I was out with a friend this month who is embarking on a new phase of working life. (To be fair, he is embarking on a lot of new stuff: just moved, recently married, starting a new family… he even has a new haircut.) I was recounting some of my experiences moving back to Canada after working in Japan for several years. In such situations, through sheer necessity, one gets good at answering the question “What do you do?” This is a very portable skill and directly applies to working in cross-functional teams.
So, what do you do?
Sometimes roles can be clear in cross-functional groups. I was working with a client recently to organize a program evaluation meeting that was to include national-level, provincial and local representatives within the organization, as well as bringing in experts from education and training, volunteer management and technology support tools. Members are tasked with bringing insight from their unique perspectives. The hope is that a comprehensive review will bring about sustainable changes; this provides the answer to “Why are we here?”
“Why are you in this group/on this team?” is a question that is likely considered more than it is articulated. Proactively expressing your “expertise” can enable a group to function well together. Imagine if a project team started off with a series of self-proclamations like:
- “I am here because of my product expertise.” (from Product Development)
- “I am not here to provide input; I am here so that we know where the decisions came from.” (from Marketing)
- “I am here to say ‘No’ so that we out forward solid proposals to senior management.” (from Finance)
- “I am here to reinforce the point that forecasting is impossible.” (from Sales)
- “I am here because I have not been involved before and I have the courage to ask stupid questions.” (from the Intern)
Clarity on roles (with oneself, as well as with others) increases the chance that any conflict can remain productive and task oriented. In the real world, some people’s “roles” may seem more like:
- “I am here to get attention.”
- “I am here because I already have the answer.”
- “I am here so that I can say ‘I told you so’ in about 3 months.”
It can all sound very much like a wanna-be self-help meeting: “Hello, my name is Chris, and I am here to defend the client interests.” Without being corny about it, I will suggest that clarity on “our job” and “my job” can help a cross-functional team to fully function. I have found it useful to tell clients to simply state, “I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t ask [for example, ‘is that really the best way to provide value to our clients?’ or some other potentially challenging question.]”
Many of the lines between “helpful and hurtful” or between “team-oriented and affected” come down to relationship equity and benefit of the doubt, which needs to be fostered. Assertiveness over your or the group’s role can help to keep you on this side of that line.
“This column is here to provide insight on issues that can create distracting interpersonal noise.”
THIS ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE NEWSLETTER FOR THE CANADIAN SUPPLY CHAIN SECTOR COUNCIL (www.supplychaincanada.org).
One of my children got an invitation to a birthday party this week. On the invitation was a handwritten addition indicating that my child was invited to sleep-over after that party. We later confirmed that this “after party” was a bit more “exclusive” than that described on the invitation.
You could tell me to lighten up, but I have a fundamental issue with this approach. I envision the conversation (because I have first-hand experience) between the parent and the child.
- Child: “I want to have sleep over for my birthday.”
- Parent: “Great. How many kids are you planning on inviting?”
- Child: “Let me see…. (verbal list of names each prompting a finger to extend). Twelve.”
- Parent: “You can’t have that many kids to sleep over.”
I can understand the motivation to sidestep a conflict/tempter tantrum. Such forks in the road exist. You can invite twelve people, OR you can have a sleepover. You can’t do both.
But hold on a second. In the spirit of Negotiating… What if we invite a large group of kids to the party, and then keep a select few back to sleepover. Is that not a good compromise? Out of the box, eh?
Not to make too much of a big deal out of this, but I think it is unhealthy to fail to select (or fail to make the child select) “one of the other” from the above options. If pushed to further explain, which I was, my argument extends to the quality of the first party. How much fun can it be if the “sleep-over group” has to keep suppress the “wink-wink-nudge-nudge” temptation of the after party? Isn’t there an inherent risk that the “go-home group” will learn about the after party and feel (rightfully so) like a second-tier friend?
This specific trade-off approaches an ethical question. Select between the two party streams OR do both and be deceitful to at least half of your “friends.” (This is all happening in the context on an ongoing conversation with some fellow Schulich faculty on ethics and decision making among business school students. E.G. Is it wrong to gain competitive advantage through exploiting a legal loophole?)
So, yes, you can “have your cake and sleepover, too.” You may find that this type of “compromise” ends up compromising the integrity of those involved. The risk-return will be an individual call, but I can certainly tell you I will take on a conflict with my child to avoid treading into ethically murky waters.
We are all familiar with the adage: “Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions.” If this is your mantra, please accept my apologies. I am actively working to change that mindset—in a supply chain function—one evening at a time. I am recently involved in delivering training for the Supply Chain Awareness Program for Employment (SCAPE), whereby people with international training and experience can receive courses toward designations recognized in Canada.
In the overview material and cases, much of the focus is on tools and frameworks to identify problems… not just our problems, but within and beyond the organization (e.g. from supplier’s supplier to customer’s customer). The level of complexity and the breadth of the analysis pretty much ensure a grab bag of problems. In my experience working in various industries and countries, a different perspective (e.g. international) provides an increased ability to see “new” problems. Stopping every time to ponder solutions would be paralysing.
I am not at all suggesting that solutions be ignored. The better solutions to these complex problems demand participation from other stakeholders, who may require some help understanding the importance of the problem. Credibility and flexibility are necessary ingredients in this communication. The SCAPE training at Micro Skills will provide part of the credibility, as will Canadian work experience as it accumulates. Flexibility is addressed through the material in “translating” problems to different audiences. We tend to practice the following languages:
- Profit impact on dollars tied up in, for example, inventory (business language);
- Customer service impact of slowdowns and delays (sales language);
- Risk impact of uncertain forecasting (finance language); etc.
The plan is to involve all the necessary people to contribute to a better sustainable solution that almost always involves complex trade-offs. One perspective will not deliver the insight required.
Rather than bring solutions with problems (or not bring problems because we can’t find the solutions on our own), the line should be “Bring me problems and a lists of potential collaborators!” I think that those with other language skills and experiences could be part of this shift.
THIS ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE MARCH NEWSLETTER FOR THE CANADIAN SUPPLY CHAIN SECTOR COUNCIL. www.supplychaincanada.org
This CAW/Chrysler/Fiat item is a great study of clashing negotiating strategies, and Ken Lewenza and C0. are very likely looking back instead of looking forward (which seems to be common with U.S. automakers). I confess that my perspective is shaped by this article in today’s Financial Post, a conservative (anti-union?) publication. For full disclosure, my education is heavily in business, and I teach in the MBA program at Schulich Business School.
If everyone has it in for the CAW, as Lewenza claims (”[the Canadian Government is] interfering in our negotiations [with Chrysler), then he needs to fight back with some pretty powerful evidence. The fundamental premise of the “other side’s” argument is that CAW workers are paid much more than Toyota and Honda workers, so the wages need to come down to competitive levels.
Lewenza challenges that argument directly (although it is at the very end of the article; damn right-wing editors!). He says that “Canadian executives at Toyota and Honda have described many times their strategy of essentially matching wages, pensions and core benefits to those paid in CAW-represented facilities.” So, I guess, it is just a shell game, and CAW workers and workers at Toyota and Honda are ALREADY paid the same wages, right? If that is the case, then there must be another reason that Chrysler is so unable to compete. Such as, no one buys the cars. This is not good news for CAW workers in Chrysler facilities.
This situation is a clear example of an entity (CAW) or at least a person (Ken Lewenza) so heavy with history that they cannot shed a combative/competitive mindset that has no place in competitive industries where stakeholdes (including government) need to work together to beat the real competition. I feel sorry for the people who are being mislead so badly by Mr. Lewenza. This will be a powerful lesson for organized labour.
You won’t need a link to find references to Ken Lewenza’s response to Fiat’s “take-it-or-leave-it” offer (on April 16, 2009). This story is moving quickly, so my thoughts may quickly be irrelevant. Mr. Lewenza cried foul that Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne was not taking the time to “build the relationship” with Chrysler and its employees before embarking on this joint venture.
I am all about the “relationship” side of the business. There is a place for relationships in the Fiat/Chrysler landscape, and I think that Mr. Marchionne is familiar with the value of relationships, as well. I suspect, he has simply opted to put results first. If my guess is right, this is a strategic direction given that his company is operating in a fiercely competitive environment and cannot afford to make any concessions that are disproportionate to added value. I think that his shareholders (and business partners) would applaud that.
Relationships are absolutely necessary, but in some instances, it will have to be compromised. I think this is one of those situations. Maybe it is a dose of “tough love” to an entity who no longer has a competitive wage structure.
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