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Rethinking the future of work: an interview with Eduardo Salas and Scott Tannenbaum on the OUP blog

Rethinking the future of work: an interview with Eduardo Salas and Scott Tannenbaum

Introducing the authors of Teams That Work: Eduardo Salas and Scott Tannenbaum. Their work draws on a strong body of evidence to reveal what really drives team effectiveness in organizations. Eduardo Salas is the Allyn R. & Gladys M. Cline Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychological Sciences at Rice University, a prolific author, and active consultant. Scott Tannenbaum, as the President of the Group for Organizational Effectiveness, has advised hundreds of organizations globally, including more than 75 Fortune and Global 1000 companies across every major business sector.

Read an interview with the authors exploring aspects of teamwork and the future of work.

What are the building blocks for a successful team? 

We think the science is clear here. Teams that have some degree of task interdependence need a number of “key ingredients” in order to be effective. To begin, role clarity is a must. Then the team needs to have a compelling reason to be a team. That is, clear, valued goals and a purpose. The team leader matters—a leader who orchestrates the functioning of the team moment-to-moment by providing guidance, support, and caring for team members’ well-being and focus. They set the tone for the behavioral norms and how to resolve conflict and move ahead. This means the team members must perceive they have psychological safety to raise issues of concern. And finally, to mature, evolve, and be resilient—teams need a discipline of debriefing. Engaging in reflections of what transpired and how they can improve.

What is the difference between good and bad team communication?

The funny thing about team communication is that there is a belief that “more is better.” But research shows that “better is better” and not more. In fact, from our experience the best teams are relatively quiet. That does not mean there is no communication going on, there is, but its timely and efficient. We think that what matters in teams is to hold robust information exchange protocols—protocols that allow for clear and accurate exchange of information and encourage team members to share unique information that others don’t possess.

“Organizations need to provide team and leader development and tools that mimic the new remote world.”

How do we develop and support the next generation of leaders in a more remote world?

Yeah, the world of work has changed. Hybrid work might be the new normal. Although some organizations are going back to in-person too. In a “remote world” the teamwork issues are more challenging. More salient. Teams must pay more attention to the building blocks we noted as they are less likely to just “happen.” For example, it often takes longer to create psychological safety and mutual trust in a team when some teams members are remote, while others are collocated. So, organizations need to provide team and leader development and tools that mimic the new remote world. For team training, it can be helpful to use “simulations” as a means of building teamwork “muscles” that are relevant to the context they work in.

How does increased flexibility impact employees and organizations?

Flexibility has two sides. Personally, most employees want flexibility, including having some degree of control over where and when they work. But employees also need to know where and how to communicate and coordinate with co-workers… and it is more difficult to maintain an awareness of who is available and who has the latest information when team members have a great deal of personal flexibility. To attract, retain, and engage employees, employers need to allow ample flexibility. And they then need to provide the tools, resources, and processes that enable them to coordinate effectively.

“To attract, retain, and engage employees, employers need to allow ample flexibility and provide the tools that enable them to coordinate effectively.”

What do you think the world of work will look like in 10 years?

From the teamwork and collaboration angle—teams are here to stay, whether they are in person, remote, virtual or some hybrid form. More collaboration will be needed. People will be more connected, there will more networks that need to coordinate, communicate, and cooperate to succeed. We think a disproportionate share of breakthroughs, innovation, and knowledge generation will come from multi-disciplinary teams. 

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