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Can you improvise in the face of the unexpected?

Your teams encounter ongoing uncertainty, complexity, and the need to collaborate across geographic, functional, and hierarchical divisions. They also face with a chaotic uncertainty that is becoming the norm. Such teamwork situations call for flexible, collaborative leadership that is conducive to improvisation.

What happens to established team leadership principles, such as building trust, when teams are too dispersed and temporary to get to know one another; or the division of work into controlled phases, when the project is too complex and unpredictable for a linear approach? Even in routine, straightforward work situations, classic team leadership principles are more conducive to maintaining the status quo than helping teams to improve and enhance their performance, whereas agility is essential to allow permanent learning and innovation. 

To avoid paralysis in the face of rapid change and ongoing uncertainty, Amy Edmondson invites teams to go from blind obedience to the rules* to a more flexible, improvised style of execution.

Based on

Teaming: a new way of working

Globalization, new technologies, rapidly shifting markets and also black swans — multiple forces have changed the demands that teams face. 


You recognize that agility and innovation capacity are key success factors. But how can you develop these key competencies? According to Amy Edmondson, the answer is clear: empower teams to learn and discover new solutions as they execute, rather than trying to enforce detailed plans and processes handed down from on high. “Research over the last twenty years or so, including my own, has found that teams are a fundamental source of learning,” says Edmondson, who has coined the term teaming to describe today’s focus on team-based learning, organizational agility, and innovation capacity. “Teaming is teamwork on the fly,” she explains. And it has become an imperative across a wide variety of industry contexts — from routine to complex to innovative work situations (see the box “Improvise? Not on my teams!”).

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Clémence Thiry
Published by Clémence Thiry
Clémence is Digital Manager. She is in charge of our digital strategy and of running our blog and newsletter. She also supports our customer projects with content for managers’ digital communities.