SpotlIGht on THe SecReTS of GReaT TeamS
Artwork Andy Gilmore, Hemicube
2011, digital drawing
How to master the
new art of teaming
by Amy C. Edmondson
On the Fly
If you wAtched the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, you probably
marveled at the Water Cube: that magnificent 340,000-squarefoot box framed in steel and covered with semitransparent, ecoefficient blue bubbles. Formally named the Beijing National
Aquatics Center, the Water Cube hosted swimming and diving
events, could hold 17,000 spectators, won prestigious engineering and design awards, and cost an estimated 10.2 billion
yuan. The structure was the joint effort of global design and
engineering ...view middle of the document...
And it lets companies accelerate the
delivery of current products and services while responding quickly to new opportunities. Teaming is
a way to get work done while guring out how to do
it better; it’s executing and learning at the same time.
To build the Water Cube for
the Beijing Olympics, dozens of
people from 20 disciplines and
four countries collaborated in
PHOTOGRAPHY: GETTY IMAGES
consumption—on time and within budget. But how
to do all that was less clear.
Ultimately, Tristram Carfrae, an Arup structural
engineer based in Sydney, corralled dozens of people from 20 disciplines and four countries to win the
competition and deliver the building. This required
more than traditional project management. Success depended on bridging dramatically different
national, organizational, and occupational cultures
to collaborate in uid groupings that emerged and
dissolved in response to needs that were identi ed
as the work progressed.
The Water Cube was an unusual endeavor, but
the strategy employed to complete it—a strategy
I call teaming—epitomizes the new era of business.
Teaming is teamwork on the fly: a pickup basketball game rather than plays run by a team that has
trained as a unit for years. It’s a way to gather experts in temporary groups to solve problems they’re
encountering for the first and perhaps only time.
Think of clinicians in an emergency room, who convene quickly to solve a speci c patient problem and
then move on to address other cases with di erent
colleagues, compared with a surgical team that performs the same procedure under highly controlled
conditions day after day. When companies need to
accomplish something that hasn’t been done before,
and might not be done again, traditional team structures aren’t practical. It’s just not possible to identify the right skills and knowledge in advance and
to trust that circumstances will not change. Under
those conditions, a leader’s emphasis has to shift
from composing and managing teams to inspiring
and enabling teaming.
Stable teams of people who have learned over
time to work well together can be powerful tools.
But given the speed of change, the intensity of marBut
ket competition, and the unpredictability of customers’ needs today, there often isn’t enough time
to build that kind of team. Instead, organizations
increasingly must bring together not only their own
74 Harvard Business Review April 2012
Teamwork on The Fly hbR.oRG
Idea in Brief
In today’s fast-moving,
can’t rely on stable
teams to get the work
done. Instead, you
From Teams to Teaming
Teaming is flexible teamwork. It’s a way to gather
experts from far-flung divisions
and disciplines into temporary
groups to tackle unexpected
problems and identify emerging opportunities. It’s happening now in nearly every
industry and type of company....