Fast-changing teams: the cheetah vs the ant


There is a lot of evidence about the rapid changes taking place in the business landscape. This disruption comes not just in the form of technology or business innovation, but from changing demographics, globalisation, and macroeconomic changes. But what are these changes and how are they impacting the way that our teams are operating?

An example of this change is the increase of mergers and acquisitions. They have hit a record high over the last few years, and now amount to over $3tn, a huge sum which is expected to increase further in the coming years. This figure suggests that large organisations are beginning to adapt, join forces and reposition themselves in order to stay competitive.

Another example of this rapid change are ‘unicorns’. The term ‘unicorn’ refers to a company which is yet to appear on the stock market but is valued at anything north of $1bn. These used to be a magical, rare-breed of business which were typically found in Silicon Valley, but now there are a whole host of unicorns in the making. One study that began in 2016 looked at the potential start-up disruptors in the automotive industry. The study calculated 500 start-ups that were expected to cause a shift, but by the end of the year, this had grown to a massive 1700 businesses. It also appears that ‘unicorns’ aren’t even the biggest thing organisations need to worry about as there’s now a new breed that has been born; a ‘decacorn’. These refer to an organisation that achieves an unbelievable $10bn evaluation even before entering the stock market.


What does this mean for teams?

Unsurprisingly, with all this change taking place, there has been a substantial shift in the way teams operate internally. One of these ways is the fact that teams now need to be fast-changing and are very rarely static. In this ‘fast eats slow’ environment, agility is everything. Businesses need teams and individuals who stay alert to industry threats and opportunities, can sustain performance during change, and be adaptable in a whole range of ways.

These adaptations have since driven teams to function with 3 characteristics: temporary teams, multi-team membership and team turnover. As organisations respond to this more volatile business context, a noticeable shift has been the increasing prevalence of temporary teams. According to our research, 37% of teams are now temporary, meaning they are together for less than one year, suggesting the constant adaptations teams are now subject too.

These different types of fast-changing teams can play out in 2 ways:


At one end of the spectrum, we have ‘Cheetah Teams’

Relating to the fastest land animal, these teams are small, fast-paced and agile, but they are not very sustainable (between 3-8 weeks). The team members are often disengaged from other assignments or duties and fully committed to delivering the cheetah teams’ goal. They’re reactive teams that are normally used in unanticipated situations or problems during a project that requires a quick and effective solution. They’re highly useful and effective, but given their short life-cycle, they are used in very unique circumstances. This is where the other team comes in.


At the opposite end, we have ‘Ant Teams’

Ant teams are the polar opposite of cheetah teams. Just like the insect, they’re strategic, planful and often have multiple focal points during their time. Quite simply, these teams are proactive and look at how to minimise inefficiencies and find innovative ways to either capitalise or avoid contingencies. Far more structured and processed, results and ROI are at the forefront of their objectives rather than the more ‘return and rescue’ missions that cheetah teams are used for.   


It’s important to be aware of the changes that are taking place in your organisational environment, and ensure you’re prepared for the impact it will have on your business. How are you utilising fast-changing teams to make sure you remain successful during change? Are you currently using Cheetah teams and Ant teams in your organisation? If not, where are the opportunities to start using them?

We dive further into this topic in our recent webinar, click here to view the recording!


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