Question: Dispelling the myth that some functions do not do real work

In a large consumer products company, we have formed the core team for a new product introduction next year.... with a slightly different format.

The managers of the core team members have actually reduced their workload in other tasks while they temporarily work (with dotted line responsibility) with the project manager.

It is a very diverse group of high-potentials. From line managers to support functions to creatives, and we are still learning how to work well with each other.

One of the key barriers, is an attitude of slight disrespect in some team members about other functions. e.g. line manager think that QA person has an easy job, or finance analyst is seen as a bottleneck for approvals.

As the project manager, I want them to value each others complimentary skills, and potential for contribution. Any advice?

7 Expert Insights

When I teach innovation, it is within the context of Clayton Christensen's Sustaining - Disrupting continuum.  On the sustaining side, an organization is optimized for execution in a known market. On the disruptive side, an organization needs to be optimized for learning.

Where does your project fit? If it tends toward the sustaining/execution side, it's very difficult to change habits and attitudes that have resulted in successful launches in the past. People naturally repeat what 'works.' There are others, I'm sure, more capable than I in coming up with ways to work more respectfully and collaboratively.

Those same habits and attitudes, however, prevent more disruptive innovation. True innovation happens in open, collaborative environments. Domain experts are often the last to see the potential of ideas within their domain! If your project tends toward the disruptive side of the continuum, there is some potential for teaching new ways to work.

Lean Startup methods use cross-functional teams to develop hypotheses and run experiments to validate or invalidate ideas. The very nature of these experiments invites openness and collaboration -- there's no one "in charge" of experimentation.  The proof is in the data. The different relationships people have with customers informs the hypotheses. All input is not only welcome, but necessary.

So to reiterate, if you're on the sustaining side this is likely of little help. The Lean Startup methods might benefit the team, but I feel it would be difficult to convince them. On the other hand, if tending toward the disruptive side, I recommend you look into the vast amount of Lean Startup resources.

Here is some practical advice for you to consider in this situation.

I was working with one of the intelligence agencies and they built a team made up of members of several intelligence agencies.  The mission was to solve a particular intelligence problem requiring all of their complementary skills. They reported to a "Project manager" who was their "leader" for this effort.  They did not know each other and the agency competitiveness was clearly evident.  The outcome needed was for them to work together as an integrated team to solve this problem...nothing else.

I was asked to facilitate the stand up for this integrated team, help them to develop a strategic plan, and integrate the team leveraging the team dynamics and their individual skills.

At the first meeting of this interesting group, we focused on "Situational Awareness" for this team.  We answered the questions, What's going on? Where are we? Understood the overall challenge facing us, the threats and the challenges, and most importantly, "What were our capabilities (our people and our experience)? This focused on our enablers and it provided the team with a very good understanding of who was on the team, where they came from, their experience, expertise, training, and how these individual attributes would contribute to collective team success.

It made a significant difference in the project by facilitating the appreciation of all the skills and experience that was necessary for success, and who had it. It was an eye opener for many.
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When working with teams of diverse experience and backgrounds, I always like to start off the experience by honoring those differences.  And, I find the best, most non-threatening way, to do this is through a facilitated Myers-Briggs Type Indicator workshop.  Each person completes the assessment and then gathers in a workshop to identify one's own preferences and those of their colleagues.  The basic understanding of the way we take in information, organize that information, and make decisions about that information allows for the removal of communication barriers.

One of the great advantages of cross-functional teams comes from the members of various functions getting to know/appreciate each other and come to a better understanding of those other functions' contributions to the business. It is usually much easier to disparage the work of other functions to members of your own area because you all probably share the belief that yours is the most difficult and most valuable work in the company - everybody else is just drinking coffee and playing solitaire.

Since you're observing this problem on a cross-functional team, i.e. it hasn't already solved itself, you may want to address both the attitude and the disrespect. Some role playing might help. If the QA person, for example, could develop some challenging scenarios, the line manager could play the part of the QA person in responding appropriately. When it comes to attitude, perhaps a simple 1-on-1 conversation about your expectations of team members and your observations of disrespectful behaviors would do the trick.

However you manage this situation you will be making a statement. If you tolerate it, you are giving tacit approval. If you demonstrate that this is not how your team will operate - either the behavior changes or the player changes, you are stating that your values are for real.

Having been called in on many occasions to remedy situations as you describe  - a common by-product of many new cross functional teams and most organizational systems that are somewhat 'silo'd' by function/expertise - the best solution is also the one that develops the team for high performance.  

Facilitate the development of:

1- A collective Global view of the system (organization and wider environment) in which the team operates, so that everyone gets a sense they're part of the same world

2- A clear, rational value chain, understanding the value each team member/function brings to the table. This is also opportunity to achieve a critical step of 'differentiation', so that optimal integration can happen.  

3- A collective view of the forces/dynamics/influences (organizational, systemic, cultural, individual perceptions) that impact the future success of the team, and what people want to do about mitigating barriers, supporting success

4- A sense of responsibility/accountability for the status quo per 'stakeholder' - and what they want to do about it going forward to engender team success

5- A collective vision - a clear picture of an ideal future scenario including team/individual goals, roles, process and relationships.  (If there are bottlenecks in the value chain, this is where such issues can be solved by the group, honoring the skills and value each member brings to the team)

6- Common Ground (what people want to achieve together, solutions) and an Action Plan with clear deliverables, accountabilities - addressing both functional and relational contexts

Its a simple formula, but not necessarily easy to design/facilitate. There are a variety of dialogues/groups tasks to best serve the planning process above, best when customized for the group/players and culture.  When a group goes through these steps together and engages in the inevitable 'take it to the mountain' dialogues this process engenders, leads to unprecedented team synergy/success.

I find the simplest solution is having team members conduct reciprocal appreciative interviews with the people they are least connected to /  most likely to underestimate.  The key question is "Tell me about a peak experience, a high point in your work life, a time when you were most alive, energized and committed, a time when you were proud of yourself or your work"  Ask them to be specific about what happened, what role they played and what others did, thoughts, feelings, impacts and contributions that resulted.  Repeat at least once on a second story.  Then,  have them each talk about how they aim to bring the same kind of impacts to their current jobs and assignments and the challenges they work to overcome in doing so.

This is most easily facilitated in a group meeting, giving the pairs about an hour to do the interviews, then bring back to the group as a whole a five minute hightlights report on their partner.  Alternatively, they can do it as "homework" in between meetings, with brief report outs the next time you get together.

The result is deep insight into the person, their aspirations, their strengths and the work they are doing right now.  People come away with much greater connection to each other, a sense of who the person is and a feeling of intimate sharing that can enormously change the dynamic and foster cross-functional understanding and support, as well as generous new friendships

The difficulty sometimes comes from the fact that in a mixed team such as you describe, some people may well be dealing with greater pressure than others and this may be interpreted as working harder, and some people's roles may well be simpler than others. What is important is for everyone to understand that each person has a unique role with a contribution without which the project will not succeed (I'm making the assumption that this is true).

Kit's approach (above) is a good one and it is useful to avoid the assumption that just because everyone is in a team that they are 'equal'. If you are experiencing an attitude of slight disrespect in some team members, this is probably coming from a misperception about the role of the team and their place and function in it.

Such teams need regular meetings which are sponsored by the project manager and where issues, both product-related and relationship-related (i.e. 'hard' and 'soft') are addressed; these meetings are often much more successful if professionally facilitated for all sorts of reasons.