In 2013, Bill Drayton published an SSIR article called “A Team of Teams World.” Drayton, the founder and current chair of Ashoka, painted a picture of an emerging future in which shifts in how people work will have a profound effect on how organizations operate. “We are moving rapidly into a world defined by change, which is the opposite of repetition, … ” he wrote. “Value in this world comes not from providing the same thing over and over to a client, but from managing kaleidoscopic change processes that are busily bumping one another. Because one now needs to see and seize ever-changing opportunities, the new organizational model must be a fluid, open team of teams.” In our research, we investigate the elements of performance that enable certain nonprofits to achieve outsized impact. As we noted in a recent article, three of those elements—the ones in which nonprofits are most likely to struggle—are board governance, funding, and impact evaluation. Another crucial element involves organization and talent. In studying this element, we learned that the team-of-teams model is emerging as a critical factor in organizational success. In the coming years, we believe, it will become a standard throughout the social sector.
Drayton’s vision shows organizations how they can achieve the previously unfulfilled promise of a network structure. The emergence of technologies that facilitate dynamic, real-time collaboration makes it possible to overcome the limitations of organizing work around functions or business units. Today, any organization that operates on a large scale or with a high degree of complexity must consider adopting some version of the teams-of-teams model.
The team-of-teams model is more fluid and dynamic than other models. Any network model has dimensions that are clearly defined in terms of who’s included and who’s not included. Team of teams is more fluid and will enable stakeholders to engage people who are not part of their network. The beauty of team of teams is that it works within a network, outside a network, and across a network.