Cross-functional teams (CFTs) are groups of employees from different functional areas within a company or business. Another word for cross-functional is cross-departmental. For example, a CFT could include individuals from marketing, sales, research and development (R&D), engineering, human resources (HR), and more.
These teams can serve as an organization’s primary hierarchical structure or as working groups in which every member belongs to their respective department along with the group. Either way, CFTs create a vast range of opportunities to improve business operations and relationships between employees.
Why Are There Cross Functional Teams?
Often, businesses and companies- especially large ones- are comprised of multiple, separate departments that serve several different functions. While there may be some general interaction between these departments, they’re often relatively disconnected from one another with minimal overlap. People from one department are also frequently unaware of what goes on with other departments. While the limits of this sort of silo system may not seem like such a big deal to employees, it does make a difference to the customers. Especially those who get repeatedly bounced around while searching for answers to their problems.
In short, CFTs exist because employers have begun to realize that, while businesses may have many departments to fulfill many functions, all of them need to exist to serve the customer in the most effective way possible. Putting members of different departments in these teams to work and learn together instead of competing over resources helps to improve communication, collaboration, employee cohesion, and understanding while also improving customer satisfaction.
Benefits of Cross Functional Teams
Besides improving employee communication and customer satisfaction, numerous other benefits have been shown to come about due to CFT integration within a business. Three of the primary advantages that employers can expect to see through the use of these effective teams are:
Cross functional teams can identify the best practices and implement improvements across the value stream, which can be otherwise difficult to do for organizations operating with silo-style departments, especially if silo mentality has taken effect. Additionally, CFTs have also been shown to help promote more innovative products and services due to the inclusion of direct input from different team members with knowledge from different company segments.
Many businesses encounter problems due to inefficient communication between their departments, often due to competing interests. CFTs allow groups of people to work cooperatively with one another and focus on overall corporate goals rather than individual department goals. The combined knowledge of these departments is effective in helping to improve company-wide coordination.
Reduction of cycle time
CFTs have been shown to help significantly reduce cycle time for issues and customer complaints by identifying and improving their efficiency and finding solutions to recurring problems. Teams made up of employees from different silos can work together to resolve issues much more quickly than it would otherwise take.
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Key Characteristics of Cross Functional Teams
Cross functional teams share one major characteristic which is that they are composed of team members from multiple departments or functions within an organization. For example, the team could consist of somebody from HR, from IT, from Operations, and from Finance. Usually a cross-functional team will be a leadership team like a team of middle managers from different departments, but a cross functional team could also consist of lower-level employees as well.
Cross-functional teams should have scheduled meetings focused on problem-solving and removing obstacles that might get in the way of accomplishing business goals. They should also develop systems of communication that work for everyone on the team, who might be used to different ways of communicating in their own departments.
Cross functional teams should be getting to know how each department works and what their constraints are. This way, team members can represent each department’s needs even though they aren’t in that department. This increases the speed of decision making and decreases the likelihood of execution breakdowns.
Requirements for Effective Cross Functional Teams
For cross-functional teams to work effectively, several imperative factors need to be involved, both on a person-to-person basis and with the team’s authority (and accountability) to accomplish their goals. Some of these critical factors include:
- A strong team leader with practical communication skills.
- Open-minded and highly motivated team members from the correct departments.
Teams should also have the authority to accomplish their goals, and management must provide them with adequate support and access to needed resources for them to work effectively.
How to Establish a Cross Functional Team
Every business will likely go about setting up cross functional teams in slightly different ways, but there are a few crucial steps that they should be sure to follow. These steps include:
Setting team goals
Even before going through team formation, businesses should have a clear idea of the kinds of goals that CFTs should be working to accomplish. These goals can serve as a sort of team roadmap to success. Ensure that all goals are detailed and contain specific instructions on problems to solve; otherwise, they will be too vague for teams to follow effectively without an issue developing.
Working with primary stakeholders
It’s essential to work directly with stakeholders and department heads to ensure that the most qualified employees are being put onto these teams. It’s critical that all departments understand the importance of these teams and commit to making them work effectively. If key departments don’t take the teams seriously, they will not be effective and may create more issues than they solve.
Address team conflict
Understanding how to appropriately navigate interpersonal conflicts or disputes is essential for businesses who want to incorporate effective cross functional teams. Due to this, employers need to take the time to implement specific steps that can help to reduce conflict. They can even be integrated before or during team creation to help ensure that all parties have the skills and resources necessary to avoid and deal with any issues that may arise. Some of these steps can include:
- Mandatory conflict resolution training for all employees (or at least those that will be placed into CFTs).
- Disregarding the rank or status of team members to remove hierarchies and facilitate more effective interpersonal communication.
- Co-locate team members to allow for daily interaction to strengthen team unity.
Additionally, it would be wise for businesses to ensure that their human resources department is involved with team creation and implementation. Their involvement can help to ensure a smoother transition into this team-based work system while also providing a secondary layer to team management.
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