“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” ~Henry Ford
So you understand the objectives and have chosen the members for your cross-functional team. Your first meeting is tomorrow. Now what? The next stage may seem like it should be ‘just get the job done’, but how do you do that effectively?
Your first meeting with the team will help set the scene for your ongoing work together. If you are the team leader, you should be able to answer these questions:
- How will we build trust and mutual regard in the group?
- What steps will we take to get the group from “why am I here?” to “how will we do it?”
- What will we do if there is a disagreement or barrier to action?
If you are unable to answer these questions, you could use an external facilitator, seek support from a mentor or get advice from a project management expert. Or, you may find the following tips help you get started.
Prepare for the meeting
Make sure you have thought about how you would like the meeting to run. (Please note – this does not mean that the meeting will run this way, but having a plan certainly helps!) If you are prepared, you raise your own credibility with the group and should get off to a better start as a team overall. To plan the first meeting, consider:
- What should we achieve at this meeting?
- What roles will each of us play?
- What process will we follow to achieve our meeting objectives? (NB: here ‘meeting objectives’ are distinct from ‘project objectives’)
- What are some important interpersonal / housekeeping points?
This 4-step planning will help you map out some important considerations, as well as giving you a great structure to open the meeting. For example: “Thanks to all for coming today. As you know, this group is to work on <Project X>. To start us off, our objective for today’s meeting is to <ensure we all have a clear idea about the project and to map out our team charter>. Each of you has been invited to be involved because <you are integral to the project and as such, we hope you will freely contribute your thoughts today>. We’ll start with <an introduction from our sponsor>, then we’ll <introduce ourselves and provide others with an idea of any relevant experience>. We’ll finish the meeting by <discussing what’s important to us when operating in this type of team>. So we can be focussed today <it would be great if we can agree to turn off all mobiles and laptops before we begin.>”
Be clear on team purpose
In any team, people want to know why they are there (the purpose of the group and their role in it) and who they will be working with. Discussing these areas at the first meeting is recommended.
Establishing a clear understanding of the project objectives is vital for the success of the work. Many people in cross-functional teams are short on time and love to solve problems quickly – being action oriented is often why they keep getting asked to work in teams! Whilst getting things done is important, sometimes team members jump to action before they truly understand what they are actually acting on. Many hours can be wasted working on a solution before the problem or objective has been defined – often leading to more work later when the action is off the mark.
To get your team off to a great start, define the purpose of the team. This does not have to be the actual detailed goals – it can be a broad objective that is worked through as the group proceeds. For example, the purpose might be to ‘improve the operational efficiency of the customer services department’ and working out the more detailed goals (e.g.‘to measure ROI of the current ordering process in the next two months’) may happen at a subsequent meeting .
Help the team build trust
As mentioned, people on the team also want to know who they are working with. Inherently, people form their initial opinions on the project partially based on who is associated with it. If they have trust with those involved, they generally feel more positive about its likely success than if they are suspicious or uncertain about anyone on the team.
Early on in the first meeting, you should give people the opportunity to introduce themselves and interact with others. There are many ways to do this. A very simple way to start this is to ask each person to tell the group their name, current role, relevant experience they have for the project and their favourite holiday destination. Facilitate the discussion by prompting where they offer little information (e.g. “John, I believe that you also worked on a similar project at your last company” or “Sally, what do you like about Spain as a holiday destination?”). After the introductions, organise a short coffee break and allow time for people to mingle – you’ll find they will generally relax and find connections based on the introductions.
There is more that can be done to sustain trust in the group over time, but highlighting experience and connecting personally is a first step.
Encourage the team to determine operating principles
Another area to explore up front is expectations of each other, which contributes to a team charter or operating principles. For each group this will look very different, but starting with the question “What’s important to ensure we work effectively together?” should get the ball rolling. Encourage the group to be open with each other to ensure expectations are clear from the beginning. If there is hesitation, you can always ask people to write their thoughts on sticky notes and then gather them up, group into similar concepts, and discuss.
Likely areas that will be covered in this session include:
- Decision making processes
- Handling disagreements
- General courtesy e.g. punctuality, listening, limiting distractions such as mobile phones
- Meeting logistics e.g. frequency, minute taking
With your operating principles in hand, you will be ready to begin the process of discussing the detailed goals and steps to achieving your objectives. It may seem like a lot of time to spend getting to this point, however it will help you have an effective transition to the ‘meaty’ parts of the project. And it needn’t take a long time if facilitated well.
Kicking off a cross-functional team requires planning, purpose and participation. It’s not always easy, but with the right approach you will be on your way to creating a successful cross-functional team.
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