Multi-team membership can be hugely beneficial to both organisations and individuals, but it’s essential that employees who belong to these teams are properly supported.
While it’s been some time since John Maxwell first coined the term “teamwork makes the dreamwork”, his words still ring true for many people today. Yet, there are probably an equal number who can also relate to the second (less well known) part of his quote: “but a vision becomes a nightmare when the leader has a big dream and a bad team”.
With most of us having been part of many different teams throughout our lives, it’s not surprising that we will have both negative and positive experiences of them.
Teamwork is no longer just about contributing to one team but actively being part of several.
And while there are some things that will never change about the best teams – like a common purpose and approach, there is no doubt that being part of a team now is a completely different experience to when Maxwell first uttered those widely quoted words back in 2002.
For example, for many people today, teamwork is no longer just about contributing to one team but actively being part of several.
In theory, this can improve teams and organisational performance, but in practice, it often leads to inefficiencies and burnout. So, is multiple team membership a good or bad thing for business?
Rise of multiple team membership
Research shows that between 65-95% of people are active members of multiple teams in their organisation. One of the main drivers behind the rise of multiple team membership is the increased pressure on organisations to make more efficient use of their resources.
In theory, the benefits of multi-team membership to an organisation include stopping teams from doing overlapping or redundant work, greater awareness of how the organisation works as a whole and increased task focus as time together is limited.
While these benefits seem to speak for themselves, research reveals that in practice there are a number of factors that often get in the way.
Common knowledge effect
The idea that multi-team members inject insight from various parts of the business doesn’t always work out in practice. This is because people tend to focus on the information everyone knows, even when their unique knowledge is key to achieving the team’s goal.
What can you do to get around this issue? Telling people about this ‘common knowledge effect’ is a good first step, as just increasing people’s awareness of a bias can reduce its power.
People tend to focus on the information everyone knows, even when their unique knowledge is key to achieving the team’s goal.
Facilitating team discussions so that people are encouraged to share their most relevant insights, and moving the conversation on when the team is stuck discussing what everybody already knows, will also help.
A shared understanding of how tasks and projects should get done, and common expectations of the task can improve team performance. But, with different teams all having varying ideas about the best ways of working, multi-team membership increases the chances of team members being unclear about expectations.
While these misaligned expectations could make teams less effective, the opposite can also be true. In fact, the ability of each team member to share their unique perspective on how work should be done can be a strength.
The ability of each team member to share their unique perspective on how work should be done can be a strength.
Not only does it provide the chance to share learnings across the business, but it also gives multi-team members insight into the priorities and political nuances of other teams – which can help them collaborate with each other more successfully.
To leverage these different understandings within teams, encourage teams to switch conversations around. Rather than assuming that everyone knows how things get done, regularly ask ‘how should we do this’ and question what works best based on people’s own experience in different teams.
Pressure on the multi-team individual
Another important thing to bear in mind is that while multi-member teams can benefit organisations, they can also put significant pressure on individuals who may find they have more work and coordination challenges.
It goes without saying that organisations are responsible for ensuring that they are only asking what is reasonable of their employees. But beyond this, research indicates that how someone views being part of a multi-membership team also impacts whether their experience of this is positive or negative.
For example, someone with a ‘scarcity’ mindset will likely feel strained and overloaded by different demands, as they see their resources as finite. Someone with an ‘expansion’ perspective, who believes resources are abundant, will tend to view it as an opportunity to access new expertise.
Organisations are responsible for ensuring that they are only asking what is reasonable of their employees.
When supporting someone in a multi-team role, it’s therefore important to understand how they see the challenge, and help them make the best use of the different resource pools that are now available to them.
Encouraging multi-team members to avoid going over the ‘stuff that everyone knows’ and ensuring that their wellbeing is protected, is key to leveraging the benefits of multi-team membership.
About Alison Maitland
Dr. Alison Maitland is the Director of Research and Product at Lane4, the experts in people performance. Alison has over 25 years of experience working with and in blue-chip multinational organisations. Alison holds a PHD in organisational culture and relationships in elite sport from Brunel University and is a HCPC registered and BASES accredited sports psychologist.