How to Set Up a Cross-Functional Team in 5 Steps

By Mark Samuel –

Cross-Functional Teams are Easy to set up

Business teams are always looking to be better together, to be more productive, to get along better, and to achieve successful business results. One of our favorite ways to get breakthrough business results quickly and easily is to form a cross-functional team of managers. This article will give you a step by step guide for how to set up a cross-functional team. 

What is a Cross-Functional Team?

When leaders from different functional areas come together, it breaks down silos and allows them to learn about each other’s departments. This is important because too often in business teams, decisions will be made without any thought to how it might affect another department. It’s every department for themselves. When functional areas can bridge that gap through managers working together as a team, the business gets much better results, experiences more success, and wastes fewer resources.

What is an Example of a Cross-Functional Team?

A cross-functional team would be any team that involves members from different departments or functions. For example, a middle management team that includes leaders from each department would be a cross-functional team. A cross-functional team can consist of members from all departments or just some departments, depending on the purpose of the team. Some cross-functional teams will be temporary project teams, while others will be permanent teams. 

Agile teams are also considered cross-functional and are more project-based rather than leadership based. 

How Do Cross-Functional Teams Work?

Cross-functional teams work by all the team members coming together in purpose-driven meetings in which the team surfaces issues and problem-solves for them. They should also be thinking ahead to remove any obstacles to completing their goals.
 
The great thing about cross-functional teams is that they have eyes in every part of the organization, so they are less likely to cause further damage by problem-solving in a siloed way that doesn’t take into consideration the needs and constraints of other departments. They’re also better at utilizing resources because they prioritize organizational goals rather than their own departments. 
 
Cross-functional teams only work when they are unified in their desired outcomes and team habits. 

In this article, we’ll go through the step-by-step guide for how to form and maintain a cross-functional team in your business.

How to Set Up a Cross-Functional Team

Step 1: Decide who needs to be a part of the cross-functional team.

A good cross-functional business team is made up of a diverse group of leaders. Ideally you’ll have a leader or two from every functional area so that each arm and leg of the business has a representative. This will vary depending on the size of the organization, but you’ll want enough diversity in the group to get optimal problem-solving based on the restraints, needs, and operations of each functional area.

It’s important not to stack the team with too many leaders from one area and not enough from another, because each department lead should feel adequately represented. It’s also important to include members of the executive team. The executives will be the ones who set direction and tone, while the department leads will work together to coordinate and carry out the execution within their own departments.

Step 2: Create a Picture of Success for the cross-functional team.

When any team comes together, it’s important to know why. What are the objectives of the team? What goals are they trying to reach, what measures are they aiming for, and what do they need to differently to get there?

The Picture of Success is a document that is co-created by every member of the team together that lays out in detail the do-differently behavior changes required to achieve desired outcomes. The cross-functional team should think 6 months to a year in the future – where do you want to be? What do you want to be accomplishing? What do you want your reputation to be? And how will you be showing up differently as a team to make that happen?

Step 3: Identify, describe, and commit to collective team habits.

Your Picture of Success will be your North Star as a cross-functional team, but it needs to be backed up with actual behaviors in the form of collective team habits.

Team habits are what the team has decided they are going to do differently to get to their goal. These could include things like:

  • Communication protocols (ie “We listen to each other’s ideas without judgment” or “We assume good intention when debating ideas”)
  • Processes to identify potential breakdowns
  • Protocols around problem-solving together (When to come to the team for problem-solving, how to problem-solve without ending up in conflict, etc)
  • How to structure meetings and how often you meet

Team habits will vary depending on the team. What the team requires, how many people exist on the team, the team’s objective’s, and their history together will all be factors that determine which team habits to create and focus on.

Don’t try to focus on too many team habits at once. We have found that teams do best focusing on 4-6 habits at a time, or less if the team is very small.

Step 4: Decide on priority projects for the cross-functional team to focus on.

Choosing priority projects can be one of the hardest things a team can do. When choosing priority projects on a cross-functional team, use the following criteria:

  • The project can be completed within the next year, meaning you have the resources, staff, and time to complete it within that time.
  • The project is cross-functional, meaning it requires the participation of cross-functional team members, not just one or two departments.
  • The project is in line with your desired outcomes as an organization.

Step 5: Be accountable to your team members for your desired outcomes.

No progress is going to be made on a cross-functional team if the members of that team aren’t accountable. What does being accountable mean? It means committing to the team, committing to the outcomes, and committing to the habits you’ve chosen to implement.

Accountability does not mean that you have to be perfect or get the perfect results that you’re looking for right away. Any new adventure will need readjustment, and that’s okay. Make moves and learn as you go. Lean on your team members for support, and keep use the Picture of Success to measure your progress. It’s important not to get caught up in theory, in past habits or results, or in your plan. These things can all be informative, but it’s your Picture of Success that you must be most accountable for. You may have to change course, revise the plan, or deal with unexpected events that come up, but that’s okay. Together as a cross-functional team, you can problem-solve, be creative, and move the organization toward successful breakthrough business results.   

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