As defined by Stanford researcher, Daniela Retelny, a Flash Team is a group of experts brought together for their specific skills to solve a complex problem on an accelerated timeframe. Flash Teams enable organizations to put a broad range of specialized expertise to work on their behalf and then disassemble as soon as the task is complete. Think of it as a build-it-yourself management consulting team or your very own A-Team.
There are two main challenges to address in order to capture the possibility of a Flash Team. The first is assembling the requisite expertise. Targeted services such as eLance and 99Designs give you access to one specific type of specialized skill, but when you need to put together a broader range of experience and know-how, where do you find them?
Our go-to solution for assembling a team is LinkedIn. As organizational effectiveness consultants, we tackle a broad range of issues ranging from traditional lines and boxes HR to leadership coaching to large scale transformation. We put together "Flash Teams" continually to address the specific needs of each new client. A robust LinkedIn network allows you to identify and connect with individuals whose experience and skills match your needs and to easily get references on their effectiveness from within your network.
The next and bigger challenge with a Flash Team is accelerating their effectiveness. It's easy to pretend that if you bring the right people together, they'll figure it out. They will -- eventually. But the promise of a Flash Team is predicated on the idea that they'll start performing quickly and use the full value of their differences. If you want a team to fully capitalize on the power of diversity, you have to teach them to overcome everyone's natural aversion to it. It's easy to say we appreciate difference, but when it comes right down to it, it's been proven that we'll naturally gravitate towards others who think and act like we do.
Here's how to grease the wheels for your Flash Teams (or for any team in your organization):
1. Require that the team spend a disproportionate time upfront defining the problem, surfacing assumptions, and designing the approach they'll use to tackle it. This is the classic "go slow to go fast" approach. Nothing derails a team more dramatically than its members all moving quickly in entirely different directions.
2. Define roles and expectations. Are you expecting team members to dedicate an hour a week or a day a week? Does each person know whether they are there as a subject matter expert, contributor, or project manager? When speed is of the essence, teams often skip this step, only to find weeks in that they are operating with vastly different perceptions. By contracting explicitly and proactively, Flash Teams can outperform much more mature teams.
3. Recognize that difference creates conflict. Establish a set of ground rules for how to productively deal with conflict in the group. (We're big fans of Chris Argyris' High Quality Advocacy and High Quality Inquiry" tools. Invest time upfront in building the skills of the team at engaging with one another and place a high value on listening as a team practice.
4. Insist that the team adopt high performance meeting practices. Given that most Flash Teams will be operating virtually, meetings become an even more critical forum for advancing collective understanding and outcomes. If the team leader lacks the requisite skills, consider bringing on a designated facilitator. In Flash Teams, a good process is as essential as subject matter expertise.
Flash Teams are a great example of how work is evolving in new and really exciting ways. To take full advantage, however, leaders need to be even more conscious about how to design and support their teams. Great outcomes don't just happen. But they can, and that's the exciting part.