Imagine a team of people working on a project who don’t really know each other. Sure, they know they’re all trained to do the job – but what are their strengths? Their weaknesses? How can these people, thrown together, best work together to get results? Now image a team that work together every day, on every project. They know where each member excels and who should tackle each task. They cheesily finish each other sentences. Which team would you rather be part of?
Both employees and customers benefit when manufacturers create strong, versatile, long-term engineering teams. By developing a permanent team of engineers from different backgrounds who work together regularly, manufacturing firms foster an exciting environment of collaboration and cross-training that wouldn't be possible if work were compartmentalized.
The Anatomy of an Engineering Group
Each project is assigned to a cross-functional team of manufacturing engineers, each of whom has a specialty or area of expertise, such as project management, welding, machining, CNC programming or assembly.
Just as the individual people have specialties, each engineering team usually has its own unique area of concentration. One team, for example, may focus on large fabrication, another on complex assembly, and another on projects with a less-developed scope of work.
It is important to remember that all of these engineering teams are actually part of the same larger group. Each group of three will work together throughout the whole project, they will learn each other's specialties, what they value, how they think, how they gather information and the language that they use. Versatility is born from collaborating on a project that involves working closely with a team member who has a different skill set, exposing them to a vast range of specialties, backgrounds and methodologies. This makes them well-rounded engineers who are competent in a wide range of disciplines.
Engineering Teams: A Win-Win for Everyone
This setup is enormously beneficial to all parties. The engineers get to work in an exciting environment in which they develop a versatile skill set. The manufacturer and client benefit because workflow is fluid and smooth, which improves efficiency and encourages communication. This formula only works if the team consists of permanent, long-term members who work in the same space and sit in the same room, with access to each other's projects, contract specs and drawings.
Collaboration vs. Compartmentalization
The alternative is a compartmentalized approach, which is far-less efficient. When work is divided up into segregated departments — a welding department, general assembly department, planning department, programming department, etc. — continuous workflow and idea-sharing is stifled. With the department setup, people in any given department handle that area — and only that area — of every project, making it impossible for them to grow as professionals or to contribute intellectually to other departments.
When working in an isolated department, engineers get their department's piece of one project on one day, and their department's piece of another project another day. This discourages collaboration and makes it much more challenging to maintain continuity in flow of thought from one day to the next. Collaborative teams, on the other hand, can focus and hone in on a single project for much longer periods of time, allowing both the individuals and the teams to hit and maintain their stride for the duration of a project.
Developing long-term cross-functional engineering teams encourages collaboration and the free flow of ideas. It makes engineers more versatile and valuable by repeatedly exposing them to different disciplines and different specialties. For customers, this formula increases the chance of a project being well planned and well executed. When everyone on the team can see and participate in the entire scope of the project — and everyone is cross-trained and competent to contribute to different disciplines — budgets and schedules are much more likely to be met.