No department is an island

It may be the new management trend to form teams of employees from different department to work on big projects, but employees naturally work together across departments on their own, says Jim Cardwell, chairman and CEO of Cardwell Group, a Westlake-based software development and management consulting firm.

“Almost any project you can think of is cross-functional,” he says. “Every department needs help from some other department to get almost any project of significance done.”

But if CEOs are going to enhance that process and implement cross-functional teams, they must have five essential pieces in place before starting.

* Prioritization. When CEOs have too many projects that are top priority, they lose the ability to control their business.

“You’re not aligning, coordinating or utilizing resources very well,” Cardwell says. “And also, people are really stressed out because they think you’re going to walk in and ask, ‘What happened to Project 32?’

You need to have a clear strategy and a clear idea of what you’re trying to do so that the project is either trying to build something or fix something to get you to that strategy.”

* A good project plan. Cardwell says many project teams have a goal but waste time in meetings, trying to figure out the next step. “It’s much more efficient to build the project plan before you actually do the project,” he says. “It’s pretty straightforward stuff.”

Delineating the scope of the project is key.

“It draws boundaries around what you’re going to do, and it defines the things outside the boundaries that you’re not going to do,” he says.

A good project plan establishes evaluation criteria up front. These are developed by the team leader and team members and approved by the sponsor — who Cardwell calls the godfather of the team — usually the CEO or a senior executive who doesn’t work directly on the team but oversees it.

* Clear roles and authorities. Cardwell cites a study by Xerox on the makeup of a high-performance team. “Fifty percent of what made a high-performance team is what I’m calling a clear project plan, but about 20 percent of it was actually having clear roles and accountabilities,” he says.

Having this information helps employees know what they are supposed to do with their project and understand who on their team has the authority to do it.

* Team processes. Cardwell suggests having team dialogues every two weeks to coordinate the work of the team. “They come in to talk about what’s going on — Should we continue this project, are we staying within the scope, are we hitting the evaluation criteria. … What do we need to do to keep this project moving, and what have we learned?”

Two other kinds of dialogue also are required. An organizational dialogue allows team leaders to get a checkpoint once a month on the status of each project, and the team leader should meet individually with team members once a month to encourage communication about projects.

“It’s these kind of touch points that reinforce and make the (project) more personal,” he says.

* Leadership. “Leaders really need to make sure that there’s an open data flow and clear communication around this project: Why we’re doing it, what we’re doing, what the progress is and why we appreciate this team, which is the second thing — the recognition and reinforcement,” Cardwell says. “The final thing that leaders do is they reward people who do good jobs on teams so they want to do it again.”


Cardwell Group, (800) 395-1410 or