How do I choose members of a cross-functional team?

The group's mission plays a major factor in team selection. Will it solely provide feedback to others? Will it have a specific project to complete? Will you need a small project team of experts or will you require a larger group, with a broad range of backgrounds represented, for brainstorming? Answers to these questions will help you narrow your selection.

Generally, in selecting team members, you should look for people with both knowledge in their functional areas and strong interpersonal skills, although you should be realistic enough to set aside people skills if the project has a strong technical bias. If the project calls for a major shift in organizational direction, you should know, too, that you will be better off with people who are unafraid of change than with individuals with caretaker mentalities.

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Needless to say, you want individuals who are interested enough in the project to give sufficient time to it. If a prospective member doesn't see participation as a worthwhile challenge, then another candidate is better for consideration. Look also for diversity in putting together your team. Limiting the group to people with interests similar to each other or your own would be limiting the final result as well.

You should also look for creative thinkers for your team, although you don't want only hotshot thinkers. You should have more-traditional problem solvers as well on board. The best teams are made up of both types of individuals. Creative innovators will give you an out-of-the-box idea but may not have the patience to hang in there during implementation that adapters or modifiers have. The latter are also more likely to find ways to make those breakthrough ideas work.

Further, bringing highly creative individuals who only think out of the box into a project whose goal is continuous improvement will only frustrate the creative persons because their approach to problem solving goes far beyond the goal of the project.

How can taking my employees away from the work environment enable me to build a sense of teamwork?

Getting away from the office—the two- or three-day management retreat for teambuilding—is becoming increasingly popular because:

1. Team retreats enable the team to get away from the pressures of daily operations to focus fully on its concerns as a group in a more relaxed, leisurely, and collegial atmosphere. This includes time to identify team problems and solve them.

2. The fuller time span allows for in-depth discussion without the need to abort intensive problem-solving sessions because time has run out. Evening sessions are also possible.

3. The time away from the office allows for interpersonal contacts that were not possible onsite, particularly having three meals and breaks together and engaging jointly in recreational activities.

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Ideally, you should have an external facilitator to lead group discussions during the retreat. The use of an outside facilitator gives the teambuilding session an aura of professionalism and objectivity. Unbiased, the facilitator can intervene helpfully in instances of reluctance by the group to confront interpersonal conflict, non-participation, and so on. You might want to act as the group's facilitator, but you may not have the skills or training to pull it off properly. The best person to head the session is someone whose commitment to an open communication climate during the retreat is respected. If the team doesn't believe in this, the teambuilding effort is likely to be only marginally effective, if at all.

The retreat will raise task- or work-related questions, interpersonal issues, process issues, and systems questions. Task-related questions include: What are the goals of the team? Are there any policies, either current or absent, that affect team effectiveness? Is the team planning-minded? Are there any procedures that are hindering effectiveness?

Interpersonal factors may be probed with questions like the following: How do you relate to the team? Do you feel you are part of it? How would you describe each team member? Are there any members who produce conflict? If so, how can we resolve this?

Process questions relate to how the group goes about doing its work: How are decisions made? What is the nature of employee input in decisions? Are problems faced up to? How would you characterize communication in your team? Do people level with one another? Do people trust one another?

Systems influences relate to broader aspects of the group's culture that influence behavior, questions like, "What is the nature of the reward, measurement, and feedback systems? Does real accomplishment get rewarded? What would you say about the nature/ adequacy of the reward system? The career development-promotion system?

What should you, as a manager, expect to come out of the retreat?

1. Team problems should be identified, defined precisely, prioritized, and assigned to individuals or subgroups for in-depth study and recommendations for correction.

2. The team should have learned how to do a better job of problem solving—time spent in problem solving should teach the group to treat causes rather than get fixated on symptoms.

3. Policies and procedures are clarified or revised as necessary.

4. Group goals are defined and agreed upon.

5. You may have learned that you need to alter your management style, shifting from a more or less command style to more of a team-oriented one that generates mutual trust and respect.

6. The team should return to work with a resolve to be more open, caring, trusting, cooperative, and supportive.

7. Conflicts between team members should have been brought out in the open and now are either resolved or a start has been made to resolve them.

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