Three tips when working with teams with people from different backgrounds
In high-performance IT delivery we work in teams comprised of individuals with distinct expertise to deliver the right quality at the right moment. Depending on the purpose of the team’s delivery, different knowledge and capabilities are needed. To achieve this, people in the team need to have different backgrounds, including educational backgrounds. To train a cross-functional team efficiently, this difference must be accounted for.
In this blog, we will give three tips on how to approach training people with different backgrounds.
(This is the tenth blog in the series “How to train cross-functional teams”, for links to previous blogs please go to the end of this blog)
Embrace the Differences
Having different backgrounds means that the team members will have different perspectives, ways of addressing problems and ways of communication. This can be a challenge when working together, but if we embrace the differences, we’re better equipped to deliver the system with quality than if we all have the same background.
Acknowledge the differences between the team members and emphasize that they make the team work better. Discuss without judgement. Make sure everybody gets to express their view. If you don’t understand what they mean or why it’s important, ask. Open and honest communication is the best way to embrace the differences between the people.
Discuss Problem-solving Approaches
Having different educational backgrounds means that the team members have learnt different problem-solving approaches.
The training of engineers typically involves dividing the problem into smaller parts and solving each part independently. This approach is the basis for high-performance IT delivery (such as Scrum and DevOps).
However, in other types of educations, this is NOT the approach taught. In other disciplines you need to understand the whole in order to solve a problem. Dividing it will hinder the solution, not facilitate it.
An example of a problem that can’t be solved by dividing it and solving the individual parts is a cultural problem, because you need to take the entire situation in consideration to be able to solve these cultural problems (this is why engineers may have more trouble solving cultural problems).
Depending on what type of problem we’re facing, different problem-solving approaches are more or less suitable. A high-performing team will acknowledge that there are different approaches, each one valid, and use the one most appropriate for the type of problem they are trying to solve.
Discuss HOW each member would solve a specific problem and why they’d choose that approach to train team members in the different approaches and to learn which is more suited to a specific type of problem. Choose the most suitable approach for the type of problem you’re facing.
Use the differences to train the team
As individuals, our work improves the more tools we have in our arsenal and the greater our understanding of different aspects is. Therefore, use the team members’ differences to train the team in problem-solving approaches, perspectives, business values and system development.
Different expertise and background can be used to train the team, letting the entire team benefit from the knowledge. Besides improving the competence of the entire team, it also boasts the confidence in the team member that is training the others. Greater confidence in your work improves the workplace efficiency and satisfaction.
This training can be done on the job, but also with a short presentation, for instance during coffee breaks. Other opportunities are through workshops and regular training sessions.
It’s an advantage to have team members with different backgrounds, including educational backgrounds, but it can be a challenge if you are not aware of the differences. So, embrace the differences, discuss problem-solving approaches, and use the differences to train the team.
How do you handle different backgrounds within your agile team?
Please, let us know in the comments below!
This blog has been co-authored by Rik Marselis, Principal Quality Consultant at Sogeti in the Netherlands
(For other blogs in the series “How to train cross-functional teams”, use this link: https://labs.sogeti.com/training-cross-functional-teams/.)