The 5 Ts: Terri Griffith tells how we can work towards highly effective remote work


It is clear that many organizations are still grappling with the shift to remote and distributed work, with many leaders hoping that they can before long resume work in the way that it was before.

A little while ago on the Virtual Excellence Show I was delighted to speak with Terri Griffith, currently Keith Beedie Chair in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business, and a deep expert in how organizations accelerate performance as the nature of work changes.

In this brief video Terri gives great perspective on our shift to effective remote work, including the insights from applying her 5T framework.

Here is a simple explanation of the 5 Ts slightly adapted from Terri’s excellent website.

Target: Goal, a strategy that you’re trying to achieve

Talent: The available knowledge, skills, abilities, and psychology (things that would be covered in a management or organizational psychology course) of the people involved

Technology: The available capabilities of everything from a shovel, to how a room is furnished, to artificial intelligence

Technique: How talent and technology are brought to bear in particular processes

Times: The context – times of our lives – that set the stage for how these dimensions come together, currently driven by the COVID pandemic

Below is a transcript of the highly relevant insights Terri shares in the video.

Exactly. I always look at the morning newspapers, as all the blog posts are coming out every day about who’s going to say this isn’t ever going to work out and we’re all going to come back into the office. I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think we are going to be dramatically more remote going forward than we were in the past.

It will be because people have seen the benefits. They’ll also have seen the cost but they maybe have figured out how to overcome those costs as they go. The part that I guess aggravates me a little bit is when someone writes a headline that says remote isn’t working. They aren’t acknowledging that we’ve had, you know, if I want to push hard on it, 1000s of years of learning how to work face to face, and now in just a few short months to expect that same kind of quality dynamic, it’s not realistic.

So we’re going to have to be far more proactive to make these transitions into remote work and make them be effective. Or we’re just going to have to acknowledge that it’ll take us a while to figure out how to do this. These are still at the experimental stage. I think people should cut themselves some slack cut their organization, some slack, both directions, you know, managers and the people doing the work in the organization, and acknowledge that we’re still coming to terms about how to do this in this particular time.

Thank you so much for the nice comments about the book The Plugged-in Manager, there I talk about people technology and organizational process. Over the years since that book, I’ve moved to what I call a thinking in five T or a five t approach where I have people start with, what’s your target? The first T. How about your talent, what skills, knowledge, ability are they bringing to the process? What techniques are you going to have, what technology tools do you have, and then acknowledging the times that you’re working in and certainly the times, the overarching context piece right now is the shutdown process and working from home in a new environment.

But that five T approach, all those different dimensions we need to consider to make this work out well. So it’s not just that we can say, Well, today I’m going to work at home tomorrow, I’m going to be back in the office, all I need is a laptop. That isn’t it, it’s the complete dynamics around the team and how the workflow is going to happen. All of that will be better to the extent that we negotiate it. So if we think about the stakeholders, in terms of our colleagues, the people who maybe we’ll use the work that we contribute, as well as managers and the organization stakeholders more broadly.

But if we think about that as more of a negotiated thing, I think we’re better off. I’ll kind of go with my little tidbit, you know, we see in 3D, we need to think in five T, knowing that’s not kind of a natural thing. But also, I’ve got a prop here that I like to demo a little bit. If you think about an organization, or the work that you’re trying to do as being a component of five or more different dimensions, you can’t really pull on any one and think that that’s going to work out it just doesn’t budge.

But if you let other things kind of go along with it, so if I’m going to make a transition to remote, then am I also going to change, how often I talk to my team members in a formal way? Or how often I talk to them in an informal way? Or how do we track work progress? Is it focusing on the results? Or is it focusing on how many zoom calls I was on, and I’m going to hope that was on the results. But that may be different. And that may be things that we need to manage.