3 Characteristics to Ensure Your Team Has Teeth

Anyone with internet access and a company job in 2016 is aware of at least 2 of these 3 things:

  1. 40 is the new 30.
  2. Nerd is the new cool.
  3. Cross-functional teams are the new organization.

Teams are nothing new. As Schumpeter points out in “Team Spirit”, even Jesus had 12 teammates.

2000 years later, market disruption and other volatile forces trigger regular restructuring and other big changes in the organizations where we work.

As a result, the need for agile, diverse and influential teams is at an all-time high. That is, teams that can effectively meet internal and external demands despite the shifting market conditions and organizational priorities.

According to a 2016 report by Deloitte, over half of 7,000 executives from 130 countries reported that they were either in the middle of restructuring or about to embark on it.

Based on its findings, Deloitte argues that “a new organizational form is on the rise: a network of teams is replacing the conventional hierarchy”.


It has become clear that the 20th century organizational structure that paved the way – GE, Siemens, Toyota – is no longer fit to meet 21st century organizational needs.

Schumpeter observes that the old way of organizing people is too rigid for the modern marketplace.

As a result, “companies are abandoning functioning silos and organizing employees into cross-disciplinary teams that focus on particular products, problems or customers”.

Modern employees surely benefit from this diversity, as well.

In the Forward to Reinventing Organizations, modern philosopher Ken Wilber highlights the shifting pyramid and resulting power shift from traditional hierarchical organization to one where the traditional levels are mixed into teams:

“Any person, in any team, can literally make any decision for the company – they can operate on any level in the hierarchy, as long as they consult with those affected by the decision, where previously they had been constrained by their place in the pyramid.”


Effective teams can synergize to create big results that individuals alone cannot. However, they can also lead to confusion, delay or worse.

Just like in the industrial era, Clear Roles & Responsibilities along with a Shared Purpose are key success factors for a high-performing team.

However, many of the pitfalls remain the same (e.g. Silo Mentality).

What about an Inspiring Vision and the leader tasked with sharing it?

A team without a clear leader may have more equally distributed ownership but who will drive things when the going gets tough?

After all, things could get sticky when critical, time-sensitive decisions are needed and the team has divided opinions on how best to proceed.

Engage WorkforceMoreover, what about a team that pulls in temporary non-employed workers to help deal with specific, temporary situations?

Doesn’t research show that a team works best if the members share a common culture?

Is it even possible to win the Champion’s League with players on loan (Euro soccer)?

All valid questions. And ones which call for an overhaul.


Just as a healthy 21st century organization looks different from one last century, top teams will also look and act differently.

Firstly, teams should be kept small and focused. If a boat gets too full, it has a hard time turning. It can even sink in extreme conditions.

Amazon architect Jeff Bezos says that “if I see more than two pizzas for lunch, the team is too big”.

Too many opinions, things don’t move fast enough. However, if everyone has the same opinion all the time, you risk Group Think and “We Know Best”.

A good mix of functions, disciplines and national and organizational cultures promotes diversity – a good antidote to the above Silo Mentality.

It also leads to different opinions, priorities and even disagreement – something that can be highly effective in bringing about the best solution to a complex problem.

Open and regular communication is still just as important. However, perhaps not everything needs to be done in collaboration with others.

Too much time spent in meetings and in noisy offices can just as demotivating as sitting in a corner without any contact or clear direction.

Recent surveys show that the best way to ensure engagement is to give people more control over where and how they do their work.

In addition to more control over work time and place, those tasked with leading a project or team need to be ready to lead.

According to, 60 % of new managers underperform in their first two years.

If you lack a skill to lead your project or team to its desired results, speak up and demand it.

If you have influence over leadership placement, make sure he or she is ready!

“Your ability to build communication and collaboration bridges – instead of just ‘manage’ – is a critical leadership skill, ” advises Executive Coach Irene Becker.

The good news here is that you’ve already got this. You wouldn’t have gotten this far in your professional journey without effectively communicating and collaborating with others.

However, every one of us can do it better, i.e. Sharpen the Saw.


Whatever the focus and goal of your team, see your main role of one as building and enabling employee networks.

In the new work environment, leaders must do more than Inspire a Shared Vision and Lead Others through Change.

Because of the organizational matrix without clear hierarchical lines, you must be able to influence others without direct authority.

In “The Rise of the Network Leader”, leadership experts at CEB lay out why “network leadership is more about influence than control; it is also a more indirect than direct form of leadership…

…requiring leaders to create a work environment based on autonomy, empowerment, trust sharing, and collaboration.”

Here are 3 questions to ask yourself when putting together a team or looking to optimize it:

  1. Is it diverse? Do the members come from different functions, disciplines, cultures?

If not, mix it up. This is the best way to avoid those pitfalls.

  1. Is it agile? Does it meet regularly and can it meet on short notice? How well does it adapt?

To prevent double work and to keep things moving forward, members need to tell each other what they’re doing on regular basis. Also, the team needs to be able to act quickly when unexpected issues arise.*

  1. Does it have teeth? Are there influencers on the team or people with direct access to them?

Make sure you do a thorough stakeholder analysis to ensure you have the organizational influence you need to reach the team objectives.

* Shifting landscapes and the accompanying changes naturally put more demand on teams that can easily adapt and interact with others.


To survive and thrive in the complex modern workplace, your team needs these 3 characteristics:

  • Diverse – a good mix of functions, disciplines and experience.
  • Agile – the ability to adapt well on short notice.
  • Influential – made of people with influence in the organization.

Does your team have all 3?ship-in-storm

If not, make the necessary adjustments. That is, if you want to be seen as a top team or project leader in your organization.

These changes could cause discomfort or require extra resources in the short term.

However, your team will be ready to handle rough and unpredictable conditions in the long one.

If you thought of an additional top team characteristic, I’d love it if you shared it in a comment below with me and everyone else.

  • Hi Marco, yes, teams are tricky! And every team is unlike any other, i.e. unique. I think simply approaching them this way is a good start. I’ve read a lot about some of McChrystal’s ideas for REAL AGILE teams…what amazing me is the intimacy and trust between the team members. Thx for sharing!

  • Large corporations and small start-ups have been dancing around the team question for decades. Every new generation tries to come to terms with agility, leadership, diversity and many other factors that concern teams. But teams are tricky. Always. They become more trickier the bigger they are; the more internationally distributed they are; the more virtual they are; the more complex the task is and of course everything is complicated more if there is an issue around leadership, goals, stakeholders, resources. Not to speak of technical issues.
    I recently read “Team of Teams” from Stanley McChrystal. I liked it because it showed the hands-on challenges he faced as the special ops commander to battle insurgent tactics in Iraq – translating them into business environments requires a leap of faith and may not be easy. Still a valuable voice.