5 Ways to Reduce the Burden of Being on Multiple Teams


As our world becomes more complex, the need for cross-functional collaboration is increasing.  This is illustrated by the emergence of Big Data and Analytics.  The creation of new business insight requires a high level of collaboration across multiple business experts, data scientists and the IT function, amongst others.  Critical constrained resources like data scientists are a classic example of roles which are stretched thinly across many high priority projects.  This can lead to burnout and overwhelm because of the extra demands and stress.  Sharing of scarce resources introduces another dependency across projects that previously were unrelated.

An excellent article written by Mark Mortensen and Heidi K Gardner, published in the September issue of Harvard Business Review describes this phenomenon as ‘Multi-Teaming’.  Multi-teaming enables highly valuable people assets to be spread across the organization for the benefit of many projects.  It also brings with it the risks mentioned above.  Finding the right balance is important to make multi-teaming work for you.

Mortensen and Gardner identify five things project managers can do to reduce the burden of working in Multi-team environments:

#1 – Launch the Team Well to Establish Trust and Familiarity

In short-term projects, the tendency is to skip or shrink the team kick off meeting because the team will not  be in place long.  This is a big mistake.  When people are spread across projects with a small proportion of their time on each, trust is generally low.  Invest in upfront activities that encourage team members to get to know each other and generate high levels of trust.  The article notes research has shown team kick-offs can improve performance by up to 30% because they increase peer to peer accountability.

#2 – Map Everyone’s Skills

Clarifying who will do what is an essential part of forming any team.  The authors note understanding the skills each person brings to the team increases collaboration and the possibility of cross-team learning.  This helps a team accelerate problem solving.

#3 – Manage Time Across Teams

As noted above, when the team consists of part-time members who are also on other teams, the risk of members not being available to fulfill their responsibilities increases.  The authors recommend encouraging transparent conversations within the team to discuss individual’s workload.  This increases team empathy and the anticipation of bottlenecks.

#4 – Create A Learning Environment

Beyond generating the desired business results, a key measure of high team performance is the amount of growth and learning taking place on a team.  For an organization, the benefit of team members learning and growing from each assignment is tremendous.  Encourage learning by role modeling a culture of curiosity.   Genuinely seeking to understand versus to assign blame goes a long way to establishing a learning culture.  Pairing team members with unique skills encourages additional learning.

#5 – Boost Motivation

Understanding what motivates each team member is important on any team.  It helps you provide meaningful experiences and recognition.  Members typically spend a small portion of their available time on each project.  Increase their commitment by making a strong connection between project responsibilities and what those members care about.

What is your experience of working on multiple teams concurrently?  Have you tried any of the above and how did they work out?  Please post share your experiences as a comment to this blog.  Thanks!