Tips to Manage an Interdisciplinary Project Team


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A century ago, it was the steam engine that drove enterprises to grow. But about a century later, it is an indisputable fact that it is innovation that is driving growth in industry and services. The change in the technological interventions, the rise of a digital world in parallel has had a remarkable impact on the way enterprises manage themselves today.

But what creates innovation?

The experience of industries and experts reveal that much depends on the team. Studies advocate that an interdisciplinary or cross-functional team is the right mix for innovation. And managing is the key to brew the ale of innovation in such a group.

Let us examine some inventive techniques that can help you manage interdisciplinary teams for innovation.

1. Managing Knowledge Diversity

An interdisciplinary team is a knowledge mix. There will be experts from multiple sectors collaborating for a project. The biggest challenge for a project manager in conducting such a unit is coordinating smooth channels of communication between the various members.

Every member brings their domain-specific ideas and perceptions. Hence, the project manager has to identify and manage different domains of knowledge. The second step should be to carefully note the interactions of various domain level experts to forecast the difficulties they may face in terms of experience, expertise, work culture etc. The knowledge gap should be filled through regular seminars and ice-breaking discussions.

2. Take Small Steps First

It is only natural that project managers are very eager to start on a project. But when handling cross-functional teams, this can be counter-productive. According to researchers from Harvard, it is best first to allow your interdisciplinary team to interact in “psychologically safe environments. “

The team members truly bring their worth only when they feel at home mentally. So a team outing, problem-solving games, etc.can go a long way in building the rapport between the individual players. Another important aspect is to avoid practices like remotely working from home, as it eliminates the possibility of exchanges between team members.

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3. The Syntactic boundary

The syntactic frontier is an unavoidable challenge in every cross-functional team. For example, imagine the jargon like “bunker. ” While it means a military safe place for most of us, a doctor uses it to indicate a meeting place where medical residents handover patients.

Imagine the number of jargons techies may be using, the developers, the designers, the lawyers, the engineers and here we have a jargon-full team. It can become frustrating if this syntactic boundary persists. An intelligent thing to do will be to devise a shared lexicon of such units and distribute it among the members to get used to the slang and jargon. The project manager has a crucial role here in compiling, distributing and smoothing this bottle-neck in a cross-functional team.

4. Mind the Conflicts

Disputes are going to be the way of life, and they are not bad for a project team. A project manager must use the dispute to grow his understanding. According to experts, the primary causes of conflict in such groups are the professional and managerial tussle. The professionals seek autonomy and expertise, while the managers tend to press for formal authority and control. As a manager just being aware of such a possibility of strife can help you root out many seeds of future conflicts.

5. Use the Opportunity

Now, this is the most important dividend of constituting an interdisciplinary team. A smart project manager must make use of the team to improve its workforce capability through teaming. For example, you may have employees who are at a medium level of expertise and show promise of growth. Rather than spending separately on their training, you can include them in the cross-functional team, and they can experience the knowledge diversity, the challenges and problem-solving environment to grow and upgrade their skills.

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Managing is a contextual capability; bookish rules never come close to the value of experience in handling real and complex teams and leading them to success. The above tips offer profound insights to make you more capable of handling multi-talented teams for innovation.

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