What are cross-functional teams and how do they work? How can you create and manage them effectively? And what are the benefits and challenges of working in a cross-functional team?
In this blog, we will answer these questions and more. We will explain what cross-functional teams are and why they are important. We will also share some best practices and tips on how to build and lead cross-functional teams that deliver value and innovation.
What is meant by a cross-functional team?
A cross-functional team is a group of individuals with different skill sets who conjoin to fulfill a shared goal. A cross-functional team comprises employees from a variety of levels within the organization.
People with different levels of expertise, different job roles, and different departments constitute a cross-functional team. Such a team may possess a unique decision-making power than the other departments. For example, the team may directly present its proposals and findings to the senior-most leader rather than going through the typical approval process.
Various Types of Cross-Functional Teams
The types of cross-functional teams vary according to the type of organization.
Small-sized businesses and start-ups tend to work cross-functionally, considering the nature of their size. The organizations are not large enough to have a number of specialized departments. Hence, employees possessing diverse expertise work mutually on decision-making.
Larger businesses, on the other hand, are most likely to set up different cross-functional teams for different goals and projects. They continue to have specific and individual departments for organizational functions. Apart from that, cross-functional teams may be formed for the required purposes.
There may be other larger corporations where cross-functional teams constitute the primary organizational structure.
Creative and vibrant cross-functional teams can also be formed through the process of ideation; where unique and compelling ideas can help you form an effective cross-functional team.
Reasons for creating a cross-functional team
Cross-functional teams are highly effective at responding to the tasks and evolving challenges of the contemporary business landscape. There are rapid changes to the business function, and innovation is crucial for survival in the long run.
Cross-functional teams allow corporations to work more efficiently and faster by reflecting good business sense. The most successful teams even provide opportunities to have ‘trial runs’ for their new projects before employing a completely new team for the project.
The blight of ‘groupthink’ is effectively overcome through the use of cross-functional teams. It is highly probable to overlook key concerns if every individual thinks alike. When all members of the project team come from the same departmental background, they may not want to question or challenge conventional assumptions. A cross-functional team is well-suited to come up with ground-breaking solutions to existing problems and challenge the status quo.
Finally, cross-functional teams are valuable in terms of developing, engaging, and retaining team members in the long run. They foster a strong sense of connection, collaboration, and cohesion within the organization. Employees are also exposed to diverse knowledge from areas other than their own expertise. They may also improve their problem-solving and team-building skills.
It might be hard for someone to ensure effective cross-functional teamwork unless the priorities are well known. In this regard, understanding and exploring the concept of backlog grooming is crucial. Such things will undoubtedly improve the cross-functioning of the team.
What are the challenges of cross-functional teams?
Lack of adequate communication
When it comes to working cross-functionally, effective communication between teams becomes crucial. Given that each team tends to develop its own jargon and operates in distinct ways, establishing connections and effectively communicating with individuals outside of your own team can be quite challenging.
Lack of a central record system
Teams often operate across multiple documents, files, and messaging platforms. Without a centralized system of record to store end decisions and contextual information, valuable time can be wasted chasing down necessary information. Concerns such as miscommunication, mismatched document versions, and unnecessary status updates are most likely to occur in the absence of a central record system for cross-functional teams.
Uneven priorities of different teams
Different departments within an organization possess different skills, goals, targets, and objectives. Quite obviously, it becomes difficult to consider individual priorities and shared goals when collaborating with cross-functional partners. It is immensely important to set out an integrated, cohesive goal that suits the priorities of each team member.
Lack of conflict resolution
Being part of a cross-functional team often entails collaborating with unfamiliar colleagues. While effective communication is vital, differences in communication styles can occasionally arise, causing conflicts and team issues. Failing to address and resolve these differences can significantly hinder the success of cross-functional work.
Establishing clarity amongst cross-functional teams
The first step to creating a productive cross-functional team is to ensure ‘clarity’. It is important to clarify the specific targets and objectives of the team. Each team member should work towards a unified goal and remain the same. This is the most important step if you wish to eliminate differing assumptions and mindsets that come with members from different departments.
Clarity is not just required for the ultimate outcome; you also need to create milestones throughout the project lifestyle. It is highly likely that all members of a cross-functional team do not meet or communicate every day. Hence, milestones assist you in gaining a clear perception of what is happening and what will happen next.
It is also important to take into account any practical limitations or hindrances when working in a cross-cultural team. It is not the most motivational or engaging activity, but very significant to keep everyone informed on the team’s constraints.
Who should you include on your next cross-functional team?
Once you know the goals and targets you wish to achieve, it becomes easier to understand who should be on the team. Keep the following questions in mind when including members of your team:
What kind of skill sets and competencies are you looking for? Which people in the workplace can deliver what you need?
Apart from the required expertise, team members in a cross-functional team should have personal attributes that allow them to collaborate with each other, work independently when needed, and make decisions.
Focus closely on the key stakeholders, especially if you are introducing a new project. The cross-functional team should be particularly representative of each stakeholder group.
Opting for a Leader
The leader of a cross-functional team is expected to lead and direct discussions, delegate tasks and responsibilities and extend accountability to other members. Even though some members within a cross-functional team may rank higher in the corporate hierarchy than the team leader, they should still be able to assume the same degree of formal authority that is expected of them.
Determining a set of rules for the cross-functional team
It is absolutely important to communicate clearly what roles and responsibilities are expected of everyone. Nobody in the team should feel overburdened and complete their designated share of work.
Everyone on the team should be clear about the behaviours expected of them. Every individual should feel a sense of safety whilst speaking up, even if their opinions are different from the others.
Cross-functional teams are inclined towards coming up with the most appropriate solutions by putting together the diverse strengths of team members. Hence, it is significant to navigate each other’s differences to find solutions.
The decision-making process for the cross-functional team should be crystal clear. When will the team leader be acting unilaterally?
Choosing the correct communication tools is necessary to build a strengthening cross-functional team.
These tools will come in handy when there is a need to collaborate while being in different locations. Creative thinking is all you need here.
Going further, acquaintance with scrum roles can also be important in a team’s cross-functioning. For instance, scrum roles uncover the responsibilities and dynamics of key positions such as the Product Owner, Scrum Master, and Development Team. Thus, it can be a great aid.
Keep everyone on the team on track
Here are a few things you can do to keep that going:
Stay vigilant in keeping tabs on your team's progress and success. This is where the true magic of having clear-cut objectives reveals itself. Are you effectively hitting the checkpoints you established? Uncover the essence of the situation by making use of a team health monitor.
Embrace the power of flexibility and adaptability. How can you steer your course in a new direction when faced with unmet milestones? Additionally, be prepared to navigate unforeseen twists and turns in your plans.
Don't forget, you don't have to tackle it all by yourself. You can always make use of efficient software packages that offer a treasure trove of resources to assist you in conquering the hurdles that come with setting goals, conducting meetings, and making crucial decisions.
In conclusion, there is a lot more on Harvestr to empower your product teams and enhance the effectiveness of cross-functional teamwork. In addition to that, Harvestr will also help you understand customer's product feedback and data, make informed roadmap decisions, and drive product-led growth.
Frequently Asked Questions
What does cross functionally mean?
Cross functionally refers to the ability of individuals or teams to work collaboratively across different functions or departments within an organization. It involves breaking down silos and promoting communication and cooperation among various roles and expertise, fostering a holistic and integrated approach to achieving common goals.
What is an example of cross-functional?
An example of cross-functional collaboration is a customer service improvement initiative. Representatives from customer support, product development, and sales teams come together to analyze customer feedback, identify pain points, and develop solutions to enhance the overall customer experience. This collaborative effort integrates different perspectives and skill sets to drive customer satisfaction and loyalty.
What is cross-functional vs. multi-functional?
Cross-functional teams involve individuals from different functions collaborating on a specific project or objective, leveraging their diverse expertise. Multi-functional teams, on the other hand, refer to teams where each member possesses multiple skills or can perform various functions within the team, allowing for flexibility and adaptability in task assignments.
When should an organization create a cross-functional team?
Cross-functional teams are beneficial for complex problems, process improvements, innovation, and strategic initiatives, fostering collaboration and leveraging collective knowledge to achieve successful outcomes.