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The basketball legend Michael Jordan once said: “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” This is as true for companies as it is for sport. A talented team can help a company make great achievements, but creating the conditions and strategy for staff to work together most effectively is what will lead to a big win in record time.
The multi-teaming trend
Multi-teaming is a way of optimising staff resources by assigning individuals to work across multiple projects or departments. According to the Academy of Management Review, this approach is already commonplace for 65% of knowledge workers (scientists, researchers, engineers, academics and so forth) in the US and Europe.
In IT, software, consultancies and product development, multi-teaming is often already the norm. It’s becoming more widespread in other areas such as education, healthcare and motoring too. Of the employees whose role involves working as part of a team, almost 95% are in more than one team across all industries, according to research by the Centre for Creative Leadership.
The benefits of multi-teaming
Multi-teaming allows companies to use their human resources more efficiently. If an employee only needs to devote 50% of their time and energy to one project, adopting a multi-teaming approach means they can contribute their remaining capacity to another. Instead of employing two different people for two separate projects, companies can split the time of a single, trusted employee across both. This saves money on recruitment, the training of new hires and overall staffing costs.
Making use of employees across different projects and teams also means that more people in the organisation understand the priorities and workload of other departments. In the past, a project roadblock might have meant moving in a different direction or hiring new talent to fill a skills gap. With this new approach, a multi-teaming organisation can skip these steps as staff from other departments step in. Distributing expertise through a multi-teaming approach facilitates a skills transfer, which can quickly improve the abilities and confidence of entire teams.
An organisational commitment to knowledge-sharing also helps team members develop a broad understanding of the company. With this wider company information at hand, individuals within the organisation can contribute more creatively to forming new ideas and business strategies. Leaders will find it easier to encourage lateral thinking, collaboration and innovation on an organisational basis if staff understand and pursue best practice collectively. Multi-teaming is extremely useful in breaking down silos that can otherwise limit organisational effectiveness and prevent companies from reaching their peak performance.
The risks and drawbacks of multi-teaming
Employees can suffer burnout from working on lots of different projects, and splitting individual focus between too many areas could result in poor productivity. When team members have to leave one project to assist in fixing a problem with another, shock waves can travel across departments or even the entire organisation. Delays, stress and dips in motivation can undermine performance and affect the bottom line. A particular project or problem may not receive sufficient attention, or be overlooked entirely, to the detriment of overall company progress or output.
It is possible to avoid these pitfalls, however, if company leaders and project managers take a strategic and proactive approach to multi-teaming. The key to success is to establish cohesion, trust and unity between team members who may only spend part of their time together each week or each month. Navigating the risks of team interdependence, managing the competing priorities of groups constructively and removing barriers that prevent problem-solving are important focus points.
Leading a multi-teaming approach
Leaders must have a broad understanding of the skill sets and abilities of their staff and know how to utilise them effectively. Put systems in place to facilitate seamless and enjoyable opportunities for team members to collaborate and achieve shared goals. Making the investment in hiring and training great managers will also help keep projects on track and avoid potential pitfalls. Multi-teaming is much easier when you encourage a work culture that values engagement and adaptability, and this helps team members understand their own strengths and weaknesses.
At professional services firm McKinsey, for example, each team member – including the team leader – explains at the beginning of a new project how they as individuals will use the work to build or improve on a critical skill. Vocalising these intentions creates an atmosphere of mutual support and accountability. It encourages personal development within the team, as well as achieving project outcomes.
Producing accurate maps of the connections between different teams and projects makes multi-teaming leadership more effective. By understanding these links, company leaders can promote knowledge flows from one team to another. They can also help protect the company against disturbances when a particular project calls for a temporary all-hands-on-deck approach to fix a problem or achieve a milestone. Individuals may already be well aware of their roles and priorities across different teams. However, effective oversight helps guarantee that the interests and priorities of the company are served, and carves out a smoother path to success.
Knowledge workers in almost every industry will soon be members of multiple teams – if they aren’t already. Company leaders who embrace the approach early and create environments where multi-teaming can help their teams and business thrive.