Positive tension in multidisciplinary teams

In multidisciplinary teams people often say that they have trouble understanding each other. They use the same terms, but have different meanings for them. That can be confusing, but at the same time it is the source of innovation and creativity. Like-minded experts tend to agree and to repeat what has worked so well before. However, it takes a rebel approach to make a change.

Each person is unique, but there is a force of nature called education that creates habits of thinking in a “certified” way. What you study and learn is what you become as practicing professional. That is why people with different educational and cultural backgrounds often cannot understand the goals in the same way. It is not fingerpointing, but common dynamics of multidisciplinary innovation teams. It is a big opportunity that can produce postive tension in a project organization.

When different world views collide – that is when the magic happens.

Let me give you an example. Ask 3 persons to take a blank paper and pen and to draw a circle, a square and a line. I bet you will get 3 different representations of the same clear and simple visual concept as a whole. That is the personal representation and the only way to make them synch is to show to the other person what you are drawing. Communication is about sharing information. And copying is a strong and proven method for innovation.

Square, circle and a line – how hard can that be? The concept is vague and elusive for the team, eventhough each of the individual members have a clear representation of the solution. Now, imagine how that is exponentially happening in any project when people are working with matters that are unique, hard to describe with plain words and most probably, at least when working with R&D, has never been done before.

The big question is: How can you show better what you mean, share more of how you think and co-create efficiently with multidisciplinary teams? It is better to accept the fact that in the beginning you cannot be very efficient. You should start by collecting conflicting ideas to be able to later align your thinking when you grow as a team. Context means that you already have the same intentions and goals to start with. Otherwise you would not be together in the first place.

In the fuzzy front end of R&D you have to keep the dialogue open and simple, because the problem you are solving next most probably is not.

I suggest a simple approach to reducing the intellectual distance and help in generating a common understanding in multidisciplinary teams. For a new team it should be explicit from the start that they do not understand each other. It allows everyone to say out loud what they feel but their professional attires otherwise would not allow to express.

“We do not yet know what we do not know, but we are certain that we can learn that together.”

If you are ok with that and ready to learn the team is on the right path to success. The confusion should be explicitly spoken out in the beginning to avoid the cozy feeling of business as usual, but who would want more of the same when you are about to change the world?