting a prescriptive approach. Initially he focuses on understanding where the organization is positioned today and what the key challenges are in realizing the preferred future. Respectful challenge is central to his approach and he is committed to developing solutions with the client which meet current priorities and also position the organization for future challenges. He is a facilitator with Queen’s IRC on a range of programs related to Board effectiveness, Committee evolution and Performance Management.
Ross holds the designation of Certified Management Consultant (CMC) as well as that of Master Corporate Executive Coach (MCEC). He has been certified in the use of the EQ-I 2.0 instrument as well as the LEA 360. He has continued to deepen his learning through the globally-recognized graduate program in Organization and Systems Development developed by the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland as well as a number of related programs through the International Gestalt Centre in Wellfleet and the National Training Laboratories (NTL) offerings. Prior to his coaching and consulting career, Ross completed an interdisciplinary Masters Degree in Canadian Studies as well as an Honours BA, both from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.
The full report can be downloaded at: https://irc.queensu.ca/articles/team-effectiveness-pandemic-promise-learning-organization-research-report
 Edmondson, A. C. (2012). Teaming: How organizations learn, innovate, and compete in the knowledge economy. Kbh.: Nota.
 Erickson, T & Ward, T. (2020). Resilience: Virtually Speaking. John Hunt Publishing.