Sep 202016

Leaders of 21st-century enterprises can learn a few things from Captain James A. Kirk’s brand-new stealth destroyer and her crew. Consider the similarities. Technology can raise everyone’s game and provide more information, faster. Automation can free humans from rote, mechanical work to do human, thinking work. There’s less room — less time — for overhead and waste.

More than ever, performance of the enterprise depends on individual people working together. And that means looking at individual skill-sets differently.

Lesson 4. Diversity, Teamwork, and Cross-functional Abilities are the New Superpowers


Zumwalt‘s technology means high awareness – but its up to the crew to act on it in time. (AviationIntel)

Whatever your organization is up against — battlefield, marketplace, research goal, or social cause — the environment in which you navigate is more volatile today.  The web and social media means everything is connected to everything else. What you “know” to be true can shift more rapidly and unpredictably now than in the past 300 years.

Traditional teams and organizations are at a disadvantage in this kind of environment. Teams whose every move is subordinate to a supervisor. Teams tiptoeing around the brilliant-but-difficult “superstar.” Teams in the dark about potential problems because their diligent-but-silent “hard worker” never asks for help.

It’s not the teams’ fault — these are the traits we usually hire for. “Takes direction well.” High GPA, high individual achievement. Most solo papers published. “Strong technical skills.” Independent “self-starters.” But today’s fast, chaotic environment needs High-Performing Teams more than high-performing individuals. And the science shows that what we usually look for in individuals needs an update.

The Zumwalt's crew (U.S. Navy)

The Zumwalt’s crew (U.S. Navy)

Teams in the 21st-century enterprise need to be composed of diverse people who mesh well together. People with not just good IQ, but good emotional intelligence — EQ. People who communicate openly and effectively. Who cross-train and appreciate each others’ jobs. Who put the overall mission above their egos. These teams perform well under fire because they cross-monitor, offer mutual support, and allow situational leadership to flow from person to person as needed.

Captain Kirk was asked how his reduced team was going to provide “force protection,” the military term for preventing hostile action against the crew. His answer is “we’re going to do it very well.

Our philosophy is going to be akin to the Marines Corps’ philosophy that every Marine is a rifleman in that every sailor on board must be a force protection expert.

They are also going to have to have a firm grasp of damage control, medical response, evacuation and care. If you get those three things in everybody’s ‘job jar,’ then you have the bench you need in an emergency while still having sailors trained and ready to execute their in-rate skills at different conditions of readiness.

Like Captain James A. Kirk, leaders of 21st-century enterprises will shift away from identifying candidates with the best skills for the job tasks. Instead, they’ll need to start screening for those who can perform the job tasks — and selecting the ones with the diversity, responsibility, communication skills, and sense of mission above self to best fit the mission of the team.

These were the first four lessons that popped to mind when I first read of the Zumwalt and her crew. What others do you see?

All articles in this series:

  1. “Raise the Game” — Automation is Required
  2. “Same Sheet, Different Data” — Tech Is Not Enough
  3. Management Overhead — Reduce the Waste
  4. Team Skills Needed — Diversity, Communication, Mutual Support (this page)
 Posted by at 5:15 pm

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