Intra, Multi or Inter?


We tend to talk about how individuals within one team work best together but how do we maximise the benefits of disparate teams from across different parts of the Co-op working together?

Good for grain and missiles

Generally we find it easier to work in teams which are homogenous, where we work in the same job function or discipline and share the same sort of world view, the same sense of what “good” looks like.

Where people work within a single discipline it’s called an intradisciplinary team.

But it’s very unlikely that a single team, working in isolation, can deliver an impact of the size and scope needed across the organisation to be effective.
It might be said we work in silos but it’s not missiles being launched from them.

Getting the biscuits on the table

To help the Co-op last another 170 years, we’re going to need to master bringing disparate teams together because the results we want to deliver sit across teams and disciplines.

Our Rebuild and Renew agenda has brought teams together across the Co-op.

As an example the first Being a Co-op Leader events needed the efforts of multiple teams across a wide range of disciplines, from IT and specialist third party suppliers, to Co-op social media teams and even Retail Logistics.

The Co-op biscuits served in the coffee breaks had to come from somewhere!

Multiply the friction

Bringing together a disparate range of people to work together brings its own set of issues.

Individuals from different disciplines bring different outlooks and their sense of what good looks like also differs. They work to different mental models, with different agendas, and different line managers.

The possibilities for misunderstandings and differences in view multiply. Friction creeps in.

One party may seek to dominate and impose their world view on everyone else. This “my way or the highway” approach can lead to dysfunctional behaviour and stalemate or disagreement. Team members may decide to “stick to their deliverables” and not take an interest in the overall outcome of the work. Ideas are not expressed if the process of getting them adopted is too protracted and painful.

A chain-like process may form, where the work has to pass through each discipline in sequence, being amended and shaped at each stage, until it needs to be passed back to the beginning for the accumulated changes to be reviewed and so on in a seemingly never ending sequence. It’s common to hear people saying “You’re not seeing it from my perspective”.

Taking it to the next level

The ultimate benefit in bringing disparate teams together is to achieve more together, be open to other points of view, appreciate what different disciplines bring and gain a more comprehensive understanding by being an interdisciplinary team.


Interdisciplinary teamwork is credited with rethinking problem solving and is the way much work is done on the big questions like climate change, health issues, social change and child development.

What do we do?

An inter-disciplinary team is different from a multi-disciplinary team in that it is not just a collection of representatives whose prime loyalty is to the team they come from: but becomes a team performing interdependant tasks and sharing a common goal.

As Quincy Jones said when talking about the all-star recording session of the 1985 Band Aid single “We Are the World”,

“Everybody was on the case, and they weren’t involved in egos… That’s one of the key words we had that night: ‘Leave your ego at the door.’ And everybody did.”

Take a look at our overview of the process and skills of interdisciplinary teams  which is based on research studies into effective interdisciplinary teamwork.

Richard Sullivan
Senior leadership development manager

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