Cross-Functional Team

Most often than not, companies rely on a traditional organizational structure with siloed departments split by function and area of activity. At the same time, to stand strong and maintain their growth pace in a highly competitive and demanding modern business environment, companies search for new strategies and business approaches.

Recently, cross-functional collaboration based on close interaction between different departments has proved to be very efficient in driving innovation and achieving business goals in a faster manner. So, it’s no wonder that multiple companies switch to a cross-functional team structure to tap into a new organizational system.

In this article, we’ll explain how cross-functional teams work, reveal their benefits, and provide tips on how to build a successful multi-tasking group in your enterprise.

What Is a Cross-Functional Team?

Just like a fusion style in interior design, multi-purpose teams combine components from different structures, levels, hierarchies, and functions inside a company to catch up with the challenges and opportunities of the modern business world.

Normally, a multi-function team is a group of specialists with varying skills and experience. They are meant to supplement each other and combine their professional knowledge and expertise to achieve common goals.

Multi-function teams usually appear to maintain some kind of project or initiative that requires involving different functions inside the company one way or another.

However, those multi-tasking units might also form naturally. It’s more characteristic of smaller companies and startups where a single person might perform several roles and have to collaborate with specialists from related areas.

Functional vs. Cross-Functional Teams

At a glance, the line between functional and cross-functional teams might seem blurred since, in the end, all of them work in the same company for the same goals, and there are the same people engaged in the processes. However, the difference lies in the way those teams work and the outputs they bring:

  1. A functional team works in a single area and is dedicated to the goal of its own department. It’s rather a part of a broader chain that serves intermediate tasks and objectives;
  2. A cross-functional group embraces experts from different niches and relies on their joint set of skills to hit a bigger goal. As such, it is an entire system capable of serving a final goal and functioning as a problem solver and a driving force for business.

Cross-Functional Team Advantages

Is this type of collaborative interaction right for your enterprise? Surely enough, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. However, it’s an approach that has a lot of good about it, especially for multi-faceted businesses and bigger companies with multi-level structures.

To better understand how cross-functional work groups function and if your organization will benefit from this tool, consider the advantages they offer.

Boosting Employee Dedication

When performing similar tasks on a daily basis, employees get involved in routines over time and feel less involved and less interested in what they do. They lack dynamics, inspiration, and work that ignites their creativity and makes them feel excited about results.

In a group of people united by a common purpose or mission, they have a reason to cooperate. They start acting like fellow thinkers, work with dedication, and feel more satisfied with their job. The sense of unity and connection will eventually drive the success of the whole organization.

Upgrading Management Skills

Cross-functional teamwork is a great opportunity for all team members to show up. In their own silos, employees are supported by co-workers with the same skills and knowledge. Yet, when they get to an environment where each of them is the only specialist in a certain area, they will build their leadership skills on the way.

Besides, it’s a great opportunity to learn from others by sharing experiences in various areas as well as to unleash the professional potential to the full. Returning to their main departments, cross-functional team members will be able to jazz up their habitual networks by bringing new approaches, visions, and ideas.

Advancing Collaboration

Initially, a cross-functional team might be a group of people who hardly know each other or have never gotten in touch before. Their work in a joint project requires collaboration and smooth communication. Achieving the goal largely relies on team spirit and the ability of each member to overcome difficulties, interact with unfamiliar people, and find the way out of challenging situations.

In fact, the performance of the whole team is collaborative work that might fail, should any of the members fail to find common points of contact with other people involved.

Improving Productivity

In each siloed department, employees know the weaknesses, pitfalls, and drawbacks of their working pipelines. Likewise, they know how to succeed in their specific niches.

In a cross-functional team, members can avoid using trial-and-error methods and apply their best practices straight away in the spheres they are at home with. While working toward a common goal, this will have a cumulative effect and will level up the productivity of the whole group.

Increasing Problem-Solving Potential

Typically, inter-department teams are created to tackle complex tasks that call for the best of employees’ proficiency, skill, wit, and adaptivity. At times, team members will have to search for extraordinary solutions and resolve unusual situations.

They will be forced to use strategies, technologies, and methods they are new to. By learning from each other, they will hone their decision-making skills and learn how to approach problems from different angles.

Promoting Innovation

Different people brought together could generate the best ideas. Driven by new incentives and unique in their own areas, employees from non-related departments might bring unexpected insights, promising perspectives, and innovative solutions to fuel progress and initiate improvements.

Motivated by each other strengths and open to new approaches, team members often come up with ideas they would never have in their habitual siloed environments.

Cross-Functional Team Difficulties

Multi-purpose team benefits are hard to argue. Yet, being a complex structure, these inter-department groups don’t work like a charm from the start. When striving to set up a cross-functional team, you should be aware of its major weak points or dysfunctions once determined by Patrick Lencioni and regarded as a standard by team builders since then.

Lack of Trust

Knowing little to nothing about each other (which is especially the case for big organizations), people from different departments might feel uncomfortable in a team of strangers and need time to adapt to new working realia and new teammates.

Hence, you can hardly expect a friendly and inviting atmosphere in a team immediately. It would be rather some awkwardness, confusion, and tension. It’s a team manager or leader who should encourage trust and openness among the members.

Fear of Conflict

The lack of trust naturally makes team members:

  • Feel less confident in their professionalism and vulnerable to criticism;
  • Not sure about their value and about their position in a project;
  • Prefer to steer away from expressing their opinion out of fear of mistakes and conceal their concerns to avoid any conflicts.

Yet, innovation and creative ideas are not something that pops up out of nowhere. They often come up during active discussions and disputes. So, members should feel free to debate and stand out with alternative options to find the only right solutions in the end.

Commitment Problem

Opposite to the increased engagement (which is one of the biggest multi-function team pluses), the lack of commitment is among the prime challenges diversified work teams have to face.

It might be due to:

  • The lack of alignment and smooth connections inside the team;
  • Some members still tending to focus on their prime department tasks and treat the project as a supplementary job;
  • Unintentional behavior leading to responsibility problems and lack of dedication or involvement, thus, lowering the productivity of the whole team.

Escape From Responsibility

In teamwork, it’s vitally important that all members:

  • Understand that they are collectively responsible for the final result, be it a success or a failure;
  • Realize that their individual effort or inactivity is a direct contribution to overall team performance and hitting the big goal or slowing own its achievement.

Poor collaboration or lack of trust and respect in member relationships inside the team will negatively impact the quality of work and put collective success at stake.

Disrespecting Results

In a cross-functional team, members should sacrifice their own ambitions for a common goal. They should have a clear vision of the bigger picture and the goal they need to achieve.

Instead, it often happens that employees stay focused on their individual professional achievements and rather strive to be good only on their part of the job. They forget about a collective mission or get distracted from it by their own objectives.

Tips on Creating an Efficient Cross-Functional Team

For the sake of truth, it should be noted that building a successful multi-functional work unit is not easy. Keeping all members aligned, engaged in the process, and set on a final goal might appear a daunting task even for an experienced and talented manager.

The success of a collaborative approach depends on the industry, project scale and scope, the number of members involved, and whether you need it as a permanent or a temporary unit.

Standing on the verge of multi-function work group formation, you should clearly understand why you need it and what you expect to achieve with it. Most likely than not, you will have obstacles to overcome and hurdles to tackle, yet, a properly organized inter-department team is certainly worth the effort.

Armed with our helpful tips and instructions, you’ll be able to create the cross-functional team of your dream and get the best out of it.

Choose the Right Candidates

Strange though it might seem, simply mixing high performers and best employees is not always the right route to go. A team of leaders is doomed to failure. Being the best in their siloed departments and good at their professional functions, they might back off when facing the unique challenges of collaborative work.

With no strict hierarchies and clear positions in a multi-purpose team, a person with high communicational skills, a high level of resilience to problems, and a healthy sense of initiative is by far the best candidate.

Define Clear Goals

A cross-functional team is created for a certain purpose, and its members should be aware of the shared goal that brings them together.

Without knowing what the team is intended to achieve, its members won’t be able to think in the right direction and find optimal solutions. Usually, employees keep doing their major work and are involved in cross-functional team tasks only a part of the time. Hence, they should be able to clearly split their work goals and the company’s primary targets.

Distribute the Roles

When pulled out from their common workflows and tucked into a different working environment, team members need to know their roles and scope of responsibility. It’s highly important to avoid chaos, hogging the blanket, and decision-making problems.

While being managers in their own departments, members might function differently inside a cross-functional team. However, to be able to fulfill their commitments and accept accountability, they should understand who is responsible for what.

Organize Healthy Communication

Smooth and streamlined communication inside the group is the key to efficient and resultative cross-functional collaboration. Team members should be able to overcome obstacles, resolve conflicts, and iron out difficulties for the sake of a common goal.

Teammates should feel comfy with each other and be able to cooperate to solve disputable issues. All communications inside the team should be based on collaborative interaction.

Bottom Line

A cross-functional team approach can be a game changer when it comes to hitting strategic goals crucial for business growth and development. Yet, you shouldn’t take this tool for granted since, to make it work, you should first set it up on the right foot.

Collaborative and successful teams don’t happen out of a sudden. They need to be created, optimized, and properly managed to maximize their problem-solving potential and realize their best advantages.