Most of us build our careers as specialists. We get really good in one area and then we get promoted to managing other people in that area. But at some point, growing as a manager requires a shift from being a functional specialist to a organizational generalist – from being a subject-matter expert to a leader who can understand how the business functions as a whole.
Early in your career, being assigned to a cross-functional project team can put you on the fast-track to management. It introduces you to new people, sets you up as the go-to person in your department and increases your visibility within the organization. It is also a great way to start making the shift from specialist to generalist.
Here’s how to make the most of the experience:
Do good work. This should be the foundation of all career advice and directly applies here as well. Make sure you’re contributing to the success of the project. Meet deadlines. Do more than required. You’re representing your functional area and will be the go-to person, so always deliver.
Learn from other team members. Respect that the other people on your project team are the experts in their own areas. Defer to their knowledge. Ask questions. Dig into what their jobs are really like and how they impact the company. Use the opportunity to learn their metrics, process flows and problem areas.
Don’t complain (but be sympathetic when others do). You’re using this project to build your career capital, so you should see extra work as an investment. But others on your project team may not feel the same way. Show them that you understand how busy they are. Commiserate, and then use your new cross-functional knowledge to alleviate their pain points.
Be a meeting rock star. Knowing how to manage a meeting is key to a successful project outcome. Be attentive, take notes and ask smart questions. Most importantly, don’t get bogged down in the details of your specific task. Understand the higher level problem the team is trying to solve and stay focused on the company-wide impact.
Project confidence but stay humble. You want to be seen as smart, capable and well-rounded. But no one likes a know-it-all. And no matter how good you are at your job, being liked is important. You’re building relationships that you will draw on as you move up in the organization, so build them wisely.
How about you? Has working on a project team helped you grow as a manager?
(Photo by Don Graham via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)