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Multi-function teamwork in organisations needs support, says IES


People learn from people, not systems. So says a new report from the Institute for Employment Studies (IES). The report says that today's diverse teams need more support from senior management to realise their full potential.

As one of the first major studies into how cross-functional teams learn, the report says that todays workplaces are strewn with project teams and special taskforces whose objectives are often misunderstood, misused and unsupported by their colleagues, despite having enormous potential and being under pressure to learn fast in order to succeed.

Building new knowledge into the organisational memory and culture is vitally important.IES Director Richard Pearson said: "Cross-functional teams bring together diverse talents, and encourage thinking outside the box. They have enormous potential for increasing the knowledge base of organisations. They can be the very coalface of organisational learning, as well as enhancing the skills and abilities of individuals. They deserve, but do not always receive, solid organisational support, and recognition from senior management."

IES Research Fellow and author of the report, Polly Kettley says: ‘Few of the lessons of even successful teams make it into the “organisational memory”, and new teams repeat many of the mistakes of the past.

The report's authors also say that there is a problem in that organisational learning has been hijacked by IT, in the guise of "knowledge management". Employers are struggling to address the human issues associated with knowledge creation and exchange. They add that despite the emphasis given on manipulating knowledge electronically for the benefit of organisations, "The reality is that the majority of knowledge sharing and innovation within organisations occurs through the interaction of people with people - especially within networks, groups or teams of people who cross conventional organisational boundaries.

The report also highlights working within a cross functional team as a form of career development for more ambitious employees, although it says it is not without its risks.

The full Institute of Employment Studies report, Learning from Cross-functional Teamwork by P Kettley and W Hirsh can be ordered for £19.95 from


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