The 3 types of Bioteam: Business networks, Fan Communities and Mobile teams
Since publishing the Bioteams book it has become very clear that there are a small number of defining characteristics of a bioteam. For best results you should ensure that bioteams is right for your particular team / group / community challenge. Here is how to check!
5 Criteria for a "bioteam"
1. The group is not co-located and may only occasionally meet physically - in fact sometimes all the members of such a group never meet physically.
2. No single channel (e.g. email or web) suits the communications of the entire group - this may be a by-product of the first point but can also be a function of personal group member preference.
3. The group has fluid and/or complex structures such as groups within groups, groups within communities, overlapping group memberships or different types/levels of group membership.
4. There is no obvious single point of command - there is no single leader with the authority to command the entire team and leadership must be implemented collectively. If somebody says "working with these guys is like herding cats" its often a clue.
5. The group has to be formed via an incubation process over an extended period. Its growth looks very similar to that of an ant colony or beehive which are both exceptionally vulnerable until a critical mass is reached but almost indestructible after this point. This is in total contrast to the traditional (command and control) team which usually starts at its strongest but weakens quickly over time.
These 5 defining characteristics are extremely useful and show that not all teams are bioteams.
Thus far there seem to be 3 very clear areas where bioteams are particularly productive - I am sure there are more - we just have not found them yet!
- Business networks
- Fan/Supporter Communities
- Mobile/virtual teams
Let us briefly look at each type of Bioteam in turn:
1. Business networks
This is where businesses come together to achieve scale and to deliver collective services and products to the market they would not be able to do individually. Typically you are dealing with 10-30 small businesses plus a couple of major enterprises with support from research institutions and economic development bodies. Incubation time is typically 6-12 months. This network configuration can also be a powerful structure to facilitate Open Innovation.
This arrangement is sometimes referred to as a Virtual Enterprise Network and is described in detail in my new book The Networked Enterprise which also contains 6 in depth case studies plus numerous other examples. It is particularly important to design a good collective leadership model (such as my "ABCDE roles" model) and an effective set of collective workgroups covering the key activities - typically Network Governance, Sales and Marketing, New Member Recruitment, Competency Development and New Product/Service Development.
2. Fan/Supporter Communities
By fan/supporter community I mean groups who come together around social objects or causes:
music, film, games, sports, books, events or iconic brands
voluntary causes or government sponsored causes such as health promotion
In these communities one of the biggest challenges is for the owner of the social object or cause to be able to encourage and facilitate forms of collective leadership between them and the fans or supporters. For example, in the music sector, the band wants to collaborate with its top fans (the alpha fans) in the promotion of new gigs and music releases. Alternatively a health promotion agency seeks to develop a cadre of health advocates from within its user community.
In these fan/supporter communities, unlike small business networks, we are typically talking of membership in the 100-1000 category and with much shorter incubation periods (4-12 weeks). In the UK we have been piloting the application of bioteams principles to fan/supporter communities in a project known as SwarmTribes (sponsored by NESTA).
3. Mobile/virtual teams
This is the area I originally had in mind when I conceived The Bioteams Manifesto with Robin Good 3 years ago. Here you have a team who are on the road a lot and don't meet very often. Such teams do not spend most of their days in their office at their desks so all the richness of the desktop internet is not available to them for their full working days. They may be dispersed geographically and by time zone. Often also they are a mix of full timers, volunteers and occasional experts. Sometimes they are also a mix of disciplines and/or cultures.
One of the biggest challenges for this kind of team is supporting collective leadership through sharing information in a timely way. There seem to be three key communication needs - all of which need to operate instantly in real-time irrespective of any team members location:
- TELL: One Knows - All knows The ability for any member of the team to communicate with the rest of the team
- ASK: Collective Intelligence The ability for any member of the team to tap the intelligence and networks of the other team members
- CHAT: Instant Collaboration The ability of the team to engage in intensive speculation or brainstorming whilst apart. (This is a bit like a Skype conference call but over whatever channels are active for each team member at that point in time (e.g. email, SMS, Instant Messenger or Web)).
The diagram below summarises the evolution of bioteams (and swarmteams) and the characteristics of these 3 types of bioteam:
About Ken Thompson
Ken Thompson is an expert practitioner in the area of bioteaming, swarming, virtual enterprise networks, virtual professional communities and virtual teams and has published two landmark books:
Bioteams: High Performance Teams Based on Nature's Best Designs
The Networked Enterprise: Competing for the future through Virtual Enterprise Networks
Ken writes the highly popular bioteams blog which has over 500 articles on all aspects of bioteams (aka organizational biomimicry) - in other words how human groups can learn from nature's best teams.
Ken is also founder of an exciting European technology company Swarmteams which provides unique patent-pending bioteaming technologies for all shapes and sizes of groups, social networks, business clusters, virtual/mobile communities and enterprises. Swarmteams enables groups to be more responsive and agile by fully integrating their mobile phones and the web with bioteam working techniques. The latest Swarmteams implementation is SwarmTribes which helps musicians and bands form a unique collaboration with their fans for mutual benefit.
Bioteams Books Reviews
The way a team decides to decide is one of the most important decisions it makes. In the excellent book, "Why Teams Don't Work" the authors, Harvey Robbins and Michael Finley, identify seven key decision-making methods for teams.