Temporary Project Teams Need Scaffolding to Work Well
Teams with rotating memberships can achieve higher productivity if the structure of the team’s working environment is set and understood. This approach needs to be custom-fitted for each particular workplace, and training on how it works (temporary team member “onboarding” as a structural feature, if you will) must be part of the structure.
A recent article on HBR.org summarized the explorations of a tandem of professors into the success gained by creating more structure around temp-team assignments. They termed the approach “scaffolding”: Creating a known working structure within which rotating team members can plug themselves in and join the workflow relatively seamlessly. Caveat: The analysis dealt with a particular environment (hospital emergency rooms), which may not have direct lessons for structuring project team “scaffolds” in more typical workplaces.
Scaffolding is an apt metaphor, though, because the goal of this structure is not to directly impact the work done, but provide a solid foundation and supporting structure within which the work can be done better and with more confidence. Plus, real scaffolding is different for each construction job, and so its conceptual twin would also be designed to fit each working environment.
We agree with this basic concept (accepting the caveat as well). We see in our own work that creating an understandable structure, and having a clearly-outlined process for understanding and using inter- and intra-group relationships, does indeed better engage employees and make them more productive.
Understanding the whole organization, and what your role is within the larger mission, allows you to focus your energy on what matters, and produce more contributory work. Even temporary assignments can benefit from understanding your role and the roles of those around you. A scaffolded work environment could give you a structure in which to engage with these other people productively.
And that’s the goal of the people who design every workplace environment, even if it doesn’t seem like that’s the case out in cubeland!