The Journal Gazette
Sunday, December 09, 2018 1:00 am

Give diverse talent shared mission

LISA GREEN | The Journal Gazette

All that varied talent you've amassed in your organization and asked to assemble in one meeting room should be a force to be reckoned with. Explain the problem. Expect a solution.

Except there's one small thing: They may not know how to communicate. At least with each other.

Dave Maynard, who teaches project management at Purdue University Fort Wayne, found that too much talent can impede progress.

Maynard, a New York native, spent years working in various roles at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. He recalls being in a conference room with what he calls highly skilled professionals, such as mathematicians and engineers.

“I couldn't even understand what people were talking about. It was English, but it was like a completely different language,” Maynard said.

It's not uncommon for management to purposely put together a diverse team, based on career or work experience. But people from varied skill sets have their own language, Maynard said. When trying to deal with specifics, it can be hard to communicate.

“The problem is there are lots of different types of diversity, and one type of diversity is informational diversity,” he said.

Last week, Maynard gave a presentation to the Project Management Institute's Northeast Indiana Chapter on “Managing a Project Team of Highly Skilled Professionals.”

Many studies have shown that cross-functional teams don't work when they don't have shared goals. Conflicts can become inevitable. Innovation can suffer.

“Cross-functional teams often prove ineffective at capitalizing on the benefits of their informational diversity,” Maynard said.

One key to avoiding roadblocks is ensuring that groups have a mission. And the mission is more than a meeting.

“It's the overriding sense of what are we trying to do,” Maynard said during a phone interview, highlighting parts of his presentation.

After leaving NASA, Maynard was asked to become general manager of Orlando, Florida-based Systems Management Inc., whose mission was to turn around troubled projects.

Other suggestions he shared with the project management group last week include monitoring information that matters and focusing on measures that matter. Information that matters can include customer satisfaction and defect rates. Those, however, are considered lagging indicators. Leading indicators includes performance goals.

Establishing clear team guidelines is important, and humor can help “a great deal,” according to Maynard. The right reporting and organizational structures should be in place to support successful projects.

And when things turn out well, by all means, celebrate success.

To share a thought, a favorite quote or other wisdom about leadership, email Lisa Green at Lead On also appears online as a blog at

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