Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Downfall of Many Cross-Disciplinary Teams

Yesterday, one of my former students asked for advice.  He has been selected to lead one of six task forces focused on different dimensions of quality for his company.   These six task forces have senior executive sponsors, and they will be responsible for reporting findings and recommendations to the chief executive.  He's very excited about the opportunity.   The responsibility and visibility associated with this project do not usually fall to people at this relatively early stage of his career.  He sat with me to talk about this new role, and he wanted to know what challenges or obstacles he should be prepared to face.  I offered the following observation.  On these types of cross-disciplinary teams, the leader needs to be extremely mindful of the fact that each team member has a "full-time job" in the organization.  Tensions may emerge between the team member and the manager to whom they report on a day-to-day basis.  The manager may become upset that this special project is soaking up significant amounts of the employee's time.  As the leader of the cross-disciplinary team, you need to be prepared to work with each team member to address this potential obstacle to success.  The project leader must be able to outline expectations with each member, and to speak directly with the day-to-day managers so that they understand their employees' roles and responsibilities on the project.  The leader also must be respectful of team members' commitments, particularly at times when they might be especially busy in their day-to-day job.   In my experience, this struggle to balance the obligations of team members serves as the largest pitfall that cross-disciplinary teams face in organizations. 

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