Teamwork in the 2020’s and beyond

The article reviews how the changing employer/employee relationship has developed over the last 30 years, requiring a different approach from employers to achieve staff loyalty, teamwork and synergy.

‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team’ was written in 2001 by Patrick Lencioni looking at teamwork, based upon the corporate landscape from the 1990’s.  The employment landscape in relation to employer/employee trust has altered significantly since then. Therefore appropriate adjustments need to be included when training out the principles of this book.

During the 1980’s and 1990’s, trust was very strong from both sides of the employer/employee spectrum. The majority of employees joined a Company with a view of developing a career internally.  It was not untypical for many employees to achieve 30 and even 40 years’ service with the same employer. This employee loyalty was rewarded by employers with internal career progression and the provision of ‘sticky products’. (Employee short/medium/long term benefits – profit sharing, share options, final salary pension schemes etc..)  On the backdrop of an economic climate of high unemployment, employee loyalty to their employer also provided employee security.

At the beginning of the 21st century, the situation started to change. Many large employers started streamlining costs, which resulted regularly in redundancy without giving consideration to employee longevity. Further cost savings were made through the removal of long term ‘sticky products’ (e.g. FS pension schemes) and the tightening control of expense accounts. Additionally, greater individual accountability was introduced through various guises such as KPIs, targets, NPS.

However, this lack of loyalty towards the employee and increased employee responsibility had little negative effect on employers at the time. This is because of the continuing high unemployment and perceived lack of opportunity in the job market.  Also, those employees with ‘sticky products’ clung on to those benefits even more and created a culture of being able to be ‘pushed’ by their employer to new limits of challenge.

This situation has radically changed in the 2020’s, with employee loyalty at an all-time low, with individual focus being the prime driver of each employee. The job market is very fluid with staff turnover reaching record levels in most industries.  Unemployment is the lowest it has been since the 1950s, and the number of registered job vacancies is at record levels.

These factors when combined with the removal of ‘sticky products’ and the ‘unhelpful’ practices of ‘Quiet quitting’ (doing the minimum I can get away with) and the HR support for long term sickness of employees (also on a record high of 2.5 million: source – ONS December 2022) will require employers to take a totally different approach to creating synergy, teamwork and employee loyalty in the second quarter of the 21st century.

In summary, you cannot fight progress.  The principles of the Five Dysfunctions book still ring true and form an excellent template for team building, particularly at higher management levels.  Equally, you must build in the reality that the majority of staff will see themselves as ‘the priority’ and not their employer.  An environment needs to be created where the employee feels valued, empowered and able to contribute.  Then and only then, is there an opportunity for a synergistic employer/employee relationship.