Clusters – a maverick research

One of my favourite sessions at Gartner ITxpo was Dave Aron’s thought provoking presentation on

“Don’t hire people, hire clusters!”

I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was intrigued. The basic premise wasn’t new: the world of heros is coming to an end, agile teams are the high performers of the 21 century. So far, so good. Then Dave challenged the audience, asking who had experienced working in a high performance team and how long that team stayed together. Many were on board with the first part, but hardly any had a long lasting experience.

The argument for the cause of such teams breaking up was presented of our inability to manage talent effectively. We look at individuals, we appraise individuals, we hire individuals and then we expect them to fit into an existing team where the team members have minimal input in the hiring process.

What about doing a complete u-turn and let the team manage themselves?

  • They can manage the team composition and hire and fire team members
  • They can be managed as a team and have a team objective.
  • They can decide which skills they need and what types of people make up a great team for the job.

The arguments for this can be easily found. One only need to look back how long it takes for a team to go through the stages of forming – storming – norming – to performing. This includes the different styles of people, ranging from the ideas man to the doer, implementer, communicator, and coordinator to name a few. A self organising team can take that task away from the manager who is interested in the outcome and deliverable.

Furthermore such a team can be engaged as a unit by the organisation limiting the start up time to get familiar with the task rather than getting familiar with the team members.

The maverick research went as far as paying the team as a unit and for the outcome. It combined the idea of BYOD and BYOA with this proposal allowing the team to define their own work environment including tools and processes. Paying as a unit is not covered by any employment agreement that I’m aware of and would pose a number of challenges. The HR people will have a field day! Allowing the team to bring and define their tools will through some business standards out of the window and forces us to re-think why we have those. Open standards would need to become common place. ICT is on the best path to adopt this, I think. Finally, the team may use their own processes. That’s big challenge #3 I believe. Organisations have well defined or commonly understood processes: “that’s how we do things around here.” Allowing teams to do it differently could cause conflict or another re-think. I don’t have an answer for that.

Clusters offer 4 benefits

  • motivation (Dave cites “Drive” by Daniel Pink and I can recommend that book, too)
  • targeted development (small teams know themselves well and can act quickly towards their needs – no need to go through the organisational hoops of training requests or long term personal training plans)
  • custom environment (I can use the tool I like? really? no questions asked – thanks)
  • happiness (small teams know and care for each other)

The research also identifies risks with clusters. They can become silos and don’t interact well with each other. Clusters are not loyal and when they move on you (as a company) don’t loose 1 good guy but a whole team. Both are manageable. And it comes down to the fact that people are more loyal to their team that is close by then to a distributed team or the organisation as a whole. I’m not sure if loyalty to a concept (eg Greenpeace) is an even greater magnet and if loyalty is even the right measure. What about engagement?

There are things that you can do right now to allow for high performance teams to stay together

  1. find existing clusters in your organisation and learn from them
  2. create a cluster friendly environment
  3. run a low risk cluster experiment

What do you think:

do you have cluster like teams?

do you think this is great or nuts?

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4 comments on “Clusters – a maverick research

  1. […] I like that idea a lot. Small autonomous teams like the maverick idea I heard about last year at ITXpo. That should work work assuming the team wants to work together […]

  2. Jose says:

    All teams tend to work autonomously and can be independent (unless managers doesn’t allow that) but as a small scale society/community, when the roles are defined the destiny or doom of the group lies on the leader hands.
    The clusters should definitely work, and even though the idea doesn’t mean the team will not be accountable and/or supervised, the real HR work will be related to identifying the assigned leaders vs the natural leaders, if it’s not the same person, how will the two work together and bottom line identify the maturity of the leader that stands out, one can make the cluster to crash and cause the whole approach to be considered a failure.

    • Frank G says:

      Thanks Jose. There is a lot in your comment.
      I appreciate teams that work autonomously. They tend to be more engaged and outcome driven. A few factors are important to support this, having a common goal being one of them.

      Your other core comment is related to group dynamics and how HR and leadership deal with it. Having worked in different countries and people from different cultures, I think it is hard to generalise this, albeit I agree with the essence of your comments if 2 strong leaders, one by being in the position of power the other by being in the position through the group’s believes, the conflict, if unresolved, will impact strongly on any outcome the group is set to achieve.

      • Jose says:

        When I read my comment again it sounded pessimistic, I was really thinking about the gaps to close before moving into clusters, I guess just being conservative. In all honesty, I think it will be like playing in the NFL (or any other high performance discipline) where every member is expecting to outstand every play, when they perform everybody celebrates, when one fails, everybody gives a hand, some what utopian, but who doesnt want to play in the NFL right? Thanks for the contribution to us the non-cultivated – makes you think outside the box…waay outside.

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