Organizations have, long enough, supported the top-to-bottom hierarchy where decision-makers and employees are two different kinds. But as times change, so do organizations. Or, at least, the smart ones.
Flat hierarchy, close-knit working environment, open workspaces, and virtual teams—this is what the modern business world is about. In recent years, many organizations have switched to new approaches that eliminate the bureaucracy that often hinders an organization’s speed and help to elevate the employees’ level of responsibility. One such approach is developing cross-functional teams.
Cross-functional teams are basically an ongoing effort by businesses (including popular ones like Google, Facebook, Netflix, and Amazon) to find agile and innovative solutions to the various challenges they face during project planning, project management, and team collaboration.
Let’s evaluate this concept from its roots. Starting with…
What Is A Cross-Functional Team And How Does It Work?
The simplest definition of building a cross-functional team is to put together a group of people with different functional expertise so that they can use their expertise to achieve a common goal.
Simple enough? Well, obviously there’s more.
Have you ever wondered why most organizations work in silos? What’s the point—the marketing team is focusing entirely on promoting the business, the sales team just wants to drive sales, the accounting team is keeping the finances in check, and likewise, the customer success department is focusing on a different vertical. Each team is doing their job and they’re doing it well. But your business is moving in too many directions at once. Which isn’t good.
Now, it would be a lot better if you break down the organizational silos and show everyone the “big picture” i.e. the organizational goal. In simple words, instead of each team working independently and delivering moderate efforts, group them together to pursue a goal more efficiently. That’s what cross-functional teams are about.
Why Cross-Functional Teams Are Important?
Cross-functional teams are a competitive advantage for an organization. They’re like superhero team-ups, where different individuals with different sets of unique abilities will work together for one common purpose. Every organization has potential resources scattered within in the form of various departments—HR, Marketing, Sales, Production, Purchasing, Accounting, Research, etc. Bring them all together and here’s what you will get:
- The team will be more productive.
- The team will improve coordination and communication.
- The team will span organizational boundaries.
- The team will lead to better decision making.
- The team will improve problem-solving.
- The team will deduce the overall project management cycle time.
Of course, nothing comes just like that. You also have to find the right people with the right mindset who are ready to share their knowledge and be open to changes.
Let’s see what experts have to say:
“Our constant interactions across functions and companies helped everyone involved consider and understand different perspectives, and how those perspectives impacted the project. We were able to achieve the precision we needed, and find efficiencies along the way.” — Andrew de Bray, managing director at Factum
““Since these are closely related departments, most people have crossover skills and knowledge that enable them to easily understand how other members impact the work… However, this also can lead to friction in team dynamics. For example, a person from design may have marketing experience and think a different approach is warranted for a campaign,” — Sagi Gidali, CPO and co-founder of Perimeter 81
How Do You Create Good Cross-functional Teams?
Here comes the best part. Now that you know how cross-functional teams are different from regular teams and why they are important, let’s see what you should do to build such a team.
Tips To Create Top-Performing Cross-Functional Teams
- Bring a little diversity in your organization
At first, people often assume that cross-functional teams encourage diversity because they are made up of individuals from distinct functional areas. But that’s not all. A good cross-functional environment includes teams with individuals of different experience, age, gender, location, skills, seniority, and engagement.
- Keep the goals aligned
The next step is to keep every individual and team goal aligned with the company objectives. You need to ensure that everyone in your organization is rowing in the same direction irrespective of their responsibilities. Usually, companies that more closely aligned goals across their organization enjoy higher levels of financial success. Teams and individuals should clearly understand the connection between their efforts and the overall goals of their employers. If you need precision in your goal-setting process, try visualizing your projects on a visual management board.
- Include influencers/subject matter experts
Every organization has individuals who know more than usual about stuff like processes, procedures, products, and customers. These are the individuals that can inspire others and give helpful advice. Make sure that such individuals are involved in cross-functional teamwork.
- Stop over-relying on meetings (let people bump into each other and chat)
You and your cross-functional teams shouldn’t always rely on meetings for every action or decision. It’s time-consuming. Secondly, there are plenty of great team collaboration apps such as Kanbanize, ProofHub, Slack, Glip, Github, etc. Such solutions make it easy for everyone to communicate and check the progress status of tasks or projects from anywhere, at any time.
- Embrace automation and technological advancements
Today’s technology-driven economy plays a crucial role in increasing employees’ engagement. A majority of employees out there are looking for career opportunities where they can embrace technology for growth and success. So when you are making efforts to build a cross-functional team, be sure to keep people excited about daily work with the latest productivity apps and tools.
- Ensure psychological safety
Before we finish this article, here is some food for thought. In 2012 Google started a project called Aristotle to discover the secrets of effective teams. The researchers observed 180 teams from the whole company. Guess what is the #1 factor for high-performing teams? Setting clear goals? Not exactly?
“But Google’s data indicated that psychological safety, more than anything else, was critical to making a team work. “
In short psychological safety is when team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other. So, keep this in mind next time you try to assemble a well-functioning team.
“the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” — Aristotle
And the Bottom Line Is…
Two heads are always better than one. Similarly, cross-functional teams are always better than traditional hierarchical business models. We hope the details we provided in this post will lead to some fresh thinking and keep the odds of success in your favor.
About The Author : Vartika Kashyap is the Marketing Manager at ProofHub and has been one of the LinkedIn Top Voices in 2018. Her articles are inspired by office situations and work-related events. She likes to write about productivity, team building, work culture, leadership, entrepreneurship among others and contributing to a better workplace is what makes her click.