Cross-functional project teams
are rapidly becoming the norm for successfully competing in today's
markets. Not only must firms remain flexible and innovative, they must
also develop and produce high-quality, low-cost products on difficult
time schedules. This trend has many interesting implications. Achieving
meaningful communication is certainly one of them.
Failings of function.
Using traditional thinking established before the mid-1980s, firms were
organized by function--R&D, manufacturing, marketing, sales,
distribution. Though not necessarily by design, members within these
functions tended to surround themselves with invisible walls and create
isolated fiefdoms. These self-centered functional cultures honed their
own jargon while developing unique perceptions of the other functions.
How well a company develops a successful cross-functional project team
greatly relies upon its success in tearing down the "walls"
traditionally separating the various functions.
Jargon is defined by Webster as
"the technical terminology or characteristic idiom of a special activity
or group. It is sometimes obscure and pretentious." Unfortunately, the
relative ease of using jargon also makes it habit forming. Users justify
the practice as a shortcut method to help them encode complex subjects
simply and accurately. However, the big disadvantage (or advantage,
depending on your perspective) is that accurate use depends upon the
familiarity of both parties with the terms. Just as a listener
unfamiliar with the jargon will decode the message inaccurately, so too
may a careless speaker turn jargon into meaningless jibberish. A
confused listener may assign some meaning to misapplied words that ring
with plausibility but will miss the precise message. Further, this
listener might hesitate to ask for clarification for fear of not
appearing knowledgeable, especially if the speaker talks with some
Sound familiar? To illustrate
this point, choose any three-digit number, one from each column, and
read the corresponding words from the Buzz-Concept Generator (see below)
with conviction, e.g., 334 = flexible benchmarked driving-force or 243 =
integrated matrixed value-chain. Both concepts may sound familiar, but
they are meaningless. The problem is that jargon can be just as
If we want effective
cross-functional communication, we must avoid the jargon trap. To do
this, the sender must not resort to jargon to conceal insufficient
knowledge, and both the sender and the receiver must strive to assure a
common understanding when jargon is used.
0. corporate vision
1. learning organization
4. driving force
Ask the Manager
Q:What can be done to make the
"new covenant" between employers and employees a reality?
A:There are no easy answers. For
starters, Business Week (3/11/96) suggests:
"Government policy must boost
human capital. Tax incentives are currently geared to increasing bricks
and mortar, not knowledge. In an Information Age, this whole system of
incentives is archaic. There are accelerated depreciation taxes, R&D tax
credits, and a whole host of other carrots to promote building things,
but few tax incentives for improving knowledge and skills. The federal
government spends billions on re-training programs, few of which are
effective. Take the money, turn the programs into training vouchers, and
give them to individuals and companies who are close to the job markets.
For youngsters, getting into college is critical. With college the
defining wedge between haves and have-nots in America, tax incentives,
such as expanded IRAs for tuition, should be considered.
"Boost growth. Of all the things
that should be done to increase wages and curb inequality, nothing is
more important than simply raising the economic growth rate. The
solution to economic anxiety is not to redivide scarce jobs and
opportunities, but to expand them. For 100 years following the Civil
War, as America moved from agriculture to industry, the economy grew at
3.4% annually and wages doubled every 35 years. Each generation did
better--until the 1970s, when economic expansion slowed to 2% and
average wage growth stopped cold. That extra margin of lost growth would
have relieved a lot of economic anxiety. With inflation low and
productivity high in manufacturing and services, there is room for
raising growth to at least 3%."