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As a 24 year old brand manager for a reputed FMCG organization, I encountered many firsts as far as management lessons go – lessons that had easily been left out of the MBA curriculum of the business school that I had spent two years in. One of the hardest hitting lessons was the requirement to spearhead new product introduction working in cross functional teams. Here I was, interfacing with people much senior than me with absolutely no positional power other than the fact that I was the brand custodian.

That was not an easy task. Though the delivery timelines were a joint responsibility of the team working on the project, the accountability was on the brand manager to ensure that the launch happened in the way it was supposed to.

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My initial days were like a game of blind man’s bluff – blindly running around here and there in the hope that I would be able to catch hold of someone who would sort out issues and keep the project on track.

But I just came up against new walls every time. Some people got offended that I was too young to be handling the project, so they wanted to speak to my boss or boss’s boss. Others would turn around and tell me that they had done their bit and now it was the turn of the next department to take it forward. Still others would give me buffered timelines which were just unacceptable.

Soon realization dawned upon me that my current method of working was not leading me anywhere and some deep reflection followed. I then very methodically created a project management process which has held me in good stead as far as working in cross functional teams is concerned.

I followed a few key steps that helped me get control of the situation. Some key steps you can follow are mentioned below:

  • Identify key stakeholders in each department who are senior enough to take decisions and recruit them onto your project. Spend time building rapport with these people for they will deliver in times of crisis.
  • Get everyone in a room to enlist the following: 
    • Vision behind the project: Why we are doing what we are doing?
    • Team deliverables in terms of costs, timelines and quality: What is the ultimate requirement spelt out as?
    • Roles of each department with accountability assigned to people: Who in which department will do what?
    • Timelines of all activities on the critical path identified and assigned to people: Which activities can derail the project and therefore need special attention from all the team members?
  • Once everyone leaves the room with clarity it is understood that each person is competent and responsible enough to play his own part.
  • Reviews should be done every fortnight (and every week when the deadline approaches) in the following manner:
    • All team members provide updates on their roles,
    • Any issues that need support are raised and sorted at the current meeting itself,
    • In case any member cannot be present, his update is taken individually and relayed to the entire team,
    • Issues where senior intervention is needed are raised and handled together and
    • Minutes are sent to everyone so that all are on the same page of the project.
  •  Completion of each critical activity is celebrated in the team so that the team is  encouraged to keep up the good work. Success is celebrated with all.

In hindsight, the process looks very simple – like it is common sense, and actually it is. But the intriguing part is that I have seen countless teams that become dysfunctional because of the following reasons:

  • Lack of a common vision or goal.
  • Low engagement levels with the project. This may be because no effort has been made to form rapport.
  • Dearth of trust in the same team member whose work is critical to complete the job.
  • Lack of respect for each other’s roles in the team.
  • No timely reviews or follow-ups of critical activities.
  • Absence of appreciation and celebration of the team’s success.

The key to creating and managing a ‘Winning Team’ successfully, in my experience, is to find the right combination of people and task orientation. Even if one does not have positional power, one can rely upon one’s personal power, to create a process that enables all team members to contribute 100% and achieve audacious goals.

Ultimately it’s people who are inspired to own the task and take pride in supporting each other and delivering it together.

By Yoshita Swarup Sharma