Working Hard or Hardly Working?

Esther has an M.A. in Organizational Leadership, is the author of over 100 articles, and co-author of "Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great" and "Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management". She’s a founder of the AYE Conference, and serves on the Board of Directors for the Agile Alliance.

Teams are more than the sum of the parts. Cross-functional collaboration supports creativity, innovation and speed. Who wouldn’t want that? But managing cross-functional collaborative teams differs from managing a functional team or a tradition project.

When I work with organizations that are moving from functional groups to cross-functional teams, managers have three predictable questions:

  1. How do I know if the team is working well? I’m not involved in the team’s day-to-day activities anymore.
  2. How will I know senior people are doing senior-level work, and junior level people are doing junior-level work?
  3. How will I know people are working hard?

These questions reflect traditional organizations, with clear lines of control, individual accountability and defined roles and responsibilities.

Cross-functional collaborative teams do great things. But collaboration wreaks havoc on traditional ways of assessing performance. When the team soars, who receives praise? When they stumble, who is to blame? When teams work collaboratively, it’s difficult--and less relevant--to discern individual contribution. So how can a manager gauge whether the team is doing well and working hard? I’ll answer the common questions I mentioned above one at a time.

How can a manager tell if a team is working well?
Thriving teams deliver results and increase their …

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It is better to ask some of the questions than to know all the answers.

- James Thurber