Generalists and Teams Thrive in Complex Environments

The world may be getting more complicated and chaotic but the best way to ensure job security in this environment is getting simpler: become a well-educated generalist willing to keep learning and develop teaming skills.

Career counselors advise young people to become broadly educated and versatile to keep their career options open in a fast-changing world. Workforce projections are unreliable; tomorrow’s high-demand occupations can quickly become over-supplied or out of date. The most useful skill is to know how to learn for the multiple careers people are likely to have in a lifetime. The more broadly educated people are the more options they will have when it comes to choosing and changing careers. The best career strategy is to choose employers who offer substantial education benefits and professional development.

When employers are surveyed, they report they want a variety of basic skills such as reading and writing, critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork, professionalism and leadership. Employers are adding to their wish list emerging priorities such as innovation and creativity, cultural competency and digital literacy.

Employers of all types want to hire potential leaders who can innovate, solve problems and organize diverse individuals into results-oriented teams.   People with a career portfolio of different work experiences and project knowledge are more intriguing to prospective employers than those who have followed a defined career pathway. With old roles and boundary lines blurring in every field, organizations need people who have proven they can learn deep and fast and become specialists and change agents for the moment in the latest opportunity.

Professions will find it increasingly difficult to draw hard lines around their work scope and competencies to exclude others.  Instead they will be asked to accept a more fluid and collaborative environment that relies on and rewards successful teaming.  The innovators in healthcare, science, business and government programs are using interdisciplinary teams to manage complexity and solve tough challenges.

Corporations are trading their cross-functional teams for teams that can swarm to problems and connect inside and outside their enterprise to the expertise they need. Gartner says by 2020, this new form of teaming called swarming will help organizations adapt to work that is less routine and characterized by increased volatility and hyper-connectedness.  Gartner says “swarms form quickly, attacking a problem or opportunity and then quickly dissipating. Swarming is an agile response to an observed increase in ad hoc action requirements, as ad hoc activities continue to displace structured, bureaucratic situations.” Individuals in a swarm may only know one another through weak links. People will navigate their personal, professional and social networks to survive and exploit swarms for business benefit. Hyper-connectedness will lead to a push for more work to occur in both formal and informal relationships across enterprise boundaries.