Successful Cross-Functional Teams

What makes a cross-functional teams successful? It may sound cliché, but the best multi-functional teams have the ability to put their differences aside and unite toward a common purpose.

This is easier said than done, particularly when a team consists of people from different departments, generations, or geographic regions. Our own research has found that more than half of all cross-functional teams fail to achieve their goals, in large part because team members from various departments are unable or unwilling to collaborate.

In the past year, we’ve heard far too many stories of the disastrous consequences that result from toxic teams. Instead of looking at where these companies went wrong, we wanted to highlight a few companies that seem to be getting it right.

Here are three cross-functional teams that succeeded in the past year and what we can learn from them

IBM’s New Healthcare Business Unit

IBM’s new healthcare division, IBM Watson Health, announced earlier this year it was teaming up with 14 top cancer centers to turn genetic data into personalized patient treatments. The new team will analyze data and apply it to a broad range of applications, such as drug trials and mobile health apps.

The technology that we’re applying to this challenge brings the power of cognitive computing to bear on one of the most urgent and pressing issues of our time—the fight against cancer—in a way that has never before been possible.

Steve Harvey, vice president of IBM Watson Health, in the deal announcement.

Though this initiative is just beginning, IBM Watson Health appears to be taking the right first steps by uniting the world’s leading cancer treatment innovators around a set of common goals. Its leaders are taking the time to work with doctors and other professionals to understand how the healthcare industry operates, rather than jumping in with demands. To gain cooperation, IBM’s leaders are using an influencing tactic known as consulting—involving someone with more expertise as a way to gain others’ support. Involving key stakeholders from the beginning and asking them to advise on areas where they are knowledgeable is a smart way to ensure the team works well together from the beginning.

HighPoint Global

HighPoint Global recently was named No. 16 on Forbes’ Top 100 list of America’s Most Promising Companies, at least in part because of its collaborative culture and its commitment to building collaboration among the public service agencies it serves.

Its trademark solution, known as eleVate The Citizen Experience, aims to help its clients better serve and communicate with their constituents.

The key to our success and the success of our customers is our people—we hire the best of the best at customer service representative training development and deliver content writing and scripting, technology tools deployment and management, sophisticated program and project management methodologies, IT infrastructure and systems integration and quality assurance services for call centers, helpdesks, online websites and much more.

HighPoint Global

Many organizations say they put people first, but unfortunately, employee satisfaction among federal workers has remained low for years—in fact, the most recent survey indicated federal employee satisfaction was only about 60 percent, as HighPoint explains in a recent blog post. The company aims to address this by providing ample training and resources to employees, enhancing engagement and allowing them to work together more efficiently to serve the public. The end result is faster turnaround times for public-sector projects, a more seamless experience for the public and fewer complaints.


There are perhaps thousands of startups vying to be the next Uber for their industry, bringing a new level of customer service and convenience to traditional ways of doing everyday activities.

While many have failed or simply failed to stand out, Instacart has succeeded in becoming the Uber of grocery shopping. In just three years, the on-demand grocery delivery platform has raised nearly $300 million in funding at a valuation of over $2 million.

What sets Instacart apart? Its first differentiator is the app itself, developed with constant input from team members who actually use it to shop. To make it more efficient, Instacart has added features like aisle navigation and a system that allows shoppers to easily find a substitute when a specific item isn’t available.

The company also made the decision to onboard all of its in-store shoppers as part-time employees, which separates it from companies like Uber that view service providers as independent contractors. This way, Instacart can take ownership of training, supervising and overseeing its employees, which it believes is a key element of providing strong customer service. The Instacart team is constantly making changes, and everyone has opportunities to contribute—not just developers.

Our team is really nimble in trying new things and adjusting the way we are currently operating.

Instacart CEO Apoorva Mehta

What Sets Top-Performing Teams Apart?

The success of these three teams is no accident. OnPoint Consulting has worked with some of the world’s top matrix organizations, including Gap, Bayer Healthcare, Southco, Goldman Sachs and many others where employees are dispersed across divisions and geographic areas. In our own experience and research, we’ve identified several factors that distinguish successful cross-functional teams, including:

  • Shared goals;
  • Clear roles and decision authority;
  • Leaders who are effective influencers;
  • Leaders who are effective change agents.

Training can help cross-functional team leaders build trust, enhance collaboration and empower their teams to be more productive.

OnPoint offers a number of programs to help teams work better across organizational boundaries. These programs are available in person, online or in a self-guided e-learning format to make them more accessible, cost-effective and scalable. We can also create customized training solutions to help your team achieve its goals. To learn more about our programs for cross-functional teams, download our program guide.