A very brief introduction to teaming

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Part of Leading through Covid-19

Leading through Covid-19

The response to Covid-19 has meant people who may not usually work together – or even know each other – are coming together to tackle complex and urgent challenges, based on limited information and no real idea of what’s coming next.

As they take up new roles, people who think differently, talk differently and work differently are having to find ways to reconcile divergent professional perspectives. Among the pressure of the magnitude of the task ahead, this environment is ripe for high levels of anxiety and burnout. Fortunately, people have thought about what can help temporary teams work together and support each other effectively. 

'Teaming on the fly'

Harvard Business School’s Professor Amy Edmondson has studied hundreds of organisational responses to such challenges to understand the mindset and behaviours that allow diverse groups of people to come together with no prior plan, and to collaborate and learn as they meet the challenges before them. She calls this process ‘teaming on the fly’, and emphasises framing the challenges in positive terms and making learning a central part of the work.

One example was the San Jose mining disaster in Chile in 2010, where 33 miners were trapped 2,000 feet underground. They had two days’ worth of food and their chances of survival were put at less than 10 per cent. And yet 70 days later, all the men were rescued alive, thanks to strong teamwork and leadership.

Putting it into practice

Based on Edmondson’s work, we think there are three things that everyone, and especially leaders, can do to ‘team on the fly’ more effectively.

  • Let go of the need to have all the answers – freeing yourself from feeling you should know everything may free others to pitch in to collective problem-solving; this may help you all feel more in control.
  • Make some time to connect, even if it’s briefly, and get to know your new teammates, what they bring and how they can contribute – they may surprise you. 
  • Be curious and welcome curiosity to make it easier for people to share their ideas and concerns, and worry less about hierarchy or what people will think of each other.

Want to know more?

Find 13 mins to watch Amy Edmondson’s 2018 short presentation ‘How to turn a group of strangers into a team’.


salma Lokat

Comment date
26 October 2020

This is a very useful and informative information or my role. Due to current crisis, our service demand has been increased. Our face-to-face service been suspended and are working remotely. This new way of working pattern is not very useful for our Vulnerable Elderly South Asian Women, who lacks knowledge on new technology and language barrier.

Mariette de Vos

NHS hospital
Comment date
18 June 2020

Very informative and useful for my role. New way of working and thinking very useful in these times of COVID19.

Mary Ofori

Team manager,
Comment date
13 May 2020

Thank you for putting these useful information together for team managers or leaders in this unprecedented times. This is a new way of working for some of us who have been used to working and leading through face to face contacts and meetings in supporting staff. I do find the information extremely helpful for my role. Thank you

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