November 2, 2023

More Innovation with interdisciplinary Teams

In this article you will learn how the use of interdisciplinary teams can lead to more innovation and what needs to be taken into account when setting them up.


"The greater the contrast, the greater the potential. Great energy only comes from a correspondingly great tension of opposites." - This quote comes from Carl Gustav Jung, the founder of analytical psychology. He lived from 1875 to 1961. Why do I share these words with you? Because a modern working method is based on this interplay of opposites, which is what we are talking about today: namely cooperation in interdisciplinary teams.

One example of this is software development teams, which no longer consist exclusively of programmers, but also include experts from other disciplines. For example, from psychology, marketing or media design - the possible compositions and applications of interdisciplinary teams are almost unlimited. Because basically, the more perspectives are taken during the development of a product or in solving a problem, the more likely it is that all the needs of a diverse user community will be met.
If you blindly follow this quote, you might be inclined to simply roll the dice on your teams from now on - but of course it's not quite that simple. In the following, I would like to discuss what you need to consider in order to successfully put the concept into practice.

Preparation is half the battle

Like almost all relevant decisions, a change to working in interdisciplinary teams may need to be well prepared. First and foremost, two questions arise:

"Do we need interdisciplinary teams?" and "Can we have interdisciplinary teams at all?" If, for example, the tasks to be completed are very linear and require comparatively little creative potential, bringing in additional heads can also spoil the proverbial broth. Especially in smaller companies, the question also arises whether the resources are immediately available to put together an interdisciplinary team. If this is not the case, it must be weighed up whether the expected benefit outweighs the (also financial) effort. Especially in this case, it is worthwhile to compare the strengths and weaknesses of the current team with the objectives for upcoming projects in order to determine where deficiencies exist and how serious they are.

Once you have ticked off the needs and feasibility boxes on the checklist, you can start with concrete preparations. Already at this stage, those employees who are affected by the restructuring should be involved. It is important to avoid a defensive attitude on the part of the team members - once this occurs, the whole project is on shaky ground. Instead, the focus must be on the opportunities that arise from the change. After all, who wouldn't want the product they are working on to be even better?
With this common goal, it must then be worked out where the team can still use support and new perspectives, in order to then start the search for suitable reinforcement. Here, too, it can be worth a lot to let the team participate in the decision-making process.

But who actually belongs in an interdisciplinary team?

In principle, interdisciplinary teams can consist of experts from a wide range of disciplines. There is no general answer to the question of which expertise is required and makes sense - because interdisciplinary cooperation is not only practised in IT, natural sciences or engineering, but also in hospitals and nursing, for example. That is why one has to think "outside the box" for the respective project.
But apart from their respective areas of expertise, the team members themselves have to represent different roles in the group. In order to use all strengths constructively, you should know and be able to assess your team members, their character traits and behaviours. You probably already do this - but the creation of personality profiles can help you once again to summarise your knowledge to the point. The so-called DISG model offers a helpful classification into different personality types: Here, a distinction is made between the four behavioural styles "dominant", "proactive", "steady" and "conscientious".

Communication and dealing with conflicts

At the beginning, it is important to get to know each other in a relaxed manner and to create a positive working atmosphere. For this purpose, the importance and tasks of the different departments should be discussed among each other and, if necessary, also recorded. This makes it easier to classify information and arguments in terms of content - misunderstandings and taking criticism personally are avoided.
An essential cornerstone is also the constructive handling of conflicts. After all, it is precisely differences of opinion that make up this concept and should lead to more creativity and innovation. However, this is only possible if communication is done in the right way and each team member is prepared to put his or her own views aside for the sake of the common project. Communication training can also help here. In addition, as a leader you may have to moderate and, in case of doubt, make the appropriate decisions.

Once the momentum has been set in motion and your team has become accustomed to the new way of working, you can reap the rewards for the preliminary work and will notice time and again that not only flexibility and creativity, but also problem-solving skills have been massively increased.

Using interdisciplinary teams to combat the shortage of skilled workers?

In addition, interdisciplinary teams offer another opportunity: with them you cannot fight the shortage of skilled workers in the actual sense, but you can skilfully circumvent it. Other disciplines may also be affected, but in no other profession is there such a gap between supply and demand on the labour market as in the case of IT specialists.
If you consider, for example, that a large part of software projects often fail not because of technical factors, but because of project management or the lack of understanding of what software really has to offer in the end, it can work wonders to bring experts from these fields into the team. Errors that occur due to ignorance can be prevented - the IT specialists can concentrate on the core of their area of competence and work more efficiently.

In this article you will learn how the use of interdisciplinary teams can lead to more innovation and what needs to be taken into account when setting them up.
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