Cross-Organizational Teamwork

I recently gave a presentation on the impact individuals have on cross-organizational teamwork.  The study was based on a group I work with that has members comprised of different community churches and other local organizations.  The study was based on research from Roloff, Wolley, & Edmonson’s (2011) research on team learning (pp. 249-271).  Three areas were addressed: learning curve, task mastery, and group processes.  The step forward is that the original research focused on teams made up of individuals in a single organization.  The study I conducted focused on cross-organizational teamwork.

I believe this is an excellent study for those in Church leadership to apply to their local church work.  It is immediately applicable to those working together in a local church and also the work that is done in unity with other local churches, with denominational efforts, and other groups.  What follows is a summary of each stream of team learning.

The first stream, learning curves, is currently focused on the speed of initial task mastery (Roloff et al., 2011, p. 254). However, the learning curve is impacted by the change in either the task or team membership (Roloff et al., 2011, p. 255).  As the task is modified or a new function is given by the demands of the organization, the team may need to coordinate its members to new roles, seek new members, or training. When groups experience a high volume or member turnover, individuals are not able to move through the early learning curve together, diminishing efficiency.

In the second stream, task mastery is focused on “knowing who knows what” (Roloff et al., 2011, p. 257). In task mastery, the team can efficiently accomplish tasks because members are coordinated in a way to employ their strengths. However, this requires a high level of communication. Steiner (1998) noted the difficulty communication barriers and dilemmas cause to a learning organization (p. 6). It is necessary for an open and safe environment for dialogue in the team and across the organization (Schein, 2010, pp. 305-307).

The last stream in team learning is the group process.Communication, knowledge management, and interpersonal knowledge among the team members can aid or restrain team learning (Roloff et al., 2011, p. 258). Without the presence of psychological safety, team members will disengage from the group and impede total organizational learning (Roloff et al., 2011, pp. 259-260). The research seems to imply promoting psychological safety among teams and the entire organization, along with other team strengthen exercises will help encourage team learning.


Roloff, K. S., Woolley, A. W., & Edmonson, A. C. (2011). The contribution of teams to organizational learning. In M. Easterby-Smith & M. A. Lyles (Eds.), Handbook of Organizational Learning and Knowledge Management (pp. 249-271). UK: John Wiley and Sons

Schein, E. H. (2010). Organizational culture and leadership (4th ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Steiner, L. (1998). Organizational dilemmas as barriers to learning. The Learning Organization, 5(4). doi:10.1108/09696479810228577