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Survival to revival

Jo Ouston

As economic recovery starts to kick in Jo Ouston from Jo Ouston & Co talks about how managers can revive their workforce and focus on who their staff are rather than just what their job titles says they do

Latest GDP figures confirm that the UK economy is growing at its fastest rate since 2007, which is of course good news for businesses.  However, for many employees there is no ‘feel good’ factor as yet.  And after a long period of ‘holding up the roof’ it can be quite difficult for people to suddenly switch from survival to revival mode, particularly if an upturn leads to reorganisation that breaks up existing teams.  

In an article for Forbes magazine - ‘Why leaders need to rethink teamwork’ - Harvard Professor Amy C Edmondson says; “People have to get good at “teaming” - reaching out, getting up to speed, establishing quickly who they are and what they bring, and trying to make progress without a blueprint.” 

In other words, it becomes even more about who people are – what they can bring to the party - than about their formal roles.

Getting the right balance 

There is no universal model for effective team working.  In a successful team, there most definitely is a place for the quieter, shyer, more introverted thinkers as well as the altogether more noisy, ‘all guns blazing’ extroverts that push to make things happen.  It is all about diversity - embracing the differences and getting the balance right.

Dr Meredith Belbin knew this some 30 years ago.  He observed that, in effective groups, particular team roles emerge that enable different people to make use of their different strengths.  Effective teams depend on individuals assuming a number of different roles. For example, one role he described as the ‘plant’ - the maverick of the team, a creative, individualistic innovator who brings fresh air and fresh thinking to the team.  Another role he described as the ‘chairman’, a calm controlled individual with a strong sense of objectives who encourages others to contribute.  

Significantly, team roles are not necessarily fixed - people can play different roles in different circumstances and situations.  Effective teams need a mix of different strengths, talents and expertise.  

Harnessing creativity 

Newly formed teams that bring a different, fresher perspective can lead to new insights and creative solutions.  The tricky bit is transforming creative ideas into practical solutions that address current organisational challenges or emerging issues.  

Ideas need to be assessed and tested with rigour and discipline.  This will often involve challenging and interrogating the brief - what are we trying to achieve here? - and then exploring the potential solutions - often through many iterations.

The ‘SCAMMPERR’ technique is an example of just such a process that can help people play around with variables to create better-quality solutions.  The initials stand for:

- Substitute something
- Combine it with something else
- Adapt something to it
- Magnify or add to it
- Modify it
- Put it to some other uses
- Eliminate something
- Rearrange it
- Reverse it

Asking questions about existing products or processes based on the prompts above can change perspective and reframe issues in ways that reveal new solutions to problems or new opportunities.

Keeping ahead of the curve 

Teams that can combine creative thinking, imagination and fresh perspectives with rigour and realism will be best prepared to pre-empt developments and stay ahead of the game as the economy continues to grow.  

As George Bernard Shaw observed: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.  Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” 


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