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This month’s focus: We have all heard the jokes about committees. For example, “A committee is a group that keeps minutes and loses hours.” Then there’s my personal favourite, “A committee is a group of people who individually can do nothing, but who, as a group, can meet and decide that nothing can be done.” Oh, and “a camel is a horse designed by a committee”! Should we do away with committees? Or is there another way to look at it?
On the face of it, we seem to have less committees these days. Or do we merely call them cross-functional project teams? And how effective are they? Actually, I think they are more effective than the old committees – but I am not sure that we always understand why!
In my experience there are indeed more successful project teams than committees and the reason for this is simply that, whether consciously or not, the successful project teams operate as, well, teams! Quite simply, the more they operate as a team, the more successful they are. And the less they operate as a team, the more they operate as a, well, committee.
The bottom line, therefore, is that whether we are talking about a committee, a cross-functional project team, or any other team, we need to be aware that there are two important aspects that we need to focus on equally: content (or task) and process (how we work together). The problem is that we often focus only on the content or task. Invariably, the team sooner or later becomes as (in)effective as a, well, committee! Check the really successful organisational teams – I bet they all focus equally on both aspects.
Finally, an interesting thing about cross-functional teams is that they add a challenging dimension not shared by most other types of teams. As each of the members normally have a direct reporting line to someone outside of the team (that is, their line manager – and not the project team leader – appraises them and controls their salary increases, bonuses etc. so that it is easy for their project team focus to become of secondary importance to them. At the same time, because of this structure, the project team leader cannot rely on their position or status power (as the line manager can).
Food for thought:
So guess where the best nursery for great leaders is? It’s in cross-functional teams – and for that very reason. The team leader cannot bully or force-feed his views – but can only learn to influence his project team members. And guess what one of the greatest recurring challenges of line managers and leaders is: in my experience, anyway, it’s learning to influence their people in a way that they get genuine buy-in.
So, use your project teams to experiential training ground for your budding leaders! You’ll be astounded by the results.
I’d love to hear your comments and thoughts.
Gee, a quarter of the year gone already. Hope things are going well for you.
Best wishes for April.


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