Secrets of Successful Multidisciplinary Teams

Team Zilvold Coaching & Training
10 min read

Summary: Multidisciplinary teams can successfully work together if there is a good preparation of the project, if attention is given to action, interaction and reflection. This applies to professionals who are working together for a short time and for international teams who are working on a project for many years.

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I did not always find it easy: working in multidisciplinary teams. I remember one project where a building with a parking garage had to be constructed. Because of the high groundwater level, a dewatering was necessary. To discuss the effects of the dewatering, I was sitting at a conference table together with different stakeholders. Of course there was the client, a real estate developer, the architect, the contractor, the dewatering company, the municipality and sometimes also the waterboard or some other public authority. With all these different interests, the project was not always successful. And often, I was often involved only for a part of the project.

This article is about working in multidisciplinary teams and how members of the project team can work together more effectively and better. This to ensure that the project becomes a success and that team members enjoy working together.

What is a Multidisciplinary Team?

My definition of a multidisciplinary team is a group of people with complementary experience, qualifications, skills and qualities who contribute together to reach the goals set by an organization.

There are many well-known and unknown secrets of a successful multidisciplinary team. As far as I am concerned, the following components are indispensable:

Kick-Off

Make sure that there’s a good kick-off when a multidisciplinary team meets for the first time. I have often missed this for large projects. That’s too bad because this is THE chance to help the team members to focus on a common goal or vision.

At the kick-off everybody introduces him-/herself and indicates what he/she wants to contribute to the success of the project. For example, let participants tell about where they came from and where they want to go.

During the kick-off, the vision of the organization, the purpose of the project and the resources (budget) are presented. Next to the result, the quality requirements and other specifications of the project must be discussed as well. Of course it is important to talk about the roles, responsibilities, tasks, boundaries and expectations of all team members. Then, it becomes clear what can be expected and who can be addressed for what.

Depending on the budget and the duration the project, a team building session can be done. This can be done outside of the company but a short and powerful team building like the Haka can be done as well. It’s an excellent activity to get together and to connect.

It’s important to make sure that the kick-off is a foundation for trust and security within the team.

Communication style

In your multidisciplinary team there are professionals with different communication styles. The first finds it important that the work done in a structured way and the next wants to reach goals as soon as possible. There will also be professionals who consider it to be important to be heard or those who attach high value to good cooperation. You can find about your communication style by doing a DISC communication test.

The advantage of such a test is that, in addition to a higher self-awareness, it provides greater personal effectiveness within the team. It helps to improve communication between the team members and it contributes to the success of a project.

User Manual

Make agreements on how to communicate with each other and how to deal with conflicts or if boundaries are crossed as agreed during the kick-off. This can be noted in a User Manual for the team.

Even more effective (especially for long term projects), is to create a personal User Manual. This is complementary to the results and advice that has been given in a DISC report. In the personal manual you write what makes you happy and what not. Also describe which situations motivate you to be at your best  and which not. This personal manual is shared with the other team members.

The manuals will not be able to avoid all conflicts but it does make work more actionable, more comfortable, safer and it can help to focus better because there is less distraction.

Confrontations

Working in a multidisciplinary team can be stressful. There are different expertises and opinions at the conference table and they can result into confrontations. Don’t dodge confrontations. Different specialists have other professional opinions. Encourage others to share their opinions as well but keep the goal in mind, be practical, flexible, respectful and adjust if necessary. Be aware of the dynamics of power and interests of different team members. That is hard work for everyone.

But if you clearly agree how you work with each other at the beginning, you can reach an agreement more quickly. And then decisions are made swiftly as well.

Check-In

Actually, I am talking about progress meetings here. But also, the conversations at the coffee machine. The goal is interaction and to inform each other of the status of the project. As a result, you can manage expectations, adjust, evaluate and celebrate (sub) successes. You can also remind people of their responsibility without entering a conflict. You don’t do this by openly accusing someone, but you ask what actions are needed to improve the work. This a way to hold people accountable.

At the check-in, you will verify if everyone is still on track and has the right focus and if people are working in line with the goal/vision/result.

By checking in, you will involve the team members even more in the process and make sure that people have a personal benefit from a successful completion of the project. You ensure that people are recognized and you give them autonomy and ownership of their work. This is also applicable for people who work on the project on a temporary basis.

International teams

I can write a separate article about this, but it is a matter of being conscious of and being respectful to other customs, manners and time differences. For example, I was struck by the difference in communication style between projects in Turkey and projects in the United States. In Turkey, communication and work was done extremely careful to prevent the loss of face. In America, communication is very extrovert and occasionally foul language was used at the conference table. Something that is unthinkable in Turkey.

In countries such as Germany and France, communication is tied to hierarchy and much more formal than in the Netherlands. In those countries, it would be unthinkable for an employee to call a manager by his or her first name. If you work with Frenchmen or Germans in your multidisciplinary team, it is wise to use formal language as well. If they deviate from this, you can always do so.

Long term Learning

In order to ensure that multidisciplinary teams work properly, the right skills are necessary, but also recognition of the various team members play an important role. This is a long-term task and requires constant attention and adjustments. This means that constant development must take place and that the task (purpose / why) of the team must remain clear at all times.

Working in a multidisciplinary team is a learning process. In addition to the check-in, it is important to reflect on what went well when a goal is reached, what went less well and what should be different next time.

Future projects with multidisciplinary teams may be different, but it will be easier, better and more efficient if you are aware of this.

When is a multidisciplinary team successful?

A multidisciplinary team is a successful when trust, recognition, autonomy and ownership are present and maintained. This requires good leadership but also team members who are committed to get the best out of themselves and others so that the project succeeds. And when they are having fun while doing that.

In conclusion, a multidisciplinary team succeeds when the following components get attention:

  1. Preparation
  2. Action and interaction
  3. Reflection

This can be repeated after each sub-task of a project is completed.

Take action now!

In the future, there will be an increasing need for multidisciplinary teams and professionals who can work well in those teams. It is important that you know yourself well.

A good first step would be to make a user manual for yourself and to be aware of your primary communication style. I can help you and your team to communicate more effectively with others. I can also help your team by facilitating a powerful kick-off or the interim evaluation and reflection sessions. This to improve the success and enjoyment of current and future projects with many disciplines. Interested? Contact me today!

What makes a multidisciplinary team successful and what are your secrets? Let me know in the comment box below. I, and other readers of this article look forward to read from you!

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