A wiki to inspire next-
generation organizations
Project teams and task forces

From Home

This article describes how cross functional teams emerge and operate, and how their activities fit with the rest of the organizational design.

A new perspective

In earlier organizational stages, project teams and task forces are established by upper management to break through strict organizational boundaries. Typically a project manager/team leader is appointed, and team members are selected based on factors such as competency, position in the existing structure, loyalty or ability to work with others. The team leader directs the activities of the team members. Upper management decides to disband the team/task force when it deems results have been achieved, the project is a failure or the prospects for success are no longer worth the effort.

Project teams and task forces in Teal organizations have the following characteristics:

  • They organically emerge and disband, depending on what the evolutionary purpose of the organization calls for at the time. They are not appointed by someone given authority to do so.
  • They are staffed with people who think the project is important, can and will attend to the project immediately, and are not necessarily the “best educated or best experienced persons for the job”.
  • There is no single person to “lead” the team or task force or “manage” the project.
  • Individuals prioritize their involvement in the project based on usually one or more of these measures: What is most important? Most urgent? Most fun?

In practice

Organic formation

In Teal, no one mandates the creation of a project team or task force. It is created when a number of people see a need and are willing to contribute to it. No one is appointed based on their competence or position in the organization. Anyone can start a project team. If no one can spare time for the project, there is a collective trust that it's probably not important right now.

Purpose-driven activity

In Teal, a project team or task force exists as long as it supports a specific part of the organization's evolutionary purpose. When it has - or if it doesn't - it withers and dies, or transforms into something new. Team members prioritize their involvement depending on what they sense is the most important, most urgent or most fun to do. If the creator of a project cannot motivate people to contribute, he should ask himself: Is my project aligned with the organization's purpose? Is another project attracting the people I need? If so, how can our two projects support each other?

Radically simplified project management

In Teal organizations, there are no project or program managers, no software systems or Gantt charts to organize or control the various projects underway. There is minimal project budgeting, no master plan and rarely a timeline. A huge amount of time is freed by dropping all the formalities of project planning— writing the plan, getting approval, reporting on progress, explaining variations, rescheduling, and re-estimating, not to mention the politics that go into securing resources for one’s project or to find someone to blame when projects are over time or over budget.[1]

Fluid physical space

In companies where Teal projects and task forces are standard, the architectural layout may be designed to support a fluid structure. The office at Sun Hydraulics is a big open space with custom-designed cubicles that go only waist high. At a glance, people can see who is there and can overhear many conversations. It greatly improves collaboration, colleagues say.

At Valve, a Seattle game developer, all employees have desks on wheels. They roll their desks around depending on the projects they join or leave. The company has even designed an intranet app so colleagues could locate each other easily. It displays an office map, in real-time, showing where people have plugged in their computers.[2]

Task forces instead of formal staff departments

In Teal companies, voluntary task forces are often used to perform tasks typically carried out by traditional staff departments. This has multiple benefits: Employees can find ways to express talents and gifts their primary role might not call for. They can develop areas of expertise that can then be shared with others in the organization. Task forces are also formidable learning opportunities; people pick up technical and leadership skills from more experienced colleagues in a modern-day form of apprenticeship. [3] See also Staff Functions

Frequently asked questions

Doesn’t this lead to chaos?

Teal organizations trust the collective intelligence of the system. While this may seem risky or outright foolish, if we reflect on lessons learned in the domain of economics, we have reached a general consensus that the centralized planning committees of the Soviet Union were ineffective. While contemporary approaches to capitalism leave much to be desired, the free-market system where a myriad of players sense and respond to signals, make decisions, and coordinate among themselves has proven to be more flexible and responsive. This means, that things occasionally fall through the cracks, but this is often to be welcomed as the outcome of a collective prioritization effort; the system simply roots out a project that doesn't seem promising or important after all. [4]

What about agile and lean?

Agile and lean can be naturally and deeply embedded in Teal project teams. FAVI is an example: "The factory was an eager and early adopter of Japanese manufacturing techniques; it masters continuous improvement like few others, a critical capability to survive and thrive in the low-margin automotive business... A very simple process is at work: whenever a team stumbles upon a problem or an opportunity, as happens every day, the issue is logged in a logbook. Anybody can volunteer to tackle an item by writing his or her initials next to the issue in the logbook. Typically, the two or three people that are most affected or interested decide to join forces and analyze the issue. If no one picks up a certain problem or opportunity, it probably means it is not important. Otherwise, it will come up again, and someone will end up tackling it... no one bothers with statistics, master plans, project management software, or reporting. There is a simple reminder mechanism: operators have asked a woman working in administration to go through the logs once in awhile, and if there are items that have been open for more than three months, to remind people who have signed up to tackle the issue about their commitment. Teams have found this gentle prodding to be helpful." [5]

How do these practices link with the three Teal breakthroughs?

Self-management

In Teal, project teams and task forces are self-organized and voluntary. They are not created by upper management or commanded by a team leader.

Wholeness

In Teal, people are not limited to a single role or job description. They can join teams and task forces that match their interests and talents and are encouraged to use both their rational and intuitive minds to prioritize which projects to join.

Evolutionary purpose

Individuals and groups listen for what they sense is needed right now, and form project teams as required. Likewise, they trust, that if no one can find time to work on the project, it's because it's not important to the organization’s purpose right now.

Concrete examples for inspiration

Here are some practical examples from organizations that have adopted Teal practices for project teams and task forces.

Sun Hydraulics

Hydraulics components - Global - 900 employees - For profit

Sun manages projects without project planning.

Sun Hydraulics is a global producer of hydraulic cartridge valves and manifolds with hundreds of engineering projects running in parallel. Despite this, there is no master plan. There are no project charters and no one bothers with staffing people on projects. Project teams form organically and disband again when work is done. Nobody knows if projects are on time or on budget, because for 90 percent of the projects, no one cares to put a timeline on paper or to establish a budget. A huge amount of time is freed by dropping all the formalities of project planning - writing the plan, getting approval, reporting on progress, explaining variations, rescheduling, and re-estimating, not to mention the politics that go into securing resources for one's project or to find someone to blame when projects are over time or over budget. According to one of Sun's leaders, "We don't waste time being busy".[6].

AES (Applied Energy Services)

Energy Sector - Global - 40,000 employees - For profit

AES replaced staff with task forces and mandated time allocated to them.


With 40,000 people scattered around the globe but only around 100 staff in its headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, AES had no central maintenance or safety departments, no purchasing, no HR, and no internal audit departments. The company came up with the "80-20 rule": every person working at AES, from cleaning staff to engineer, was expected to spend on average 80 percent of their time on their primary role and make themselves available for the other 20 percent in one or more of the many tasks forces that existed around the company.[7].

Note that AES was handed over to new management in 2001, who decided to revert to more conventional management approaches.

Valve Software

Software Industry - United States - 330 employees - For profit

At Valve deciding what to work on is a job in and of itself.

Valve is a leading videogame developer and distributor. According to their employee handbook, "When you give smart talented people the freedom to create without fear of failure, amazing things happen.[8]

At Valve, employees are not told what to do but rather are expected to work on what they believe to be of most value to the company. Valve acknowledges that "deciding what to work on can be the hardest part of your job" and advises employees to ask themselves questions such as "Of all the projects currently under way, what's the most valuable thing I can be working on?" and "What's interesting? What's rewarding?" What leverages my individual strengths the most?"

As a result, most of the work at Valve is accomplished via self-organized, temporary, multi-disciplinary project teams called "cabals". They form organically as people decide to join a group based on their belief that the group's work is important enough for them to contribute their skills. Often someone will emerge as the "lead" on a project. However, their role is not to manage the team in a traditional sense but rather to act as a kind of information clearinghouse. By having an understanding of the whole project, they can act as a resource for team members to check decisions against. [9]

Related topics

Notes

  1. Laloux, Frederic (2014-02-09). Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness (Kindle Locations 1924-1927). Nelson Parker. Kindle Edition.
  2. Laloux, Frederic. Reinventing Organizations. Nelson Parker (2014), page 85-6
  3. Source: Laloux, Frederic. Reinventing Organizations. Nelson Parker (2014), page 90
  4. Source: Laloux, Frederic. Reinventing Organizations. Nelson Parker (2014), page 85-6
  5. Source: Laloux, Frederic. Reinventing Organizations. Nelson Parker (2014), page 89
  6. Laloux, Frederic (2014-02-09). Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness (Kindle Location 1927). Nelson Parker. Kindle Edition.
  7. Source: Laloux, Frederic. Reinventing Organizations. Nelson Parker (2014), page 89
  8. Source: Valve Handbook for New Employees; 2012
  9. Source: Valve Handbook for New Employees; 2012