Saturday, April 25, 2009


We live in the 21st century. IF we examine the people surrounding us as well as ourselves, we notice something that was not the same in the past century: individualism. People at life and employees at work, all seem to be very individualistic. One may say that it is almost a religion. Oscar Wilde, in his book "The picture of Dorian Gray", expressed this saying in his unique way: "being in harmony with oneself is a key to life, echoing the tenet to Aestheticism that calls for the individual to make of his own life a work of art."

Individualism conflicts with teamwork. The willingness of one to placate himself, to utilize, to succeed building a career, opposing to the need to fit yourself to the environment, to people that may work and think in a different pace that may have other perceptions and other agendas.

Organizational thinking, there seems to be a conflict as well: We were taught that teamwork is a good thing. However, teamwork costs more: More time as to the need of synchronization; and more money as duplication exists.

Yet, teamwork should not be considered part of the past. Teamwork is a value, one of the values that belongs, not only to the Human Resources department, seeking for the ideal. Furthermore; in the 21st century, when many of us are knowledge workers, and our knowledge is one of the main things causing the organization to move on and succeed, in such a time, teamwork is important, one may even say essential, threefold: From the individual perception; form the organizational perception; and from the business perception.

I shall explain:
As individuals, even though we may eager for individualism, we need a network of support and we need a belonging. These of course can be developed in an organizational level, with no teams, but are not enough as such. We need a close group of reference. One that will see us in the morning, and ask why we might seem worried. One that will share our happiness and success, and share our sad moments as well. One that we can turn to when we are in distress. A close group. Belonging can be built also within big groups, however being part of a team, conceptualizes the belonging and makes it fell reality.
In the past years, a new type of relations has emerged, similar to teams, but actually serving some other functionality: Social networks. A social network deals with relations between peoples, but focuses on week relations. In teams, we deal with tight relations. A Social network cannot be a replacement and solution providing the belonging level nor the support network as provided by a team structure.

Examining the organizational angle, teamwork is a very important value. In their book, Collaboration 2.0, Levine and Coleman write, that teamwork includes, among other benefits, the following advantages:
  1. It strengthens the individuals commitment;
  2. It raises satisfaction level from the workplace;
  3. It enables advanced trust and communication.

No doubt, that obtaining even only one of these is enough for us to understand that organizational speaking, teamwork is a positive thing. How much more so, when speaking about all three.

Professionally speaking, teamwork is surprising. We could have thought that in an era of knowledge, when everyone has his or her own expertise, there is no real business benefit to working in teams. However, this is not the case. Teamwork brings better business value, than working separately. Nonaka and Takeuchi, in their book "The Knowledge Creating Company", taught us, how Japanese companies create the dynamics of innovation. Knowledge, they write, develops in teams / small groups. Not in the individual experts' brains. Socialization; that is how they name the first stage of four in which knowledge is created. A stage that deals with transferring the tacit knowledge from the individual to a close group. The knowledge may start from the individual, but it develops through the transition and within the group. Other researchers, who analyzed learning processes, agree with this finding: Teamwork improves the quality of products and other outcomes, improves the efficiency of obtaining them, and advances the innovation and creativity related with them.

Teamwork helps improvement individual concerning, organizational concerning and business concerning.

Nevertheless, so I believe, life is not as simple as it sounds. Working in a team is not always convenient. People have to compromise and understand that the team may work or decide according to their colleague recommendations, and not as they thought.
Teamwork can cause a herd effect, where the group influences the individual, not always in a positive way.
Moreover, teamwork can yield duplication in resources cost.

How can the potential of a team be utilized? Buchel, in her article "Knowledge Creation and Transfer: From Teams to the Whole Organization", published as part of Nonaka's and Ichujo's book "Knowledge Creation and Management", writes about two main factors of the team, that influence the human capital and improved performance:

  • Density of relations within the group.
  • Bridges to the outside (organization, stakeholders, etc.)

How can a company avoid the duplication challenge? I think that the solution to this problem is by defining clear limits. Defining the tasks in which there is an advantage for teamwork, and the tasks in which it is better to be performed by one individual. Analyzing, brainstorming and interviewing are examples where teamwork should be preferred, even if it may seem to create duplications. Implementation, technical operations and documentation are examples in which teamwork may be unnecessary, and even a waste of time and money.

One last point, before ending this post. I started with individualism. Individualism has many benefits, and it must not be spared in the name of teamwork. Combining both, teamwork with place for the individual and his or her uniqueness, is a key to success. As Michael Jordan said: "talent wins games, teamwork and intelligence win championship".


To the Hebrew version

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Electronic mail

Israel's Defense Forces (I.D.F.) has announced that it is working nowadays on a new command that will limit email sending so that any soldier can send an email up two ranks higher than himself, and not above.
No doubt, that the electronic mail has influenced our lives, and has influenced management. This example of the new army command is one example that demonstrates how much technology influences culture and flattening of the hierarchical organization structure.
Is this something good? And if not, is it right to block it? Maybe, in the 21st century it is rather a good idea to flatten the organization or at least reduce the mental gap between the organizational ranks.

The issue is complicated; however, no matter what the final decision is, I think that two things have to be considered while taking the decision:
Technology should not dictate culture. Each organization has to analyze the advantages it could achieve from the organizational flattening, and potentially there indeed are advantages: The employee thinks wider looking at the big picture as the organization does not treat him as a small part in a well-defined organization; good new ideas can defuse better. Furthermore, in Israel, where the post is written, many people know one another from several different life cycles having different hierarchy relationships in each; etc. If these advantages are greater than the disadvantages deriving from emails to all (and on the disadvantages I will not elaborate as we were all brought up on them and know them all), then we should favor the free email usage. Of course, if this is the case, new bounds should be set, preserving the managers' place as the final decision maker.
If a decision is taken to make a change, as the one reported to be in I.D.F., then the change has to be managed. It should be communicated, explained, and not only commanded. The reason is obvious: Employees already got use to this ability. Any change will be interpreted as worsening conditions and can cause bitterness. The move and its rational should be communicated and special care has to be given to the period until people get use to the new process of work.

However, email usage has more in to it for the 21st century worker, beyond organizational flattening.

Email has totally changed our availability to work. Even though we all have cellular telephones, people do not tend to call us off working hours (and yes- working hours' definition is tricky). With emails, we have no problem. We can write whenever convenient to us, and if it is not work time, we assume that the employee, receiving the mail, will answer when s/he find it suitable. Without noticing, we reach a situation in which most of us work, write each other, exchange opinions and tasks almost 24 hours a day.

Emails have also changed our routines on working hours. Sometimes we have the feeling that email is managing us, no us managing it. It seems as if every half an hour the mail carrier arrives, with a new big sack full with mail, leaves it on our step door and goes to bring the next one. The piles turn higher, and the small message on our inbox notifying us how many mails yet have to be read and/or handled leaves us stressed, hopeless or both. Some people reach a situation when all day they reply to mails, and again, as in the beginning of the post, somehow the mail is the initiator managing us, and we are the responders.
What can I recommend? I manage the time in which I answer mails. Emails are treated mainly on evenings, nights and on the early hours of the day. Most daytime is dedicated to people. I do enjoy the mails advantages not letting it gaining control on me (at least most of the time).

A post on emails cannot end without concerning the email's content, beyond the framing (to whom and when). Email is somewhat risky. On the one hand, we regard it as something less formal, as speaking on the phone, or even speaking face-to-face. We speak unofficially and therefore, not always consider every word we use. Email however, is written. If we get an email from some colleague, or even worse, with some subordinate, and are under the impression that they hurt our feeling, we read it again, and again, empowering the insult. It is very different from a situation where someone speaks with us. The situation is even more complicated, ad when speaking face-to-face, and even on phone, the one with whom we are communicating, can sense our feelings. S/he can fix the impression, clarify things, apologize, or limit the arm level. With emails, we do not have this luxury: On the one hand, informal; on the other hand, very formal.

What is recommended? To read every mail we write and think if there is any chance it will be misunderstood; to use the email channel to shorten things, but better use it on good or natural issues. To remember that a third person can pass and see what was written. The bottom line: do not give up this fabulous channel, yet use it a bit less than what would seem natural.

Email indeed is a revolution, a revolution of the 21st century. A technological revolution that has influenced quality of life, pace, and ways we treat our managers. I do think that at the end of the day, it does have more advantages than disadvantages, and we should be happy with it.

And, yes, I think that organizations can be flattened, at least in most cases (of course, I do not know what is best for the army). Authority in the 21st century starts from knowledge and is less influenced by formal hierarchies only. The manager has to invest more to be appreciated and treated with honor, and it is less a case of the ability to send or not to send him or her, an email. The knowledge era builds its own balances between things.

I wish us all, to indeed benefit from the email revolution. I wish we will have many other positive revolutions as the email one.