In a recent issue, the Harvard Business Review examined what it called “the overcommitted organization.” It’s a very detailed look at something that happens across all industries and companies: people are assigned or cross-leveraged to multiple projects at once.
There are definite advantages to cross-leveraging employees. Projects can benefit from collective brainpower and knowledge sharing, which encourages learning and dissemination of best practices across the organization. But there are also huge costs if the risks are not managed. Over-leveraging your employees can lead to a drop in productivity, loss of engagement, and personal and team burnout.
According to HBR, a survey of more than 500 managers in global companies found that 81% of those working on teams worked on more than one concurrently. It’s been a challenge for us as well. Our senior team recently returned from our leadership conference, and we identified that one of the biggest areas of opportunity for us is to get better at cross-collaboration.
Assigning people to multiple teams isn’t going to change, but here at Ceridian, we’re looking at how to do it in ways that consider both the projects and the people assigned. Here are some tips to collaborate and cross-leverage employees more effectively.
When building the team, don’t only focus on efficiency
At Ceridian, we take a tactical approach to creating cross-functional teams. We aim to understand who a person is: their communication styles, their skills and what they bring to the table. We then identify their strengths, and align those strengths with project outcomes. We use technology, such as our Team Relate and third-party tools to help build teams (versus either arbitrarily selecting individuals or relying on a traditional team mix). This ensures we’re not always cross-leveraging the same employees.
I think we often go to the same person because that is what we’ve always done. “This person is really good at X,” so we automatically assume that translates to them being good at Y. What you’ve essentially done is taken the employee away from X – what they’re really good at, enjoy doing and are successful at – to work on Y, for which they don’t have the same passion, alignment of strengths, knowledge and skillsets.
Whether the approach is using technology or other tools, it’s critical for leaders to gain a deeper understanding of their employees – their strengths, personalities and aspirations. This requires investing time, which, in the longer-term, confers greater benefits than simply throwing people in just to get things done quickly.
Define and align on priorities
Project prioritization – including addressing and navigating potentially competing priorities – is also vital in getting better at cross-collaboration.
Ceridian has a few key goals for 2018 and we’re prioritizing the projects that support those key goals. It’s important for leadership teams to focus on defining goals early to empower employees to hold themselves accountable for those projects.
For project teams, it’s important to set a regular cadence and milestones for meetings, to maintain transparency and get ahead of potential obstacles. We’ve found that if you get out of your team’s way, they’ll get things done.
Encourage opportunities for mutual learning
One of the benefits of cross-functional collaboration and multi-teaming is being able to learn from each other. This fosters a culture of continuous improvement, increased teamwork and innovation.
Clear communication and trust are critical to successful learning and knowledge sharing. Remove siloes amongst the team by building in opportunities for feedback and sharing during project meetings. And, while it may sound counter-intuitive, don’t overschedule meetings. Encourage spontaneous conversation between your subject matter experts. Experiment with what works for each team.
Creating cross-functional teams is advantageous, because together, we can achieve more. But before you start assigning people to multiple teams and projects, you must take the time to be more thoughtful and deliberate in who you’re pulling from each team, and align their strengths with the actual project or initiative and the desired outputs. That leads to better engagement and higher productivity.