A cross-functional team has members with varying skillsets and from different levels of the organisation, all working towards a common goal.
The days of teams organised under top-to-bottom hierarchy are long gone. Organisations are slowly waking up to the idea of cross functional collaboration. Well thought out cross functional teams can lead to agility and innovation from project planning to contract management. What is a cross-functional team and how can your team achieve its advantages?
A cross-functional team has members with varying skill sets, all working towards a common goal. In business, this means people from different departments and levels of the organisation working together to solve problems. In some instances, these teams can include people outside of the organisation.
Which of the following is an example of a cross-functional business process?
If you said both of them, you would be right. Both are examples of cross functionality. They fall inside the definition because they showcase the core essence of cross functionality. You have a group of people with varied expertise and even different hierarchical status within the company working towards a common objective.
At its best, cross functional collaboration can lead to a culture of improvement and development. When a team is working cross functionally, it can result in innovation and ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking.
In theory, cross collaborating groups sound ideal. You are getting different levels of leadership and expertise working towards solving common goals. What could possibly go wrong?
It turns out quite a bit. A great theory doesn’t always lead to functionality in practice. Many companies find cross-functional groups difficult to manage. A study discussed in Harvard Business Review found 75% of cross functional teams dysfunctional. What’s wrong?
The main things making this type of collaboration tricky are:
The above outlines some of the possible cons of cross functional teamwork. Without effective leadership and the right environment, teams can end up dysfunctional. But that’s not because cross functionality is somehow a bad strategy. It’s more to do with a lack of foundations for cross functional teams to work as intended.
The benefits of cross functional collaboration are rather enticing. When you lay the foundations to it, you can enjoy:
If the above pros and cons tell us anything, it’s that cross functionally working teams can be easy to set up but they are hard to master. If you want to enjoy the benefits, the leadership needs to focus on laying a proper foundation for cross functionality.
How can this be achieved? You should:
A good team isn’t just a randomly selected mix of people from different departments and levels of the organisation. You should focus on diversity on many levels. Diversify the team in areas such as ability, skills, seniority, tenure, gender and location.
Diversity is crucial for achieving results with cross functional collaboration. But it shouldn’t come at a cost of expertise. It is crucial to leverage expertise in the teams by including members with the most knowledge. Pairing a person of knowledge with a novice can lead to education and innovation.
Measure the impact the team has to promote engagement and effort. Teams should have continuous feedback sessions and systems in place that establish clear objectives to work with. You should also measure the rate of investment and provide the data back to the team.
Cross functional teams need to feel like everyone’s input is important and leads to a beneficial outcome. You don’t want a system that only rewards a specific department, for example. Leaders should create systems where people are rewarded for improving the whole organisation, not just sections of it.
Leadership should focus on building great communication systems across the organisation. You want seamless tools that make communication fast and easy. Communication between departments shouldn’t be hindered by misaligned technology. You also want to encourage random interactions and make ‘accidental’ communication a thing.
Cross collaboration breaks traditional hierarchical systems. But this doesn’t mean that management shouldn’t lay the foundations for cross functionality. There needs to be a concerted effort to nurture these teams and collaborations. The benefits can be tricky to achieve if you lack proper communication, clear objectives and functional alignment.
Technology plays an important part of cross functional teams. Platforms like Contractbook result in easier collaboration between different departments and outside organisations. You can get different people talking and collaborating in a safe environment that’s not tied to a specific time and place. Flawless and seamless communication ensures cross functional teams work as intended and innovation will follow.