By Laura Smith, Vice President of Global HR, Digital Intelligence Systems LLC
Team structure is something every manager aspires to achieve but rarely focuses on. The word itself has a stigma when it is being framed in the business world, as people usually parallel needing structure with needing discipline in thought, mind, or action—like a parent structures a child’s routine.
But nothing could be farther from the truth. Think of the manager as a coach and the structure as the playbook. Achieving success is based on carefully crafted plays that maximize performance for every player. A manager who puts a solid team structure in place is focused on achieving goals in a timely, efficient manner, aligning the team with the strategic goals of the organization. This type of structure provides employees with a greater sense of purpose and belonging.
Structure becomes even more necessary when managing teams dispersed globally, but it is also much more complicated.
In the previous pieces of this managing dispersed teams blog series, topics like Dispersed Teams: Communication Guidelines to Keep Channels Open Around the Globe, The Importance of Total Team Inclusion and Tips to Make it Easier, and were addressed. This piece on managing dispersed teams will focus on team structure and what that really means. It will also go into some key elements of team structure and discuss how to tailor team structure to include globally dispersed team members. And finally, it will talk about how cultural awareness impacts structure.
What is Team Structure?
Team structure is the framework in which a team learns to operate efficiently and achieve department and company goals. It clearly identifies the specific roles and responsibilities of each team member and how the team interacts to meet company objectives.
Really, companies have always had business structures in place. It was an unspoken trickle down of goals, tasks, and milestones from the CEO to senior management to line managers and then to employees.
But now, individual teams are discovering the beauty of a tailored team structure to fit the unique needs of those working in it. Team structure has taken a step back from its purely hierarchical makeup and more cross-functional, integrated models have gained significant traction toward the goal of workplace efficiency.
Many businesses have evolved to understand that innovation and break-out success can come from anywhere in the organization and by giving everyone a stake in the game and a say in their own workplace future, employers can improve retention. As a matter of fact, empowered teams and individuals have a greater sense of purpose within an organization, resulting in fresh ideas, higher employee engagement, and positive financial results.
Team Structure Essentials
1. A Clearly defined chain of command. From a strictly hierarchical perspective, the team manager is the primary decision maker within a team—and logically so. But a team manager may elect to spread the responsibility to other team members based on team dynamics and individual expertise or specialty.
For example, if an employee has proven themselves to be an expert in their role, their manager could give them individual authority to make decisions without checking first. Or, if mentor relationships are forming within the team, there could be some delegation of authority to the mentors.
In the case of geographically dispersed teams, a manager working in HQ might opt to switch up the direct reporting structure of a team member in India to someone on-location who understands the cultural norms or who communicates more effectively with the dispersed employee.
Chain of command doesn’t have to be cut and dry anymore. It can be customized to fit a team’s needs. As long as it is clearly defined, understood, works well with the team, and encourages meeting milestones, it can continue to be an area guided by the team’s unique circumstances. This will lead to empowered team members who feel greater purpose and a stronger connection to their organization’s mission.
2. Defined roles and responsibilities. Experience has shown that employees don’t just get hired to do one job.Knowing who does what and who is responsible for task completion not only provides structure within a team, but it also clarifies each employee’s contributions for those outside of the immediate group. This becomes essential when a manager is demonstrating a specific team’s value within an organization or when it comes time to take on new tasks associated with business growth.
To encourage structure, effective leaders should ensure that dispersed employees are recognized within the team and their value is noted publicly to others. Part of this does fall onto the employee as well, but managers should be diligent about full-team meetings where the dispersed employees have an open forum to discuss their work as necessary and gain face-time and voice-time with the rest of the team.
3. Defined Communication Practices. This is a point that has been discussed in nearly every other piece in this series—and it is equally important when talking about structured teams. Structure can’t be defined, maintained, and refined without regular and consistent communication. Without it, a team’s infrastructure will crumble and team members will lose their sense of purpose within the organization.
To encourage constant communication, a manager should step beyond the average weekly or monthly team meeting and work with web-based collaborative tools that help document and manage workloads, tasks, and statuses openly. This approach ensures that plans and documents are always accessible to everyone and outline every aspect of a project with specific team member assignments, agreed upon due dates, and completion milestones.
Thanks to technology, this type of accountability can be accessed 24/7 regardless of location and gives everyone a constant sense of the important work being done. This should not replace the scheduled calls and video conferences already in place for status updates and celebrating success, but should serve as at-a-glance tools to remember what’s happening and reinforce the individual roles of those onsite and offsite.
What Role Does Culture Play in Team Structure?
1. Cultural awareness. Culture plays a huge role in many parts of the team structure in geographically dispersed teams. The previous piece of this series, Cultural Awareness: The Key to Dispersed Team Success, talked about the importance of understanding how the cultures in which dispersed employees are entrenched view hierarchy. This is a major component in building a team structure and a major consideration when working through team structure plans.
2. Collaboration nuances. Now more than ever, managers understand the importance of catering their communication style to each team member. This becomes doubly important with a dispersed employee as mannerisms and communication norms for that individual aren’t determined easily.
Understanding how a globally dispersed team member interacts, understands, and responds to team members and dynamics is essential to structure. It can shed light on effective partnerships between team members, revealing the most appropriate place in the leadership hierarchy to place each global team member for maximum efficiency and engagement.
Successful organizations must adapt to constant change and understand the value of geographically dispersed employees, focusing on individual strengths and how they help an organization meet its goals and enhance an organization’s internal company culture.
Laura Smith is the vice president of global human resources for Digital Intelligence Systems, LLC—a global services and staffing firm based in McLean, Va., with more than 35 offices worldwide. Smith has more than 25 years of human resources experience and maintains the HR certifications SPHR and SHRM-SCP. She has also been named toStaffing Industry Analysts’ Global Power Women in StaffingListfor the last two years.