5 Dysfunctions of Cross-Functional Teams

By Mark Samuel –

Cross-functional teams meet regularly

A cross-functional team is any team that includes members of multiple departments.

Creating cross-functional teams in your organization can be a great way to reduce breakdowns, improve business execution, and attain breakthrough business results. But you have to be aware of the 5 common dysfunctions of cross-functional teams if you are going to avoid them.

Related Article: 5 Advantages of Cross-Functional Teams

Dysfunction #1: The Blame Game

Siloed organizations whose functional areas don’t work together can often get caught up in the blame game. Leaders of departments care only about their own teams without consideration to how their decisions might be impacting other departments in the organization.

When leaders come together to form cross-functional teams, this can be a difficult habit to break. It can be easy to get lost in an us vs them mentality, forgetting that the purpose of every department is to support the organization as a whole.

To avoid this dysfunction of cross-functional teams, try to think about everything you’re doing from the perspective of the top of the organization. No matter where a mistake occurs or where there’s a breakdown in communication or execution, it will reflect to both your customers and your shareholders as an incompetency with the entire organization. Remember that you’re playing on the same team, and that your goal is to support each other to reach your desired outcomes.

Dysfunction #2: Being Task-Oriented 

Being task-oriented is one of the greatest dysfunctions of cross-functional teams. When we become too focused on tasks at the expense of outcomes, we get into cycles of busyness and wheel spinning that ultimately get us nowhere. As a cross-functional team, you need to always have your eye on your desired outcomes and whether or not your plan or tasks are actually getting you there. If a task ceases to have purpose and doesn’t move you toward your desired outcomes, it’s often best to discontinue the task.

To remedy this dysfunction of cross-functional teams, make sure you have a clear Picture of Success that your entire team agrees on and takes ownership for. It’s also a good idea to have measurements in place so that you know whether or not you are moving closer to your goal or further away from it with your current tasks.

Dysfunction #3: Too Many Priorities

Choosing priorities is hard for any team, but especially for a cross-functional team. Since cross-functional teams are made up of people in different departments, the priorities that each person thinks are the most important could differ, leading to too many priorities for the team to successfully execute.

The key to choosing the most important priorities for the cross-functional team to handle is to pick priorities that can be accomplished in a year, that are require cross-functional participation, and that will move the organization toward its desired goals.

Picking too many priorities means that the team will become fractured or over-spent, and that means that none of the priorities will get done, or that they won’t be done well. Try to stick to 6-10 priorities, depending on the size of the team, and don’t try to tackle too much at once. 

Dysfunction #4: Using Meetings For Information-Sharing Instead of Problem-Solving

Meetings can be a source of headache for any team. While they’re extremely important, they can often waste time, become bogged down in argument, or drone on as members simply catch each other up without actually making any progress.

Effective cross-functional team meetings should be used primarily for problem-solving. This means surfacing any issues or potential breakdowns that have come up since the last meeting as team members move toward completing the goals set by the team.

Part of being an accountable team is supporting each other and helping to find solutions to breakdowns. Meetings are best spent doing this, so that the team members in charge of any given task have the resources and mindset they need to do their job.

To remedy meetings that are focused on information-sharing, set aside a small amount of time at the beginning of the meeting for any important information that needs to be shared and use the rest of the time for problem-solving any issues that team-members bring up.

Dysfunction #5: Expecting Perfection

Related Article: Four Leadership Traps that Prevent Accountability

We all want to do our best, but when teams get lost in the dysfunction of expecting perfection, it can cause all sorts of problems. Cross-functional teams do not need to plan or execute perfectly, they just need to plan and execute the best they can, learning and adjusting along the way as they get real-life feedback from their actions. We can never know what we don’t know, so getting caught up in theory, planning, and trying to be perfect only stalls us and prevents us from moving toward our goals.

To remedy this, plan for the possibility that things will go wrong. Create recovery plans for likely scenarios, and get moving on whatever plan the team thinks is best. There’s no way to know what will work until you try it, so take action and adjust as you go.

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