Friday, April 5, 2013

The Cross Functional Team Leader

The cross functional team leader.  Now more than ever in business team leadership is required across the whole spectrum of the organization, from the customer through the supply chain and back to the customer again.  Team leadership has to understand the decision drivers along this continuum.  Leaner, Flatter Organizational Structures of today's top businesses calls for team leadership that is in touch across the whole organization.

So how do you find people with this skill set?

Start by looking for people with a broad experience across multiple departments.  This person would have worn many different hats throughout his or her career.  Look for someone that hasn't been focused on one area.  Yes the generalist is the best way to describe this person.  This goes against the prevailing wisdom of the last few decades that encouraged professionals to focus or shall we say specialize in a single field of experience.
A person most likely to have these skills is a person who has come up through the ranks in an organization, served in multiple different departments and risen to a leadership rank.

The wise organization fosters these types of people, finds adept candidates and creates the Generalist through a deliberate effort.  For example, take a star performer in Production Operations and have them spend time in the Sales Support department.  Take a star Sales performer and have them spend time in procurement and production planning.  Engineering person spending time in Sales and then time in Purchasing etc.. This creates the cross functional awareness that is so important in business today.

My own experience mirrors this concept and I found that wearing many different hats throughout my career to be vitally important when it came time to manage my own company.  Nothing could replace the broad view of the whole organization when it came time to make key decisions.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Structured Questioning and Manufacturing Team Dynamics

At the root of most Manufacturing problems is a team that is dysfunctional.  One way to spot this is through the use of Structured Questioning.  I use this technique to decode problems in the team.  What I do is sit down with each team member one at a time and ask a series of questions about operations performance and what could be done to improve performance. This usually reveals a treasure trove of good ideas and areas where problems exist.  This is all in keeping with the concept that the people with their hands on the work are usually the experts about that work.  Most of the time people are more than willing to offer suggestions and point out areas of problems, even within the team itself.
Yes you may hear obvious things and you may be tempted to think that you already know this stuff and can prescribe a solution without much input but you ignore this technique at your own peril.  You see by seeking guidance from each team member you prepare the way for change.  You show your reliance on each member of the team and you show a caring attitude, very valuable for implementing change.
To start this process you ask yourself a few questions like.
  1. What do I wish to accomplish with this team?
  2. What changes to the team dynamic need to take place?
  3. What changes to operations are needed to deliver higher performance?

Some suggested answers for these could be;
  1. I need this Team to work better together.
  2. I need this Team to learn to anticipate each other.
  3. I need to apply Lean Principles and need Team Buy In.

These seem like laudable goals and perhaps imperatives if you are going to keep your job as Team Leader.
It is worthwhile to start thinking of yourself as the Team Leader and not just the Manager or Supervisor. All Teams need a leader and actively seek to find one if there isn't one assigned and even if there is one assigned and the Team isn't following the assigned leader.
You start to establish yourself as the Team Leader when you start challenging Team Members with questions. Leadership is always assigned to the person asking the Questions. The power of the Question in our society is a given. Look at all the popular media based on this single premiss. All the game shows on TV, all the Lawyer, legal proceedings based shows. The questioner has the power over the person compelled to answer the question. But don't get too carried away or you will get UN-responsive people.

Tip: When asking questions you are really inviting input so don't be too aggressive or obvious. Don't ask leading questions that imply that you, not the Team, have the answers. Be sincere in you desire to hear from the Team they will sense that and feel that they too have power.

For more on this or to schedule a consultation contact me at