Herding the cats: How to lead a cross-organizational team

How can managers get members of a cross-functional to work well together and feel invested in the team effort? The question is not merely academic, writes columnist Steve Kelman.

Steve Kelman is professor of public management at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and former administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy.

“There is nothing so practical as a good theory,” famed social psychologist Kurt Lewin wrote many years ago. As an academic who cares about improving government management, I have always embraced Lewin’s aphorism as a guiding star for aspirations for my own research and for what I look for in the research of others.

The Academy of Management Review (AMR) is the quarterly theory journal of the leading professional association for scholars (mostly at business schools) who study organizations. Its counterpart publication, the Academy of Management Journal, presents empirical papers — i.e., those with evidence. AMR doesn’t always live up to Lewin’s admonition. Frankly, I find many of the papers to be academic in the pejorative sense of the word and not particularly useful or even insightful.

However, the April issue of AMR has a fascinating paper that is both novel and useful. It has the slightly daunting title “Intergroup Leadership in Organizations: Leading Across Group and Organizational Boundaries” and was written by Michael Hogg and David Rast of Claremont Graduate University and Daan Van Knippenberg of Erasmus University in the Netherlands. The basic question the authors ask is: What should leaders of cross-organizational collaborations or cross-functional teams do to increase the identification of group members with the work of the collaboration or the team? With the spread of both formal collaborations and cross-functional teams in government, the question is clearly a practical one. It is also vexing because it is frequently hard to get cross-functional groups to play well together.

The authors say collaboration leaders typically try to create an overarching, collective identity for members of the collaboration, a sense of commitment to it that transcends commitments to their functional homes. The message leaders give is that the various groups that compose the collaboration or team are more similar to one another than those in the individual functions would have believed. Often, leaders attempt to encourage such understanding by using rotational assignments, as is done with temporary assignments of military officers to joint activities or among people from different parts of the intelligence community to understand the other organizations better.

The authors argue, however, that this approach is unlikely to work. A sense of commitment to their home organizations and/or functions is a strong part of many people’s identities.

Instead, the authors recommend a different leadership approach, one that builds what they call intergroup relational identity. The idea is that leaders should encourage group members to understand that “the intergroup collaboration is essential to achieving outcomes that are deeply valued by the group” rather than pushing the notion that the different groups making up the collaboration are similar to one another. A homey example of an interpersonal relational identity is a parent/child relationship: There is no suggestion that parent and child are the same, only that the relationship creates value.

That means, for example, that leaders of cross-agency intelligence efforts shouldn’t promote the idea that the FBI and the CIA are the same, only that their joint activities can produce better results than either could do alone. The authors argue that collaboration leaders can do this by engaging in their own boundary-spanning behavior and demonstrating that they can’t do their jobs properly without working with members from other organizations or functions.

Is this approach useful? I think it is, but I would like to hear what collaboration and cross-functional team managers think.

NEXT STORY: A young fed speaks

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.