Why HR team-working works for business


Josh Bersin talks about how team working, culture and feedback tools will be part of HR’s future software arsenal, in part two of our catch-up with the HR market watcher.

All hands on
All hands on

The team is the center of the company and if the team works, the company will succeed.

Josh Bersin, founder and principal at analyst firm Bersin by Deloitte, is among a growing number of business experts who recognize the power of the team.

Traditional organizational set-ups, place the chief executive at the top of an organizational pyramid with cascading levels of managers, but in reality the way people actually work is in multiple teams and networks (see Figure). Digital technology makes it easier for more collaboration and teamwork between people.

It’s still an immature market, however, Bersin sees the rise of the team this as a huge opportunity waiting for technology vendors to fill:

I think there will be team-centric tools we have yet to see that will probably be mobile based…There are companies now building team-management tools, project management tools, collaboration tools that really make things easier. 

Products such as Slack and Facebook’s Workplace and a host of start-ups are all tackling this space, while traditional HR software has its roots in this hierarchical approach to organizational design.

Bersin cites Cisco as one company that is trying to take a more team-focused approach to performance. The technology firm found that there were thousands of teams in the company. Bersin says:

They were just groups of people working together on stuff – there was no infrastructure no management around that.

Cisco is now trying to roll out tools to establish a new team focused framework and so that employees can assess teammates and establish some framework. Bersin expects there to be a rush of tools to help with this process over the next few years.

But there are other gaps in HR technology which Bersin expects to be filled over the next few years:

I think there will be more AI in HR software. There probably will be more focus on mobile feedback apps than there are now.

Bersin also expects there to be huge amount more flexibility and personal choice built into core HR areas such as pay and benefits:

People are used to having a huge number of choices in their personal life that they don’t have at work. So companies are starting to become much more aware if they give people more flexibility they will get more performance and better engagement.

He makes the point that millennials want more control over their work experience. If they don’t get the training or feedback they crave, then they will look for another job:

If you’re going to live to 100 then you’re going to have 10 or 15 careers, you’re going to change companies a lot… so I think a year for now I think we will have even more flexibility.

Millennials are also instrumental in the need for company culture to change. Employee-driven, team-based working practices requires a shift in company culture. As a result, culture has become a huge boardroom topic, according to Bersin:

Nobody knows how to measure culture, but everyone wants to talk about it….Most companies have company values on website but they don’t live by the values or they have no way of measuring it. That’s become a very hot space in HR technology, these culture assessment tools to give you some regularly updated feedback on how things are going.

Wellness or wellbeing is another area that where Bersin expects to see a lot of activity from vendors over the next few years. It’s still a very immature market and companies are still experimenting with things like wearables to measure heart rate or activity. Bersin says:

I don’t think any are working very well yet, but we know employees want it and we know people seem to be comfortable wearing these devices. The questions is: are they providing any value? I think the wearables market has been growing but it’s not taking off as fast as expected. Maybe in a year or two we’ll see the killer app.

But wellness is not just about physical fitness; it’s about how people feel about work too. Here again, this is relatively unexplored territory for HR, says Bersin:

I know several companies in the US starting to develop wellness platforms. They track your physical stuff and they also track employee feedback. So they can look at 50 or 60 elements of work experience and say holistically this group is overworked, this group not getting enough exercise, this group is unhappy because of their  manager. That’s where this is going to go and we’re going to go.

Consumer companies monitor customer feedback on their thousands of products, so there’s no reason why they couldn’t apply exactly the same type of technology to employees.

This is all part of the push towards a more employee-led work environment. The old paradigm of companies serving shareholders first, is disappearing. Bersin says:

Most CEOs will say our number one stakeholders are our shareholders, number two stakeholders are our customers and number three is our employees.  I think companies are beginning to realize it should be the opposite. Number one stakeholder is the employees, they in turn take care of the customer and that takes care of the shareholders. That’s a completely opposite away to think about where you spend your money.

What that means from a technology standpoint, is that employees want to be able to access the information or tools they need easily.  The technology has to adapt to their way of working, not the other way round. Bersin expands:

They don’t want into log into their HR ERP and do whatever it is you want them to do. They want to see HR applications embedded where they work. So I believe one of the big disruptions in the reinvention of HR is resurfacing the transactional apps that we have in a destination we used to call an HR system into the workplace system we use every day. Because we’re going to be spending more and more time on these applications and less and less time on traditional applications.

My take

Talking to Josh Bersin, it seems clear that the next year or two is going to be pretty exciting and active as we see a flurry of new technology coming out that try and match this employee-first, mobile-first way of working. 

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    1. It is nice that more companies are realising the value of truly working as a team, rather than assuming all organisations need to be run as dictatorships.