Why distributed working could lead to greater levels of effectiveness

Covid-19 is dismantling some traditional assumptions, rules and functions of how teams connect and perform.

Zoom is now the meeting room.

Ways of working are being quickly re-ordered.

F1 teams and hoover companies are designing ventilators for the NHS. Passenger planes are being stripped so they can be re-purposed to deliver essential items. Former passenger plane pilots are current Tesco truck drivers.

In all of this, we are all being asked to re-think how we work together to solve these pressing problems, from afar.

The natural assumption is that virtual teams (and their ways of working) are less effective than face to face teams.

But could it be the case that we can become more effective than before, despite being further apart?

At the heart of doing anything well is enabling teams to feel a sense of ‘connectedness’, where people in different roles or functions realise how the way in which they work together impacts the broader business. They can then make decisions for a collective result, rather than being led by individual or functional bias.

Connectedness leads to effectiveness.

The question we have been asking ourselves is: can we equal, or even improve, levels of connectedness in teams despite increasingly virtual and distributed working?

How stronger team connectedness sped up drug filing applications in a global pharmaceutical company

Let’s start with a little bit of background…

We were interested to see that a drug produced by one our major clients has been shortlisted as a potential Covid-19 treatment.

The drug was originally created to solve a significant problem in the lives of those that have the autoimmune disorder Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). People with this condition live with joint pain, swelling and stiffness and ultimately loss of joint function.

It is believed that the properties of the drug could help to alleviate symptoms of pneumonia.

This same drug plays another important role.

It provided the basis for the design of a simulation that was built to enable the client to accelerate the process of getting new drugs to market....

The problem statement

The challenge we set out to overcome together with the client was this:

‘How do we enable technical experts in their field, who are distributed across the globe, who may never have worked together or met each other before, to become a high performing team delivering a drug patients desperately need, to market in as fast a time as possible?’

The simulation takes new drug filing teams through the end-to-end process of drug filing and allows the team to experience all the challenges along the way.

The simulation distils what is typically a 12-18 month process into a matter of days.

In addition to the technical fundamentals, the key to the simulation is its focus on getting the team to build trust, understanding and connection. Using the drug filing process as the backdrop, the team must quickly establish how to work with each other from remote locations (which is the reality), to communicate effectively, and to maintain a positive group mindset.

The client had introduced Agile principles into the drug filing process, requiring the teams to adopt a shift in mindset and working style.

The programme has become one of their flagship training programmes and is being used on every single drug filing to ensure teams know how to operate as a connected, high performance unit in advance of beginning the drug filing process.

Connectedness was achieved despite the barrier of being highly distributed, and effectiveness quickly followed.

The transition to virtual and digital working

The problem we now face, like many other companies in our industry, is that our courses are usually run in a classroom with a group of people coming together.

With the pandemic we now face, it is impossible to do this.

Subsequently, we have been tasked  to virtualise our course format in wake of the crisis, so our clients can continue to access vital learning experiences.

Despite the short term hardship, we are excited about the opportunities this focus on a new model might bring.

When attempting to run team meetings, courses or general interactions virtually, here are some of the things we think are going to be central to success.

Why connectedness is just as (if not more) important than skills

When we attempt to replicate our face-to-face experiences in an online environment or otherwise digital format, it is all too easy to forget the importance of the social side of how we learn.

If you want  skills training  to train people on how to be better a specific thing - such as how to be a better salesperson – one only has to ‘Google’  it to find endless solutions at varying prices and in a variety of formats.

There seems to be endless answers to how to get better at anything.

But most of the value is created when individuals across teams need to connect together and move towards the same goal - connectedness.

You could have fifty highly competent individuals, all pointed in different directions, because they aren’t connected. They don’t understand the dynamics of how the group can work together more seamlessly to create value.

They have never experienced it working well.

This is a problem every single business faces.

Covid-19 is making this more acute and demanding that we look for alternative ways of ensuring our teams learn how they can connect with each other effectively to solve problems and deliver value.

People connect when they experience something together

We  firmly  believe that a great deal of learning comes from not just the doing – but also reflection on doing, and the rich conversations and deep discussions that are had from strategizing, reasoning and sharing of an experience.

Many companies are defaulting to webinars (video and/or audio conferences), pre-recorded video/audio and games.

In these scenarios, most people are presented at. There is very little doing and, perhaps worse, very little discussion (other than the presenter).

What’s too often missing is the  collaborative aspects – collaborative ‘doing’ in documents/activities,  group chat, strategizing and messaging.

In order to improve connectedness as you move your interactions and your learning online, ensure that there are multiple opportunities for the group to discuss how they will apply what has been learnt collectively.


People connect when there are fast learning loops

To get teams connected and moving in the same direction quickly requires a very narrow loop between teaching theory and concepts - and actually putting that into practice.

Use short, impactful simulations to create hunger for a concept. Teach and explore the concept, allow people to immediately apply it and then see the impact.

Importantly, there is debrief at the end of each ‘round’ to bring out the learning from that experience and generalise to fit their working life; clearly and unambiguously link this to the company's strategy, the learning objectives and the participants' jobs.

ProfitAbility’s activities are nearly always short.

Much of the learning comes from the discussion within teams, and the wider group discussion(s) at the end of these activities. We learn with and from each other.

Connectedness will matter more than reach

Pre COVID-19, many companies turned to digital learning for scalability reasons – how can we reach as many people as possible?

At Learning Technologies and other L&D events we see companies bragging about their course completion rates and  participant satisfaction rates – a symptom of years of bad eLearning with poor completion rates – yet we are missing what’s most important:

How much of what was learned has been applied?

The focus of digital needs to be less about  distribution – how many people we can  reach - and more about connectedness – how many people we can  connect to a new idea, behaviour or way of working, creating teams that work in a connected, joined up manner?

With facilitation, we so often find the answer already lies in the room.

The skill of a good facilitator is to draw out the answers that connect people together. That’s true of smaller groups – say 12 – 24 people in room.

Now imagine if we could scale that knowledge sharing and energy up for the organisation; no longer bound by four walls – but connecting experts and novices all over the company.

Let’s champion the behaviour of people who share their knowledge to develop others – not be knowledge keepers. No barriers of location – something that could  be anytime, anywhere.

Something that starts small and like a flower, grows the more goodness it gets.

This is where the opportunity really lies.

Maybe, just maybe, we’ll become even more connected and deliver better results faster, despite being more distributed than ever before.

The Business Transformation Network have shared this article in partnership with ProfitAbility.