Dear Life Matters,

My company recently re-structured and I am now part of several cross-functional teams. While I am looking forward to the opportunity to work with additional staff members throughout the organization, I am a bit nervous about adjusting to the varying needs of each team. Given that I will be leading two new initiatives as a result of this reorganization I need advice on running effective meetings and effectively communicating with a variety of personalities. Please help!

Sincerely,

Cross-functional team leader

Dear team leader,

Cross-functional teams are often designed to ensure that new projects take in the perspective of multiple units within the company. While these teams present a great opportunity to provide innovative solutions to company issues, being successful as a cross-functional group may require additional effort to manage expectations, deal with the varying personalities of the team, and to set reasonable goals. Committing yourself to the process and managing expectations from the start will help ensure that your new teams are effective and successful.

As you are probably aware, there are several different philosophies on meetings. A lot has to do with the culture of your organization and the personal style of the individual leader. No matter what advice you get, I would encourage you to think about what style or approach will be most comfortable to you. Feeling as though you have to put on an act or follow pre-determined guidelines will only be exhausting and difficult to maintain over the long term. Try leveraging your personal strengths to execute effective meetings and meaningful communications with colleagues.

Before you schedule a meeting, consider not having a meeting. Consider whether the information could be distributed through a memo or e-mail. Examining the value of a physical meeting can help reduce unneeded meetings and ineffective use of staff time and resources, two things you’ll have to pay close attention to as a team leader for these new projects. One way to distinguish whether a meeting is needed is to consider the method of communication. If your news focuses on one-way communication, meaning that you need to inform staff of something, a memo or e-mail may work best. However, if the topic requires discussion or two-way communication, holding a meeting may most effectively meet your objective. Ultimately, by only holding meetings when they are truly necessary your colleagues will know upfront that meetings are important.

As you prepare to schedule your first team meeting, make sure you know what your initial goals are. What do you hope to accomplish during the meeting? Break your answer down into specific and tangible outcomes. After determining the purpose and the goals, draft the agenda. Having a clear path set out ahead of time will help you to manage staff expectations while ensuring that you run the meeting in an organized and efficient manner. If possible, send the agenda to staff ahead of time so they can review the topics and prepare accordingly. Establishing a meeting with a focused intention and concrete goals will ensure that you start things off right.

Although you may be leading certain aspects of this new initiative, you do not have to be the only one who runs the meetings. Delegating responsibilities to others on your team can be a great way of building team ownership over staff meetings. If an agenda topic requires input from other staff members, consider having them prepare the materials for the meeting or lead the discussion on that particular topic. You may also choose to have team members submit topics for the agenda. Rather than asking for updates at the beginning or end of the meeting, your staff will feel as though they are valued contributors. Effectively involving others in the planning of the meeting should reduce off-topic discussions, allowing you to stay on track. This method will need to be carefully outlined and managed, so again your own personal leadership style needs to dictate your approach.

Finally, end the meeting with a recap of what was discussed, focusing specifically on action items. Detail out the next steps and ensure that everyone has a clear understanding of their individual responsibilities. During your first few meetings you may want to welcome process questions. First frame the approach to your staff members and note that responses must come in the form of action statements. For example “ideas should be to the point” as opposed to “she talks too much.” Asking the team about what worked well or what type of meetings work best for them will again allow them each to feel invested in the process and will also allow you to gain more insight into their underlying thoughts on meetings. Good luck, you will do great!

KATRINA DAVY is a Santa Monica-based professional career counselor who has worked in university and private settings. She holds degrees from Cornell and Columbia universities. Visit her online at www.kdcareer.com. Send your questions to newshrink@gmail.com. All questions are kept anonymous; let us help you with your life matters!