Article | Harvard Business Review | April 2012

Teamwork on the Fly

by Amy C. Edmondson

Abstract

In a fast-paced and ever-changing business environment, traditional teams aren't always practical. Instead, companies increasingly employ teaming: gathering experts in temporary groups to solve problems they may be encountering for the first and only time. This flexible approach was essential to the completion of the Water Cube, the building that hosted swimming and diving events during the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, and to the 2010 rescue of 33 Chilean miners. More and more people in nearly every industry now work on teams that vary in duration and have constantly shifting membership. Teaming presents technical and interpersonal challenges: people must get up to speed quickly on new topics and learn to work with others from different functions, divisions, and cultures. Several project management principles-scoping out the challenge, structuring the boundaries, and sorting tasks for execution-help leaders facilitate effective teaming. Leaders can also foster cross-boundary collaboration by emphasizing purpose, building psychological safety, and embracing failure and conflict. Individuals who learn to team well acquire knowledge, skills, and networks. Organizations learn to solve complex, cross-disciplinary problems, build stronger and more unified cultures, deliver a wide variety of products and services, and anticipate and manage unexpected events. Teaming helps companies and individuals execute and learn at the same time.

Keywords: teaming; cross-functional integration; organizational learning; Groups and Teams; Experience and Expertise; Interpersonal Communication; Projects; Social and Collaborative Networks; Competency and Skills; Learning;

Citation:

Edmondson, Amy C. "Teamwork on the Fly." Harvard Business Review 90, no. 4 (April 2012).