Leading Multidisciplinary Teams

Company initiatives often manifest at the plant level as site assessments. As an energetic and talented young professional, you may land the responsibility of leading such an assessment. That responsibility can seem daunting, especially because assessments can take weeks and involve multidisciplinary teams that can include senior staff and strong personalities. However, considered preparation and attention to meeting conduct can help you to lead an efficient assessment that produces quality results.

Understanding your role as leader

You must know your role as leader and respect the fact that each team member — including you — provides a unique perspective and function.

As the leader, your role is to understand the purpose, scope, and objectives of the assessment and guide the team to complete its goals. Although it appears to be an enormous task, the results reflect the efforts of the entire team. You perform one of many functions. Focus on performing that function well.

Preparing effectively

Your role as the leader begins before there is even a team to lead. Start by gathering company documents related to the initiative, and if company procedures refer to general industry publications, gather those as well. Contact the appropriate parties to confirm that you have all relevant documents and close any gaps in your understanding.

Pore over every document you collect until you understand them inside and out. Your understanding of the initiative will become your team’s understanding.

Assembling the team

Assembling the team requires identifying the core disciplines the initiative will require. Consider who to designate as core team members who will attend every session and serve as consultants. Specialists may get bored waiting to contribute in their area of expertise and may attempt to contribute well outside of it.

For those who have only a sparing contribution to the team, compile a list of questions as they arise. Invite those people to meetings only for a designated and limited amount of time to address the team’s questions.

When you schedule meetings, be considerate of your team’s standard work responsibilities. Leave gaps in the morning or afternoon so they can take care of other business.

A team is seldom productive for more than four to six hours at a stretch, and you will likely have better participation if the team knows you spared part of their day.

Managing the meeting

Prepare meeting and reference materials (e.g., drawings, specifications, operating procedures) in advance to ensure maximum productivity. Create packets of the most relevant materials and distill wordy standards and procedures down to convenient handouts. Anticipate the parts of the procedures that the team will reference most often; translate that information from prose into usable tools, such as tables or flowcharts.

Too much paper can be distracting, so provide ancillary materials as a single copy for the room or as a digital copy.

Arrive at the meeting room early to work out any technical difficulties you might encounter. Before the meeting, practice working with the program you will use to document the assessment. Better yet, recruit a scribe who has experience doing just that. You might also input some of the documentation framework into the program ahead of time.

The assessment is a team effort, but the team will appreciate your efforts to reduce the time they spend watching someone type.

Don't forget the little things

Teams also appreciate the little things. Snacks and refreshments go a long way toward keeping a team happy, and happy teams are helpful teams. A coffee maker nearby is practically a necessity. When meetings approach a half-day or more, provide lunch to ensure the meeting starts promptly at the end of the break.

Once the session begins, keeping the team engaged is key. Your preparations will help to maintain the tempo, as will a plan of attack that is broken into easily digestible morsels. Tell the team the plan and keep them informed of the progress. Team engagement can be maintained through visible progress.

Staying on topic

Momentum can be lost if conversations veer toward topics that do not directly impact the assessment. If the conversation is not advancing the assessment, park it. A “parking lot” flipchart sheet makes it easy to keep track of a good idea, while ensuring its discussion does not distract from the task at hand. 

Be vocal and consistent about meeting rules. Ensure attendees understand that side discussions may be moved to the parking lot and that staying engaged, being punctual, listening, and not criticizing others are expected behaviors.

Final thoughts

Considered preparation and attention to conduct can increase the probability of leading a successful and relatively painless assessment. As a young professional, successfully leading a multidisciplinary team through a site assessment is a great boost to your confidence, as well as to your résumé. You may find to your own surprise that you wear the role well.

This article originally appeared in the YPOV column of the May 2019 issue of CEP. Members have access online to complete issues, including a vast, searchable archive of back-issues found at aiche.org/cep.