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Goodbye middle management, hello fusion teams

Digital transformation strategies are about more than technology, says e-commerce expert Alexander Graf. Their success also depends on the creation of multidisciplinary ‘fusion teams’ 

The traditional organisational approach, which focuses on roles and responsibilities, doesn’t match the demands of the digital world. Step forward multidisciplinary or ‘fusion teams,’ a cross-functional way of working and collaborating that enables a new distributed delivery model built on a shared mission. 

Going hand in hand with the concept of an agile culture, fusion teams are built on flexibility and are fluid in response to change, pulling together different disciplines and skills levels to work towards a common business outcome. 

For McKinsey, a fusion team approach involves “moving strategy, structure, processes, people and technology toward a new operating model by rebuilding an organisation around hundreds of self-steering, high performing teams supported by a stable backbone”. 

Gartner describes fusion teams as “cross-functional teams that use data and technology to achieve business outcomes” and points out that 84% of organisations now have at least one fusion team. According to its analysis, 40% of fusion teams have a leader who reports outside of IT, highlighting how important fusion teams are to business outcomes. 

The core concept behind a fusion team is to speed up innovation by giving it the autonomy to launch digital Goodbye middle management, hello fusion teams solutions and so avoid bottlenecks associated with release approvals. 

This approach mirrors the idea of macro and microservices. Each service has its team, but talent silos are avoided by promoting centralised expertise and transferring digital skills where necessary. 

This should enable a fusion web team, for example, to develop part of a site, such as an enhanced search facility, in weeks instead of months. For maximum success, fusion teams should be allowed to launch features directly onto the website, the mobile app, the search engine or the email engine. 

Autonomy equals agility 

Fusion teams could sound the death knell for middle management structures. The digital economy does not lend itself to multiple middle management layers that can take months to make decisions. Greater autonomy equals more responsibility, more committed and motivated teams and greater business agility.

In digital environments, unlike traditional landscapes, data vistas, requirements and preferences are constantly changing. Instead of making a boardroom presentation with several options for a development that may have been ages in the planning, in the digital world organisations could have a whole range of options that can change very quickly. Working out which is the fastest and the best route is what’s important. Using data analytics, fusion teams can quickly see which approach will resonate best with customers and bring optimum business value. 

A new development model 

The days of cross-functional teams working on huge solutions from software giants purchased to solve IT issues have had their day. This rigid, single-platform approach won’t work for fusion teams, where flexibility is a crucial ingredient. Now, the focus must be on creating an infrastructure that allows teams to deploy features across an enterprise’s IT ecosystem without being hit by obstructions from central IT and middle management. 

Old programming languages such as Java are also laid to rest in the fusion world. Technology to support fusion teams must connect with multiple interfaces that often come with their programming language or programming concept. 

Change is everywhere, from how IT is purchased to how it is connected, supported and upgraded. As a result, IT can no longer be managed as a cost centre. Instead, it should be seen as a critical business enabler. 

The need for strong leadership

Leadership in a fusion environment needs to be strong because team leaders usually have end-to-end accountability when it comes to results. 

CIOs or CTOs, who were once responsible for traditional IT approaches, supported by new types of external partners, will be central to the transformation process. They will be responsible for orchestrating fusion teams and providing clearly defined incentives and responsibilities. 

The growing demand for customer experience, personalisation and new channels calls for radical new approaches. Fusion teams is one of them, accelerating the launch of digital initiatives and ultimately bolstering the bottom line. 

The last year has thrown up some significant and unexpected challenges. Fusion teams can overcome many of these hurdles with the right mix of technology and skills to deliver faster and more cost-effectively. 

It is important to remember that there is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to fusion teams – build a fusion teams approach that fits your business culture.

2018