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Why Cross Functional Teams Fail and How to Ensure Yours Does Not

Posted by Rick Lepsinger May 16, 2019


There are several benefits to having cross-functional teams within an organization, the most notable of which include increased efficiency, faster decision-making, and greater opportunities to share resources. However, these teams also face a number of challenges regardless of whether they share a co-located space or use a virtual environment to collaborate.

Cross-Functional Challenges

The first set of challenges are structural, and they occur whenever there is a lack of alignment about goals or role clarity. These challenges can cause a lack of cooperation and create confusion regarding who has decision authority.

Another common problem arises from skill limitations. In most cases, they take the form of one or more team members lacking strong communication and influencing skills. This is especially a problem for leaders who must be able to gain the support of people over whom they have no direct authority. Effective communication is vital for finding solutions that benefit the team as a whole, the organization, and all relevant stakeholders.

Unfortunately, these problems appear to be quite common in cross-functional teams. According to one recent study, about three-quarters of these teams can be characterized as “dysfunctional,“ meaning that they failed to meet criteria such as staying within budget, keeping to a schedule, meeting customer expectations, and maintaining alignment with the company’s goals. Since cross-functional teams can be found across a number of industries and in companies of all sizes, it’s important to identify strategies that promote successful collaboration and performance.

5 Steps to Ensure Cross-Functional Team Success

Use Team Assessments to Identify Strengths and Areas for Improvement

A basic step in any plan to improve team performance is to first assess the current performance of that team. However, many organizations lack the proper framework to accurately identify the strengths and weaknesses of cross-functional team members.

One example of an effective framework for identifying team strengths and areas for improvement is the GRID Survey. OnPoint’s GRID Survey covers the best practices drawn from research on why some cross-functional teams are able to consistently achieve business objectives.

The survey is designed to assess the extent to which team members believe that the fundamentals necessary for success are in place by gathering feedback on:

  • Shared goals
  • Decision authority
  • Interpersonal relationships/trust
  • Decision-making and problem-solving processes

By collecting the perspective of each member of the team, the GRID survey helps establish a benchmark, build a shared view among the team of its current state, and establish alignment regarding the actions necessary to address problems. Administering the team assessment again in six to nine months and comparing the results to the benchmark allows the team to determine if progress is being made on any of their structural challenges.

Facilitate Team Sessions

After assessing the extent to which the critical structural elements and skills are in place, the team’s leader (or an HR pro, if an impartial resource is needed) can facilitate work sessions to address structural issues on the team that may be holding it back. This is particularly important when there is a misalignment of goals or roles among team members.

In the session, the results of GRID assessment can be used to help the team to discuss and agree on the issues they face, such as transparency of communication, shared goals, and decision authority. In the case of clarifying decision authority, some teams find the RACI Model to be a useful tool. RACI is an acronym that helps to define how each team member is involved in decisions and what each person’s decision authority is:

  • Responsible: The person or group that will be executing this task and be held responsible for making sure it is carried out successfully?
  • Accountable: The person or group that has final decision authority? This person (or group) has the ultimate choice of whether or not an action or recommendation will move forward.
  • Consulted: The person or group that has information or a perspective that can help improve decision quality and whose buy-in is needed for successful implementation of the decision or action l Informed: The person or group who would be impacted by this decision and needs to be updated on its progress?

The RACI Model helps teams sort out who needs to be involved in decisions and to what extent, defines when cooperation is required, and clarifies what that cooperation looks like.

Provide Skill Development

These workshops focus on specific skill deficiencies among the team, such as conflict resolution, trust building, and communication skills. Development workshops can also be an opportunity for team members to get to know one another and build relationships, which serves to foster better communication and cooperation.

When conducting these sessions it’s more effective to use real-world issues that the team faces as application exercises rather than generic case studies or role-play sessions. The use of real-world problems helps the team get real work done while driving home the lessons by linking them to things that team members actually deal with on a day-to-day basis.

Identify Key Performance Indicators or Metrics

Key performance indicators (KPI) are concrete targets used to provide direction and evaluate team performance. They can also be used to motivate team members and help them determine how much progress has been being made toward dealing with the structural challenges and skill limitations that may impede the team’s performance.

In addition, the extent to which there is any improvement in a team’s KPIs after an organizational development initiative or training program has been implemented can help evaluate the effectiveness of that intervention.

Evaluate Team Performance

Following the completion of work sessions and skill development workshops, re-administer the GRID Survey to the team is one way to measure the team’s progress. The team’s progress can be further verified by monitoring the improvement in the team’s KPIs.

Based on the results of the post-assessment and current KPIs, the team can both celebrate and promote its successes and identify areas for further improvement. This information can then be used to determine what future work sessions and skills development workshops would be most helpful.

Following these steps can help cross-functional teams avoid the pitfalls and challenges that cause so many other teams to fail. By using the right tools and approach, organizations can ensure that the issues with the greatest impact on a cross-functional team’s performance will be identified and that the development initiatives with the best return on investment of time and money will be implemented.

When it comes to helping organizations build highly effective cross-functional teams, we can help. OnPoint Consulting offers team assessments and training programs that are based on proven research and decades of practical experience. Learn more about our cross-functional team solutions today.

Cross-Functional Team Building

Topics: Cross-Functional Team Building

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