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The Underestimated Power of Hidden Teams

Organizations successfully managed to map the functional teams through organizational charts, but fail to account for many actual cross-functional teams formed beyond the organizational structure. Recent research by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall showed that 64% of the employees work in multiple teams at the same time, but almost 75% don’t show up in the organizational chart. Most of our daily activities happen within teams, but why are the majority of these teams invisible for the company and hardly to monitor? This not only affects the overall employee engagement but also the level of productivity and the fulfillment of the organizational ambitions.

What are hidden teams?

It is easy to visualize the functional teams, such as “marketing”, “finance” or “product”, but it’s rather challenging to map the teams formed beyond the org. structure, such as for example “team new mobile app” ,“team event X” or “community agile way of working”. These teams are often formed temporary and consist out of different profiles from different departments. Also, other terms are used to express this phenomenon such as cross-collaboration teams, interdisciplinary teams or virtual teams.

Impact on the overall engagement

According to recent research by ADPRI, conducted in 19 countries, there is a positive relation between the overall employee engagement and working within teams. Their study revealed, among many other findings, that only about 16% of the employees are fully engaged at work, which means that an astonishing 84% are just going through the motions. Previous research already emphasised the decreasing employee engagement and the inter-relationship with the organizational productivity. That’s why many organizations payed increasingly more attention to improve the overall engagement but without any major success. The key is to understand what actually drives employee engagement.

Looking at the current figures today, we were getting it wrong for many years. We thought that changing the organizational culture or benefit individuals would help to increase the engagement within the organization. However, it turned out that the most effective way of increasing the overall engagement of the employees is not by focussing on the culture as a whole or benefit individuals, but rather on the experience within a team. The share of people who are fully engaged more than doubles if they are on teams.

What makes the hidden teams so powerful?

The ADPRI study enumerated several key differences between hidden teams and org. chart teams:

  • The level of trust is considerably higher within hidden teams mainly because these teams are often formed among colleagues and are more compact than org. chart teams. The level of team engagement more than doubles if employees trust their manager but it is quite hard to trust a manager if he/she doesn’t pay any attention to you personally. Too many often we see just one supervisor for a team with dozens of people. How is it even possible to give everybody the right amount of attention?

  • People are always eager to learn and develop their skills but they rather learn from each other than being sent to an external workshop or training which is often unrelated to the actual teamwork. Most of the time these hidden teams are formed across different functional teams which brings different profiles together and they can learn from each other.

  • People who are working in hidden teams feel more freedom and higher level of control as they can do work they love. Therefore, all employees should have the best of both worlds: one predictable, stable role within a “static team”, which refers to the org. chart teams, and one “side hustle”, where they have a series of opportunities to join dynamic teams inside the same organization.

Unhide hidden teams

Even though, we like to use organizational charts in order to bring structure to our organization, we all know that in the real world team leaders are pulling team members onto new teams all the time. But why do we only visualize the org. chart teams? Unfortunately, our current tools are blind to this reality of hidden teams within any organization, and so unable to monitor the majority of our work. The Human Reef platform, however, tackles this problem by unhiding these teams and monitor their work. We attach value to both org. chart teams as virtual teams and the alignment between them by working with different dimensions in the organization. (org. chart teams & virtual teams). When you’re making your hidden teams visual, you will be able to link their achievements with the organizational ambitions and monitor the progress of your strategy better than ever. Additionally, with the dynamic org. chart, it’s easier to find the right people for the right job across different functional teams.


Buckingham, M. and Goodall, A. (2019). The power of hidden teams. Harvard Business Review, [online] (16). Available at: [Accessed 13 Aug. 2019].