The anatomy of the perfect 21st century team

Here, Patricia DuChene, EMEA managing director of Wrike, takes a look at some of the people you need to build your modern day ‘Dream Team’.

If you’re a sports fan, you may remember the 1992 Men’s US Olympic Basketball team. Comprised of 12 NBA stars in the prime of their careers, the Dream Team easily dominated the Barcelona Olympics on their way to becoming what ESPN calls ‘The greatest team ever assembled in any sport’. It’s hard to believe that was a quarter of a century and six Olympics ago, and those stars are now enjoying what we can imagine are quite relaxing retirements.

Off the court, the anatomy of the perfect team has evolved just as much in the last 25 years as it has on the court. The economy is in the midst of the ‘fourth industrial revolution’, and the lines between physical and digital work are becoming blurred. A new innovation could catapult you to the top of the market, virtually overnight. And just as quickly, someone else’s innovation could disrupt your business.

As a result, new structures, diverse personalities and a breadth of skillsets are required to help teams keep pace with the high speed of business. Teams must have creative thinkers, analytical thinkers and technical thinkers, as well as a cross-section of perspectives and experiences. With an increasingly globally connected workplace, diversity should be considered an opportunity rather than an obligation.

As you continue to look for ways to future-proof your business, let’s take a look at some of the people you need to build your modern day Dream Team.

The subject matter expert

It goes without saying that the people you choose for a team should have the right expertise for the project they are asked to take on. As Ken Poirot author of Mentor Me, advises: ‘wise people understand the need to consult experts; only fools are confident they know everything’. Personally, I like to say, ‘An expert is someone who’s made every mistake, twice.’

The subject matter expert is your go-to person when you need to understand the context around your project. As industries grow and change, so too must your subject matter experts. Take the automotive insurance industry as an example. A few years back, smart vehicles, ridesharing and big data were non-factors in this field. But today, all these new technologies have become a reality, and it takes an expert to know what they don’t know and expands their knowledge accordingly, by reading trade articles, attending conferences, and living life with a healthy obsession for their field.

The early adopter

Technology isn’t necessarily everyone’s passion. Some people see it as a godsend here to improve our lives, and some see it as a necessary evil in the workplace. But as it grows in usage, every team should have someone whose fascination with technology leads them to explore new tools, build automations and integrations, and help coach others through implementing systems that build team efficiency. They follow technology news, install and play with newly released apps, and are always synthesising ways new tech can apply to the team.

As cloud-based collaboration tools become the norm in British businesses, their role is not only set to grow in importance, but also in responsibility. Team productivity is fuelled by enhanced communication and information sharing, which these new technological tools are capable of delivering. And as they become central in any team’s organisation, finding creative ways to use them to bring your team real value is a mission critical task.

The charismatic connector

A charismatic connector is someone who connects with members of their team to spread ideas. They are like the honey bees, pollinating teams with new perspectives and inspiration. In the HBR study, ‘The Hard Science of Teamwork‘, researchers found that the number of charismatic connectors in an organisation corresponded directly with its likelihood of success.

Charismatic connectors aren’t just for internal communications. They can help a company build partnerships with related brands, communicate ideas to the media, and help meet and recruit candidates to join the team. They are people who always have an ear open for the problems of others, and have an astute memory to connect them with people who can solve them. In today’s economy, no team or company can win on its own: and charismatic connectors are the ones who build the bridges that allow teams to help each other over troubled waters.

The challenger

The dangers of ‘groupthink’ abound in any team, and perhaps even more so in one that has worked together for a number of years. That’s why it pays to have a challenger on your team. This is someone who isn’t afraid to be the devil’s advocate, sees decisions through a different lens, and who won’t let the team get too comfortable with the ‘obvious’ solution.

A challenger is someone who pushes boundaries, and isn’t afraid to call out peers or even leaders to try to poke holes in plans. Take it from the famous American football player and coach, Vince Lombardi, who said; ‘individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilisation work’. This teammate will ensure that the rest of the team stays flexible and adaptable, capable of easily incorporating changes without a heavy period of transition. This quality is essential in an ever-changing environment like today.

The leader

No two ways about it, every team needs a strong leader. This person knows the difference between accountability and responsibility, and isn’t afraid to do heavy lifting of their own. Today’s leader will draw on the strength of all team members and ensure that all activity is underpinned by the values and the culture of the business. As former US President Ronald Reagan puts it: ‘The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things’. The perfect modern leader will be able to identify the qualities of each team-member and apply them effectively in all areas of the business. Incidentally, this person will also decide who of the people listed above is missing in the team and hire the right person that ticks all the boxes and fits well with the culture of the company.

Whatever your team make-up, there are a few guiding principles for any high-functioning team:

Transparency. When it comes to status of projects, share as often as possible, in as unobtrusive a way as possible, to keep everyone on the same page. It will ensure that problems are identified before they start, and opportunities for improvement are visible to everyone on the team.

Knowledge sharing. Make sure the information people need is available to them, whenever and wherever they need it. Efficiency and productivity can only be achieved if all team-members have all the information they need at hand – without interrupting each other’s work.

Cross-border culture. To ensure that company culture transcends location requires a strong leadership team acting in line with the culture, every day. It’s also worth considering streamlining the technology tools and operational processes you use, to support consistency.

The right technology tools. Finally, it is important to point out that technology is on any business’ side when it comes to making all of this work. Tools today can become the bonding agent that will make the machine work smoothly. They allow businesses to share and access information instantly, create and manage tasks involving anyone from any part of your business, and promote transparency.

Technology has brought about tremendous change at a pace that was previously unimaginable, challenging businesses to operate at higher levels than ever before. But if used correctly, they can also enable teams to rise to the occasion by exponentially improving their ability to deliver. With the right team, best practices, and technology, the sky’s the limit for your business.

Patricia DuChene is EMEA managing director of Wrike.

Further reading on building a team

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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