In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, several business leaders were left with no choice but to make significant changes to their organizations -- a decrease in IT spending, the reprioritization of digital transformation projects -- in order to come out stronger or to simply survive. As a result, this has also triggered unexpected structural change in organizations.
But even under normal circumstances, change is inevitable and reteaming within an organization comes with many benefits. It has proven to increase productivity, further drive innovation and help create a more inclusive culture in the workplace where employees and their ideas feel valued.
In the second edition of Dynamic Reteaming: The Art & Wisdom of Changing Teams, Heidi Helfand delivers insight on why it can be vital to the success of a business and how leaders and their teams can approach it effectively.
In the following Q&A with the author, she breaks down what dynamic teaming is, the challenges that come with it and the five base patterns it consists of. Also make sure to read an excerpt from Part 1 of the book below.
Why does dynamic reteaming happen and why is it important?
Heidi Helfand: Dynamic reteaming is about the changes we experience in team and organizational structure. These are usually because of company growth or attrition, the emergence of a new work area or the desire to share knowledge or learn something new. Sometimes we catalyze the changes -- like when we switch teams at work or quit and join a new company. At other times someone else creates the change and we have to deal with it or leave -- for example, when a company goes through a reorg. These kinds of changes at work are inevitable. You can use dynamic reteaming strategies to deliberately build resilience into your company, and to develop mastery in how you reorganize. You can use them to become more adaptive and thrive through constant change and uncertainty.
How can business leaders driving structural change in organizations as a result of the pandemic benefit from using the dynamic reteaming approach?
Helfand: First, developing the ability inside a company to plan, execute and learn from reorganizing is one set of tactics. Leaders need to take the time to talk about how their reorg went, gather feedback all around, and get better at reorgs so that the next time they have one, the experience is evolved. Second, after your teams have changed structurally, there are transition activities you can do to help people get through the changes. You can't just expect people to snap into place in a new structure and be instantly productive. I find that facilitating a discussion about what happened to the old structure and talking about what we want the new structure to be like goes a long way in our shifting forward. Third, after transition, you can calibrate and launch your newly reorganized teams with activities focused on people and relationship, work alignment, and workflow visualization.
You mention there are five base patterns to structural transformation -- can you briefly describe what they are?
Helfand: In my research of software companies all over the world emerged five base patterns of dynamic reteaming. One by one, grow and split, isolation, merging and switching. One by one is the addition or removal of a person from a team. When your team grows by the constant addition of people and ultimately splits into smaller teams, I call it grow and split. When you form a short-lived team apart from your other teams to work on an emergency or innovation, I call it the isolation pattern. Merging is when teams, departments or companies combine. Switching is when someone leaves their team and joins another usually for knowledge sharing or the desire to learn something new.
What are the challenges that come with dynamic reteaming in an organization?
Helfand: I think the biggest challenge with dynamic reteaming is when you go through a team or structural change that surprised you or that you did not want. It could be that you are happy and productive in your team, but due to reasons out of your control, like the rippling effects of COVID-19, you are forced into a new situation that you have to cope with, whether it's working in a completely new team at work, or having to look for a new job because yours no longer exists. Those are two different things, but can both benefit from talking with a mentor, manager or coach to help you through.
The following is an excerpt from Part 1 of Dynamic Reteaming: The Art & Wisdom of Changing Teams.
Dynamic reteaming is when your teams change. It could be as simple as the addition or removal of one team member. It could be as radical as pulling team members off of multiple teams to form a new team. It could even be the dissolution of the team. Dynamic reteaming happens at different rates and on different levels within our organizations. Here is our overarching definition of dynamic reteaming:
(Of a process or system) characterized by constant change, activity, or progress
To bring (people) together or apart in work or activity
Dynamic reteaming is the structural transformation of your teams. These structural transformations occur as five base patterns, which I'll describe in detail in Part II of this book. Besides structural changes, when reteaming happens other social changes happen.
In particular, dynamic reteaming creates a new "team system" or "team entity." The new people added to the team bring their interests and talents to the mix, impacting the collective intelligence present on the team. They bring new learning potential and ideas to the team as a whole.
Reteaming helps teams learn together and do things they couldn't do before. Reteaming brings possibility. Comron Sattari, architect and cofounder of SecureDocs, reflected on his time at AppFolio when it was a startup. When talking about reteaming, he said, "We could play to the team's strengths. There was a team with experience doing X, and the product team could say, Okay, let's give this project to that team because they have a lot of experience with it. So we were able to work on things that we were good at, and new people would come in and change the makeup of the team, and then all of a sudden the team was good at something else, and we would work on that." People bring new ideas and perspectives when they change teams. There can be great intellectual power to team change.
Furthermore, Comron notes, "If the team stays stagnant, the abilities you have stay stagnant. We have people on the global engineering team for a reason: they're good at certain things, they're good team members, and mixing that up all the time is important."
I would echo that importance. When you view your company as a learning community, you can collaborate with many of the people in the setting, by creatively reteaming. When you deliberately plan out the reteaming in your organization, you can provide new learning opportunities for people. People can get bored if they're not learning. Avoiding stagnation in this way can help you retain good employees.
The loss of team members -- whether to another team internally or to an organization outside the company -- causes a reteaming of a different kind. When a team member goes away for whatever reason, the team system is smaller, and the character and personality of the person who left is not physically there anymore. This could be a good thing if the individual was annoying or disruptive. In that case, the team could be in a better place and quite possibly ready to move on. It could also feel like a huge loss if this person was a key player with special influence in the team, such as a founder. It might take a long time to get over the loss of this person.
In either case, sometimes it "feels" like that person is still there as the thought of them lingers on almost like a ghost. Maybe others expect that any new person in their place should act just like the person who left. Or maybe you can't stop thinking about the person who left the team.
Deliberate activities to acknowledge feelings when people leave teams can help. See "When People Leave, You Have a New Team" on page 61 for ideas.
Regardless of how the dynamic reteaming happens, the feel of the team -- the social dynamic -- is impacted because the team system is different. It has changed its structural composition. There is often a disconnect between the structural changing of teams and the acceptance of it by the people involved. This is related to the idea of transition from William Bridges, which we will address in Chapter 13. You can't expect to change your teams and have the humans all "snap into line" and get over it quickly. In many cases, there is a delay between a structural change and the acceptance or transition into the new team structure, and so you can pay attention and try activities to help the people acclimate to their new structures.
That being said, dynamic reteaming is not easy. When people hear about the concept they might be excited because in theory it sounds great. "Let's mix up all of our teams right away! Let's implement dynamic reteaming!" That would be entirely shortsighted. The truth is, dynamic reteaming can be very challenging, which makes it worth your time to study. Know what you're getting into. Be prepared to deal with it when it happens naturally.
DOES DYNAMIC RETEAMING ALWAYS WORK OUT?
If you go forth and just mix up all your team members in an effort to reteam, you could cause panic, fear, and confusion. It doesn't always work out for the best. What you need to remember is that you're dealing with humans. Humans have preferences and individual personalities. We don't like to be moved around abstractly like pieces on a chessboard. Our thoughts and opinions matter. In other words, what if the people do not want to change teams? What if they feel that they are learning a lot on their existing team? It might be better to keep some teams unchanged. See the anti-patterns described in Chapter 10 for ideas about when to leave teams alone.
Reteaming done well takes great care and respect for people. There is no one-size-fits-all "installation" of reteaming. Catalyzing dynamic reteaming is challenging and nuanced. In this book, I will teach you my best tactics for success, and show you some pitfalls to avoid. I think success or failure in dynamic reteaming is impacted by several variables, such as those described in "Variables That Impact Dynamic Reteaming" on page 160. Success also has something to do with the chemistry of the team -- that is, the social dynamic created by the mix of human personalities that are brought together as a team. Let's explore this.