1. March 2021

5 Key Ways People Teams Are Evolving

coworkers discussing people teams and changes

In this article, Personio’s Chief People Officer, Ross Seychell, shares his insight into the evolution of People Teams and how they are evolving in five specific ways. Read on to learn more.

The ways in which we work are always changing. Whether due to Covid-19, and its rapid emphasis on remote work, or simply the way industries move — companies have become more agile, virtual, and responsive, to meet customer needs and market trends.

When it comes to HR, though, it isn’t simply enough to keep up. People Teams need to get ahead of trends so that HR can become a truly strategic partner to leaders as they blaze their own trail forward in business.

In this article, I want to share with you the importance of evolving People Teams, and the five key ways that they can look to evolve now and in the future…

Why Do People Teams Need To Evolve?

It’s rather simple. Because People Teams can and should play a strategic and, ultimately, deliberate role in the way HR is approached and handled. Sadly, traditional HR in the past may have been forced to be more responsive rather than proactive.

Of course, it depends on the organisation, but many that I speak to are still in a state of reactiveness. They may have some time to plan ahead, but most of their time is reserved for today’s problems rather than tomorrow’s solutions.

These past ways of working, simply to keep up, have resulted in a significant amount of untapped resources in terms of experience. So, evolution can happen quite rapidly when it is given the conditions to thrive (and not simply survive).

So, teams need to evolve for the health of both business and employees. In the HR industry, we have a model that was developed in the early 1900s and hasn’t really changed much since. Compared to a world, across industries, that has, it’s high time for an evolution.

The 5 Key Ways People Teams Are Evolving

Now that we have a bit more of the context, here are the five key ways that People Teams can keep evolving in the coming months and years…

1. Visiting & Revisiting Team Structures

The concept of team structures is worth a great deal of thought, but it is also highly dependent on the stage of your company. When you’re small, a lot of topics end up rolled into People Operations (core processes, HR management, learning, rewards, benefits, etc.)

As a company grows, though, those teams tend to split out into specialist teams. This is because more and greater experience is needed to help the company scale to achieve its mid-to-long-term goals.

In the end, a key element of evolution is building a model and structure that works best for your company and what is important for you at your stage of growth. This could be more hiring, relocation, onboarding, or more, but it needs to be tailored to your needs.

Evolution may happen as a byproduct of increased headcount, but you need to strike the right balance of how often you structure and restructure — consider 12-18 months maximum, to prevent ‘change weariness’ from your team.

2. Defining People Operations Versus People Partners

It’s important to approach unique, but separate, definitions for what we call "People Operations" and “People Partners.” Many companies may hear the term ‘People Operations’ and think of it as synonymous with HR, but the proper definition goes beyond that.

Think of People Operations as the engine room of your People Team. Often, they are a central team covering the entire company, aligned by country or region. They take over once someone is hired to lead on pre-join, whether with onboarding, support, pay, benefits, administration, job changes, and other core admin.

On the other hand, People Partners are the strategic and commercial side of the People Team. They are the ones who work with leadership, and their leaders, to ideate and shape people strategies and plans for their function/department across the company.

Their goal, more generally, is to enable that area to achieve its goals, through its people, focusing on topics like workforce and talent planning, performance, engagement, development, team health, reward, and retention. They also tailor people activities across departments, like sales versus engineering, to offer unique solutions for the problems they are solving.

In short, think of People Operations as the engine and People Partners as the navigation. Together, they set the course and make the journey. Both serve a key function for the evolution of People Teams, more generally.

3. Building ‘Workplace’ Teams

At Personio, we are building a ‘Workplace’ team as an evolutional part of our people function. Essentially, workplace refers to office, home office, and also working remotely in our ‘new normal.’

For a company to scale successfully, part of its culture is how teams and employees work together. This is true no matter their location or the conditions of where they work.

So, a Workplace Team needs to focus on end-to-end experiences for the best working environments, IT technology, and tooling. This also includes set up for companies, tribes, and teams to help achieve their goals.

Think of it as a mix of IT, office management, and property skill-sets. They all come together to form the Workplace Team concept and can serve as a key point of evolution for People Teams successfully making their way into the new normal and beyond.

4. Emphasising Larger Ecosystems of Work

Each point we have touched on until now leads us here. People Operations, People Partners, Workplace, and People Teams more generally, all formulate a much larger ‘ecosystem of work’ that helps HR evolve beyond reactive and into proactive.

This is critical, especially because leading up to the pandemic we were already seeing a shift towards more hybrid working environments in offices and away from offices. The idea here is that evolution is required in helping people during times of change (and even regular times).

This means a larger ecosystem of work that stretches beyond the traditional office, and beyond the traditional scope of how HR is done. People Teams (and others, like IT, Finance, Facilities) have to think about how to adapt when not everyone is in one singular location.

For organisations to be productive, connected, focused, and fun, having a philosophy and plan for you enable that in a physical and virtual world is critical. The core element here is influence, and the role People Teams can play across locations and working conditions.

5. Focus On Less Administration & More Expertise

In order for HR and People Teams to be able to do all of this, though, companies need to afford them the time to focus on all of these initiatives and to rely more on their expertise that was previously untapped.

This is a question I am asked a lot, and for me, it is quite simple. We unleash our HR and People Teams capacity, and capabilities, to be able to work on solving problems that will help attract, develop, and retain the talent we all need to achieve business goals and plans.

When you are able to clear your desk of all those administrative tasks and coordination work, through effective HR software, you not only make time, but you make room for more strategic, data-driven, and ultimately meaningful initiatives that power success throughout organisations.

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Where Does That Leave Us?

The evolution of People Teams is happening, and at hyper speed. 2022 offered a watershed moment that revealed the real impact that strategic HR can have on the success of businesses, and 2023 will be no different in my opinion.

Therefore, I would truly encourage business leaders, founders, and CEOs to add this to your agenda with your People Teams. For these teams to be successful, that dialogue needs to happen now and it needs to be initiated from the very top.

We have seen the positive impact that a strategic, functioning HR department can have on businesses. Now, in 2023 and beyond, companies have the golden opportunity to build and expand on it for success.

About Ross Seychell

About Ross Seychell

As a business leader with 20 years of HR experience, I have a strong passion for how a company’s most important asset – their people and culture – enables them to unlock and achieve their mission. After building out workplace strategies at high-growth companies such as Wise and King, I joined Personio as Chief People Officer to help us become the leading HR platform and tech employer in Europe.