Friday, June 5, 2015

Scaffolds or Skeletons: What Does Your Team Need?

A colleague pointed me to the article  Build 'Scaffolds' to Improve Performance of Temporary Teams about a research paper authored by Amy C. Edmondson, Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School and lead researcher Melissa A. Valentine. We were in a conversation about Teaming.
In this paper they look at how the fluid, short term teams which are very commonplace in the work environment today can work better with a minimal structure - a "scaffold". The team scaffold which is fixed leads to greater collaboration and efficiency on the  temporary team while individual team members flow through the structure.
It is interesting to see the term "scaffold" used to describe the minimal structures put in place to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of temporary teams.

However, the term "scaffold" in its traditional usage also implies a sense of "temporariness" and "ugliness" (eyesores is how some describe them). Scaffolds are generally taken down once the building construction/renovation is complete.

I asked Prof. Edmondson : Does the use of the term "scaffold" in context of this article imply that these minimal structures are in the longer term to be replaced by some structures which are more lasting and more intrinsic to the organization/ teams (rather than the scaffold which is temporary and extrinsic/external)?
Her response was:
I don't think all scaffolds, and especially not these, are ugly.  Their beauty in a way stems from their simplicity. 
You're right about the temporariness.  Here, the temporariness lay in the configurations of people - which were constructed and disbanded constantly... the the essential core of their shared work was ongoing, despite replacements of each expert in an ongoing way.
This sparked off an interesting conversation with Prof. Edmondson-
Deepak: Yes, your “scaffolds” are simple and elegant. I was implying the mental imagery when a layperson gets confronted by the word scaffold esp. if one has to walk under them or past them on the way to work! 
Prof. Edmondson: I totally get it!  Fortunately, our scaffolds are not ugly, but they are simple, and they are enabling - vs. trying to take over and structure the work in a heavy handed way.  Maybe not an ideal term.  Oh well!
Deepak: I get the essential premise of your study; Instead of having new team members (experts) walk into a totally unstructured environment; create a “scaffold” which will provide some permanence and continuity even as the experts keep rolling on/off the team (“temporary group”). 
What could be the drivers for transitioning the “scaffold” into a more permanent “skeleton”/framework for a more lasting structure? 
Prof. Edmondson: I think part of our contribution was that you can’t have permanence given the training and operational needs of these organizations… flux is here to stay… but having some enabling structures that make it work better is helpful.
Deepak: Or do you envisage the “scaffold” to acquire a permanence albeit changing based on the nature of the underlying work processes and the skills/profiles of the new team members.
Prof. Edmondson: yes
I would say, for temporary work groups, with team members constantly changing, the idea of having a loose, lightweight structure in place makes lot of sense. New team members can hit "the ground running".
For more long term teams a "skeleton" (a more robust framework of procedures, processes and guidelines) may be the way to go. 

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