Provide an example of a challenge you have experienced in the workplace leading a cross-functional team or as part of a cross-functional team.

Provide an example of a challenge you have experienced in the workplace leading a cross-functional team or as part of a cross-functional team. How was this challenge solved? Would you have approached the challenge differently? If so, how?

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Several years ago in the Middle East, after being unemployed for four months, I jumped at an opportunity to start working again as part of an organizational change project at a college. We were all specialists ranging from coaching to curriculum to accounting to networking and more. Although there was a slight facilitation structure, this was designed to be a cross-functional team (Daft, 2019). We were expected to function smoothly and collaboratively on our individual and group tasks. With a relatively flat organization, the matrix team struggled with some task conflict, whish could be beneficial for outcomes (Daft, 2019). Significantly more destructively 20% of the members consistently were mired in interpersonal conflict. The task conflicts were resolved within an executive team of six members and we persevered until we could come to a majority decision. The primary challenge in resolving task conflicts is that two of six executive team members would sometimes withhold information in an attempt to position themselves more advantageously for future job opportunities with the contractor.

In retrospect, as a peer, I would have brought this to their attention directly and privately every time they did it, as it sowed distrust on the team. However, I was a peer executive, I had my project scope and required the collaboration of all the executive team and was very selective about the ‘battles’ I chose to engage in as I wanted to preserve cooperative spirit for my scope’s objectives. The executive team leader did not think it was worth the team energy to challenge these two for their political posturing. So, I deferred as I did not see it as malicious, but rather self-serving. But I may have been complicit in a leadership failure here. But sometimes there is wisdom in letting things go.

The interpersonal conflict was the real issue. Unfortunately, in the middle east, there are racial, ethnic, national, and tribal divides that go back millennia. There were both racial and ethnic tensions on our staff team that escalated small task conflicts into larger accusations of favoritism, nationalism, contract violations, and more. Our staff had been on opposite sides in several wars in the last generation and there were majority-minority tensions between staff in many home countries. Added to that, there was ongoing tension between the customer and provider staff introduced by the project sponsor.

In retrospect, in my position as a close influencer to the program manager, I should have pressured him to take a more direct approach to bring the executive team together on these interpersonal conflicts. Unfortunately, two of the six members of our executive team were seeding these tensions. As a project leader, I regularly shared principles of conflict management, and other issues surrounding the optimizing of the team, but some of our team situations needed a ‘9,5’ hand on the Blake & Mouton Leadership Grid (Daft, 2019). Our program leader leaned towards a Middle of the Road Management style (Daft, 2019). His genuine care for each member he thought would win loyalty, but his inattention to these racial, ethnic, and national tensions undermined these attempts at winning people over.

In retrospect, I would have taken a ‘peer influencer’ approach in leading a discussion with my manager’s approval ahead of time. He would not have done it, but he had confidence in my perceptions. I should have taken the time to lay some ground rules to a discussion then brought up these issues for public awareness. As I have done since then elsewhere, I would have pointed out that we could force anyone to reconcile or lay down their personal biases often based on deep personal loss and current discrimination, however, the project that we were working on was bigger than any one of us. The purpose would be laid out for us to unite around. Team discussions would be managed in small groups by key people who had respect to collect feedback and report back. Conflict management exercises could be held. At the end of the day, in a 9.9 fashion on the grid, team members who continued to sow interpersonal conflict should have been released. At the time, I advocated for this when the leader could not bring them into alignment with the team. Finally, the program leader agreed, but he was overruled.  The contractor refused to fire anyone since the project was being paid by billable hours and a gap in staffing would reduce revenue. The contractor chose to sacrifice team coherence and effectiveness for revenue.  Team outcomes suffered.

Daft, R. L. (2013). Management (11th ed.). Mason, OH: South-Western Cengage Learning. ISBN-13: 9781285068657

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