The best teams aren’t always homogeneous. They’re a combination of people with different skills and unique ways of tackling problems, who together can drive towards a single goal like nobody’s business. But managing a multidisciplinary team like this isn’t always a walk in the park.
Keeping people aligned is tough on the best days, but when everyone has their own way of doing things it can seem impossible. Here are common challenges in managing multidisciplinary teams and how to deal with them.
Multidisciplinary teams need a translator
If you manage a team of writers, you know what to expect from each of them. They might have different skill levels and their own quirks when they work, but they generally do the same thing. You can manage their work essentially the same way, and focus on what makes them different as people. Not only that, but they use the same lingo when communicating, and can easily collaborate.
With a multidisciplinary team, that may not be the case. Say you’re bringing a writer, developer, designer, and performance marketer together to work on a website. People in different roles, with different skills and goals, will often have difficulty communicating. Which makes sense — they basically speak a different language. How long does it take to write copy for a landing page? How about designing a mockup? And how long until it can be added to the website?
That’s where a skilled manager comes in. You don’t need to be completely fluent in designer-ese to know that your designer needs at least a week to deliver a mockup. But knowing that, and getting it across to the rest of the team, is crucial. Take everyone’s unique contribution and boil it down to its base components — deadlines, feedback requests, and so on. Then, communicate them clearly to the team, and encourage your team members to do the same.
You feel like you don’t know anything about their job
Your team members aren’t alone in their lack of knowledge about how different roles operate. You probably start with the same knowledge gaps. But does that mean the burden of knowledge falls on you? Should you have to try and learn as much as you can about everyone’s job so you can better manage the team as a whole? Should you just accept that you don’t know anything and focus on the management side of things?
The truth, like in many things, lies somewhere in the middle. Yes, managing a multidisciplinary team means you’ll need to know a little more about every role than the members of your team. That doesn’t mean you should stress yourself out trying to learn everything you can about design, backend development, and performance marketing just so you’ll feel like a competent manager.
In fact, you should be putting the onus on your reports to educate you. You don’t need to learn every design concept in the book to better manage your designer. Ask them what they think you need to know in order to give better feedback on their work or smooth out their collaboration with a developer. Try scheduling a 1-on-1 with each report to pick their brain. Ask them how they work, what frustrates them about working with the team, and what they need to make things go more smoothly. Then you can make it a group exercise; bring your team in to brainstorm ways to improve your workflow. You might be pleasantly surprised by what they come up with.
Multidisciplinary teams use different tools
Keeping a workflow moving smoothly is already challenging. Blockers pop up, tasks fall between the cracks, and misunderstandings happen. But when that workflow has to cross over several tools, your job becomes that much more complicated. You have to find ways to build your workflow around the tools your team uses. Unfortunately, they typically don’t play nice with one another, and you definitely don’t want to force your team into one tool.
Work management tools aren’t created equal. They each have their strengths, which makes them better suited for particular work. Who in your office is a big fan of Jira? What about Trello? This problem is exacerbated in multidisciplinary teams; because everyone’s doing something different, they need a tool suited to their needs.
That’s where workflow management comes in. With a solution like Unito, you can bridge the gap between work management tools. Your team can work from the tools best suited to their jobs without worrying about their work getting stuck in silos. By bi-directionally syncing comments, assignees, due dates, attachments, and more, Unito turns a collection of disparate tools into a single collaborative environment. You can build workflows your team will actually use, instead of trying to find workarounds because of their tool choice.
Keep it together
Managing a multidisciplinary team shouldn’t feel like being at the head of a dysfunctional family. Yes, there are challenges, but nothing you can’t overcome. With strong communication, a commitment to understanding your team, and a workflow management approach, you can keep everyone on the same page and working together.