There’s a revolution going on. Everyone is rushing to digitally transform. Every enterprise, third-sector organisation and government is racing towards this. Some want to prevent disruption. Others want to solve the problem of a lack of skills or talent. Some want to reduce costs, and some are joining in because it’s the current fashion.
The transforming technologies are varied but powerful. They offer us infinite possibilities: machines that learn better than us; items that can communicate with each other, robotic drones that can draw upon vast arrays of data, trading platforms sharing complex commercial arrangements, and much more. Even now, it is easy to imagine wearables or implants that will allow the user to feel if a project is running late, or physically sense the areas of risk. Strategists will use these technologies either to replace staff and eliminate jobs or to augment and enhance people, making them slightly superhuman.
As a project leader, this revolution will hit you in one of two ways.
First, investors have high expectations for transformation, and activity is at fever pitch, so you will pick up projects that will aim at more than just your normal project change. They will aim at transformation.
I define ‘change’ as a caterpillar getting fatter every day. Change is not transformation in the same way that a butterfly isn’t a caterpillar with wings. The caterpillar’s competences are eating your cabbages and walking on many legs; a butterfly’s are drinking nectar and flying. They are not the same.
Transformation is what makes a butterfly out of a caterpillar. To succeed with transformation, you need to deliver three different, interwoven projects: you’ll need projects to generate and maintain the ‘fuel for transformation’; you’ll need to create the ‘scaffolding’ and security for transformation; and then you’ll need to build the new capabilities. Success requires three very different styles of leadership.
The second way you will be hit is in the changing nature of your teams. They will be augmented. I have been leading teams of enhanced people for more than eight years. For our transformation, we adopted a virtual-reality-based way of working. Using virtual reality to replace real-life offices essentially means that my global team faces no barriers to collaboration. Distance, time zone, seniority and gender – all are removed. There is plenty of (virtual) project space, so charts can be left on walls and spreadsheets on screens. Every team member is just two clicks away from a full face-to-face discussion or brainstorm.
And it is easy to maintain a single version of the truth. We call this highly transparent, interactive and supportive productivity method ‘working out loud’. (It’s a dream for anyone trying to deliver agile from more than one location.) Effectively, each of my team members is more like Superman than a human. They are faster than a speeding bullet, with the ability to see information through walls. It means that, as project leader, you are no longer the spider in the middle of the web, because your team members also have the same access to each other and the work.
Five leadership lessons
Here are some tips for leading a global team who have never met each other, and whom you rarely see:
- Remove the fear of flying. It’s better to reduce fears than inspire to action.
- Momentum is more important than direction. Often, no one really knows the best outcome. If you get people moving, you can rely on them to steer the actions towards benefits if you make results suitably transparent.
- Looking at the bottom of the mountain is less scary than pointing at the top. Encourage your teams to try easy things first, and put in triggers to reinforce these into habits.
- Feel the speed by looking out of the side window. Reminding people about how amazingly they are working is more powerful than direct praise.
- Plant trees on slopes. The more interdependence you can encourage and gain in your team, the more resilient and capable they will be. Make sure you are one of the trees.