Teams: Yes we CAAN

InactionA decade ago, the business world was abuzz with talk of teams. It was the way to get things done in the “organization of the future.” We are now in the future, and teams (at least as we knew them then) are becoming a thing of the past. Why? Because we are moving beyond finite games, where boundaries, goals, rules, and teams, and winning could be constant and reliable.  Today, we don’t just play winnable games, we also engage in infinite games: Many different tasks at the same time; diverse resources and skill demands; global and virtual connections; tight timelines, emergent targets; evolving rules.  Radically different relationships and structures are required to accomplish complex tasks in complex environments.    

I experience this shift in my own life.  Last week, I had 21 meetings, and that doesn’t count the weekends. Each meeting involved different people, goals, products, timelines. Members of the flux generation thrive with this pace and flexibility, but I have to work at this new kind of work.  Adaptive Action helps me engage with such a fast-paced and uncertain world. It helps groups come together quickly and seamlessly to accomplish tasks—then move on. 

Rather than depending on traditional teams to get work done, consider shared action in  Coordinated Adaptive Action Networks (CAAN) .  If your work has already moved into this new and emergent pattern, you’ll recognize the benefits and challenges of CAANs, and the idea will help you develop your adaptive capacity.  If you struggle with the transformation of your teams, CAANs will give you a path through the chaos and into a new clarity.  If you still enjoy the comfort of traditional teams, then get ready because CAANs are coming your way. 

A CAAN is a group of individuals or institutions who recognize how a shared interest will be served by sharing resources.  They come together for a short period of time, with a specific goal, to coordinate data collection (What?), understanding (So what?), and action (Now what?).  After a brief encounter, the components are freed to pursue other potentially fruitful CAAN engagements.  We are currently supporting clients in CAANs to create learning communities in schools, build coherence across prevention networks, harvest lessons from health care innovations, deliver revolutionary leadership training, and help build credible influence for a foundation. These groups use Adaptive Action in coordinated networks to accomplish challenging and complex tasks quickly, cheaply, and efficiently. You can, too.  It is simple, even when it isn’t easy.  Consider these rules to turn your stodgy teams into CAANs.

Synchronize. When a group comes together, focus on synchronizing their various work rather than creating new task lists and agendas.  No need to add more items on the list of TO DOs. Instead, align with others to leverage the tasks that are already there.  A CAAN adds synergy to current work without significantly expanding demands. For example, last week I discovered that a colleague was visiting the US from Finland in the coming month, so we recruited him to teach us about a new technology that would accelerate the work on a project. Same time and same place created a synergy that would not have been possible otherwise. This CAAN produced maximum reward with minimum investment.

Assess and exploit. Not every resource serves every interest, and not every interest requires every resource.  A successful CAAN draws in what is essential, uses it to its fullest potential, then releases it to serve elsewhere.  Other resources aren’t wasted or ignored, they are just invested in parallel CAANs where they can make a real difference. For example, I recently excused myself from a project when it became clear that art and poetry were required.  Neither of those is my gift, so I found it easy to leave that CAAN to others and move on to work that was a better fit for me—and me for it. 

Move information.  The free flow of information is what allows a CAAN to come together, do its work, and move on. Negotiating opportunities, giving and getting feedback, connecting to additional resources, explaining what is (or is not) required—all of these functions are central to working in a CAAN. All of them depend on fast and reliable transfer of information.  As I prepare for meetings these days, I make two lists:  What do I need to know? and What do I know that others need?  This simple discipline helps me be a valued player as we share resources to meet shared interests in an ever-increasing variety of CAAN relationships.    

CAANs are wonderful ways to organize work. They build the task networks that are flexible and agile. They are not designed, though, to meet our relationship and emotional needs. Those depend on robust networks of relationship and identity.   We expected old-style teams to do both—satisfy our need for connection and help us get work done.  Today, we learn to invest in a variety of networks, so that the action fits the function. We are able to use Adaptive Action to improve how we leverage uncertainty in our personal and professional lives, we just don’t always do both at the same time. 

How are you experiencing the transformation of teamwork?  What do you do to leverage Coordinated Adaptive Action Networks? What is helping you and your colleagues thrive in your current chaos?  

Please contact us to continue the conversation.

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