Three Watch-worthy Trends Affecting the World of Work

For me, 2018 started with a reminder of the gift of a beginner’s mind.   Fellow Agile Coach Kim Scribner and I had the pleasure of introducing Agile to 20+ middle and high STEM students and their mentors.  How easy it was for them to embrace the new concepts and ideas with curiosity, enthusiasm and with an openness that all things were possible.  Why were they so receptive? Perhaps because there were no previously held beliefs and mental models to first unlearn.

For many of us, though, there may be much to unlearn.

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” – Shunryu Suzuki

Here are three interesting trends affecting the world of work that challenged some of my old beliefs and gave me reason to unlearn.  Do they challenge yours?

One: From Specialists To ‘Versatilists’

While the Agile World has long recognized the value of ‘generalizing specialists’ and ‘T-shaped team members’ (people who develop a depth of knowledge in a few areas but expand their breadth of knowledge in several areas), specialists have always enjoyed higher respect, reverence, and rewards. Today, that trend is shifting.  More and more organizations across several industries are discovering the value of ‘versatilists’.  Solutions to our increasingly complex problems are demanding  increasingly interdisciplinary solutions and adaptive versatilists who can bridge effectively across diverse business functions.

Business researchers predict that by 2021, a whopping 40% of IT workers will be identified as ‘versatilists,’ holding multiple roles, many of which will be business oriented, rather than strictly technology focused. New job descriptions are expected to begin formalizing these ‘versatilist’ profiles as demand for ‘pure’ IT technical specialists will trend downward.

Two: Neurodiversity – Beyond Gender and Ethnicity

Studies (like the 2015 McKinsey report) reveal that companies in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean. And those in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15% more likely to have returns above the industry mean.  HBR reports that the collective intelligence of a group rises with the inclusion of more women. There is growing evidence  that greater diversity improves  team performance.  But diversity does not stop at gender and ethnicity – recent studies are exploring the value of ‘neurodiversity.’

Neurodiversity recognizes that our brains have natural variations in how they function. Many new labels have been introduced to identify  these variations including: autism, Asperger’s syndrome, dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), etc. Increasingly, psychologists and scientists are concluding that these variations aren’t necessarily inferior—they’re simply, well, different.

In fact, neurodiverse people, are demonstrating that they have a lot to offer in the workplace. People on the autism spectrum tend to be good at solving tough problems because they can be hyper-logical and have an amazing capacity to intensely focus on whatever captures their attention. Many are very detail-oriented, and because they crave stability and certainty, they are good at recognizing patterns—as well as deviations from a pattern—and therefore excel in technical roles like programming or data science.

Because their brains use a different ‘operating system,’ neurodiverse workers don’t think according to the same rules. In fact, their brains conform to fewer rules and pass fewer judgements, which enables them to put pieces together in interesting, creative ways. Many times, an ‘alternate perspective’ is all that may be needed to break through a tough problem!  Neurodiversity opens up new possibilities and a competitive advantage.

Three: Self-Selection and Dynamic Reteaming

What do you suppose happens when  people are able to choose for themselves what they work on and whom they work with?  

Self-selection is a facilitated process of letting people self-organize into small, cross-functional teams.  People who design their own team through self-selection are naturally more engaged and committed to the cause of the team because they want to be on the team. This higher level of commitment within a self-formed team means specific skills are less important as they are more eagerly learned. Sharing a common goal and a common purpose, team dynamics start out and stay on a higher level than if the team had been created by outsiders.

More and more companies are experimenting with self-selection and seeing the benefits of triggering intrinsic motivators of autonomy, mastery and purpose that the process allows.  A successful self-selection activity, though, requires careful preparation and effective facilitation as described by the creators of this process in their book Creating Great Teams – How Self-Selection Lets People Excel by Sandy Mamoli and David Mole.

Heidi Helfand, in her book Dynamic Reteaming, challenges the long-standing notion that the longer teams stay together, the better.  Maybe not.  ‘Dynamic reteaming,’ as she explains, means moving team members around teams in different ways. At the individual level, finding the right team fit via feedback loops (like one-on-ones with managers, periodic surveys, and retrospectives) helps employees find more fulfilling work in a welcoming environment where they are free to make mistakes and learn. And as individuals learn, so organizations learn. At the team level, reteaming helps find the optimum collection of individuals that can work meaningfully, enjoyably, and effectively together to achieve a common goal.

Together, self-selection and dynamic reteaming appear to offer a more direct path toward meaningful work and meaningful relationships—two hallmarks of high performance teams.

Learning about these trends challenged some of my long standing mental models and beliefs.  How do these three trends challenge yours?  How might these trends affect your choices?