Companies of all sizes benefit from what successful start-ups already know. Cross-functional teams can be a goldmine of innovative ideas and productive collaboration. Suppose you can minimize the dysfunction of creating teams with employees from different departments and different levels. In that case, you can get a lot done that benefits the whole company and not just one department.
Some things are not always intuitive when it comes to cross-functional teams. Who is the leader? Who is responsible for communication? And how do you navigate sticky conversations when employees are on different levels? For some companies, cross-functional teams are really hard to adjust to. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t be productive.
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What is a Cross-functional Team?
A cross-functional team is when a group of employees with different areas of expertise collaborate on a project with a common goal. The hierarchy in most corporate environments is often segmented by department or duty, with only top-level management working with the leaders of other departments.
However, projects that focus on cross-functional teams embrace the idea that blending expertise produces more creative and more effective outcomes. For example, if a company wants to create a customer portal, the project will need to include input and ideas from different departments, including technology, sales, customer service, and probably even marketing.
A cross-functional team brings all of these departments together early on in the project cycle so that all stakeholders can inform decisions. This approach helps get rid of some of the bureaucracy that exists in larger companies.
Potential Pitfalls of Cross-functional Teams
Not everyone in the business management space is on board with the idea that cross-functional teams are the holy grail of productivity. Some argue that it pits employees from different departments against one another, and they end up defending themselves or their department instead of collaborating.
Any project can fail, especially when the participants are not well-matched or are not given clear boundaries. But these risks can be managed by providing clear direction, accountability, and specific goals and letting the team create their own strategy for coordination based on their agreed-upon desired outcomes.
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Up to 75% of cross-functional teams fail in at least one area when completing projects. But in my 35 years of experience, this can be solved by having the team take ownership for their desired outcomes, collectively agree on habits of execution, and work diligently on solving problems together, surfacing breakdowns early and creating proactive recovery plans for when things go wrong. It’s also important to remember that failing isn’t always a bad thing. High-functional teams don’t get discouraged, but instead use their failures and mistakes as learning opportunities.
Setting your team up for success means providing them with the right tools and direction. B STATE consultants can help change the culture at your company to make teams more productive. That means better outcomes and higher cost savings. Check out our services.
How to Set Your Cross-functional Team Up for Success
The reason that smaller companies have so much success with cross-functional teams is often that they have figured out how to use them. Everyone is already accustomed to doing many different tasks, and they don’t get so secluded in their departmental areas. Larger companies can learn from this and create more inclusive, open workplaces.
Choose the Right Team Members
The first step to creating a successful cross-functional team is to choose qualified and knowledgeable people from the right departments to contribute. Individuals should be equally comfortable working autonomously and collaboratively. They should treat others respectfully and be intrinsically motivated to see the team’s success.
Choose the Right Leader
Every team needs a leader. This person should have a position within the company that allows access to top-level management, but they should remain approachable and easy to work with. Good attention to detail and excellent communication skills are necessary because this person will run point on the whole project. Alternatively, the team could rotate leaders so that different members of the team have a chance to contribute in a leadership role and it doesn’t always fall on one person. It’s important to remember that if the team is not executive level, they should include members from the team above them who can offer direction based on the directive from above.
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Define Clear Project Goals
Don’t make the assumption that everyone on the team knows why they are there. Create a written document to serve as the project charter that clearly states the project’s goals or intended outcomes. Identify all of the team members working on the project and their respective areas of responsibility. And identify how the success of reaching the goals will be shared among all departments. The most effective way of accomplishing this is to have the team be involved in the creation of end goals and coordination so that they take ownership and accountability for the projects.
Agree on Shared Habits & Expectations
When a new team comes together, especially from different departments, agreeing on how you will execute your goals, communicate, problem-solve, and engage in meetings is extremely important. If you don’t overtly address these habits, everyone will engage with the team based on what makes sense to them individually or based on the execution habits of their own department. This can create chaos and cause breakdowns in trust as expectations about collective execution aren’t collectively agreed-upon.
Preach Shared Success
Each team member will spend a great deal of time working independently on smaller parts of the project. The team must continue to operate cohesively—Plan regular (weekly) check-ins for everyone to provide updates on their parts of the project and problem-solve any issues that have come up. Celebrate wins together and measure to make sure that the project stays in alignment with the bigger objective.
Communication is Key
Whether it is a cross-functional team or an inter-departmental team, the foundation of success for any team is clear and consistent communication. Encourage team members to share information regularly and include each other in problem-solving when needed. Provide an easy means to do so, like a project-only email thread or a dedicated discussion board on the company intranet.
Always Keep an Eye Open for Change
Adaptability is probably the biggest selling point of cross-functional teams. Be ready and willing to change course based on productive conversations that occur within the team. Using a cross-functional team is to bring value to the input and insights of the individuals. A successful project relies on collecting and utilizing the information gathered by the different participants involved.
The Bottom Line on Cross-Functional Teams
Whether you are for or against the idea of co-mingling employees, there is a strong argument for insight and innovation to influence the direction of a company. This type of change only occurs when employees are challenged. Creating a cross-functional team can be a good way to shake things up and get fresh ideas from your existing workforce.
B STATE provides the support that your project teams need to deliver on scope, schedule, and budget. Don’t risk another failed project. Contact us today for a consultation to see how we can help.