What Are Cross Functional Teams? Strengths and Weaknesses

cross functional teams

What is a cross functional team?

Cross-functional team definition

“Suppose we had to simplify a cross-functional team definition. In that case, it would be a group of people from different areas of an organization (sales, engineering, marketing, finance).  This group is set up in units to make overall decisions for a company for a particular project or achieve a common goal for the business.”

Cross-functional teams can be the main form of organizational structure or part of an overall hierarchical structure. Click here if you want know how to optimize organizational structure.

Over the recent years, cross-functional teams have become more popular for three main reasons. 

They improve coordination and integration, span organizational boundaries, and speed the production cycle time in new product development

What Is the Difference Between Cross-functional and Conventional Teams? 

Cross-functional teams are similar to conventional work teams. However, they differ in a few critical ways. 

They differ because these cross-functional teams usually have obligations and loyalties to their department that supersede all else. For instance, a marketing person believes a specific task is more important because it is most valuable to marketing. 

Besides, some companies assemble cross-functional teams part-time to accomplish a particular task. Such hiring creates undue pressure on the teams to produce results. For these part-time teams, it’s imperative to have stable and effective team communication. 

There Are a Few Specific Necessities To Keep In Mind When Assembling Cross-functional Teams: 

  • Team members must be open-minded and highly motivated.
  • Team members must come from the correct area of the organization to impact a specific task.
  • A strong team leader with excellent communication skills and a clear vision must be put in the position of authority.
  • The team must have a strong sense of authority and accountability to succeed.
  • Leadership must provide adequate resources, including both moral and financial.
  • But above all, communication is vital. There is a high chance for success if there is adequate communication across channels. 

The biggest benefit your organization will receive from a cross-functional team is a boost in creativity and cohesiveness. Since everyone feels like they have an essential and decisive function, there is a newfound unity.

Cross Functional Teams

How To Develop a Cross-functional Team?

Assemble The Right Team

There are specific sets of skills required to have a qualified cross-functional team. The feature you are working on will determine who is needed to become a part of it. 

The often-overlooked requirement for well-oiled cross-functional teams is assembling individuals with similar skills, just in different departments. 

This process of individuals coming together with different expertise to achieve a common goal is called cross-functional team collaboration. 

The members of the cross functional team should be adequate self-starters who don’t need much direction but have the authority to make decisions.

Have a Defined Leader

Remember that it is not an absolute requirement to have a defined leader. However, suppose there aren’t clearly defined objectives for a cross functional team. In such a scenario, you can end up with chaos and team members working in opposite directions. 

Finding a leader is easier said than done. Yet, having someone that can simultaneously develop individuals working within a defined spectrum will create a successful team. 

A good leader will delegate and educate while giving autonomy to the individuals working within that organization.

Set Defined Goals

Before even assembling your team, you must have definitive goals set. 

This is for the same reasons as mentioned previously. You want your cross-functional team to work with specific objectives in mind. That way, they don’t end up working in different directions. 

There are a few ways to define goals clearly, but one of the most efficient ways is to create a clear roadmap

A good feature roadmap will allow you to assign tasks, dates, and team members to specific tasks to maximize their abilities and keep everyone on track. 

Perhaps non-intuitively, this structure will allow team members more autonomy. They will have a defined expectation of them and execute accordingly.

Align the Team

Now that leadership is set and you have clearly defined goals, it’s time to align the team

Team alignment is one of the most essential but most demanding tasks. 

Essentially, team alignment requires balancing all of the opinions and observations of your team. 

Then, you turn them into clean, actionable prioritization. 

The balancing act of prioritizing can be tricky. That is why we have created an alignment matrix to see where your cross-functional team aligns the priorities organically. 

Align the Team

Shared Success

Once you have the alignment of your team put down (thanks to Chisel), it’s vital to focus on the wins. 

No matter how big or small a priority may be, anything that you complete deserves some level of acknowledgment by the stakeholders

The goal is to lead and complete the set objective. Leadership should be the reinforcing factor here. All of your successes should be shared with your team, and they should be given equal credit.

Always Reevaluate

The beauty of having a roadmap and a constant team alignment functionality is the ability to reevaluate at every step. 

None of these functionalities ought to be stagnant and need to be malleable as different priorities and tasks come to the forefront. 

Going back to the drawing board and requesting a team vote on prioritization for a new feature is practical. Try it here.

What Are the Benefits of Cross-functional Teams?

Cross-functional Teams Challenge the Old Ideas and Get Things Done Faster and Better

Businesses stuck with old ways of doing things can get a fresh perspective when there is a cross-functional team collaboration. 

Another advantage of a cross-functional team is that the pace of work gets accelerated. This results in improved productivity as well. 

Cross-functional Teams Together Work To Keep Customers Satisfied

When in an organization, more preference is given to cross-functional team collaboration. These teams plan out a roadmap around their customer’s needs and wants. 

This, in turn, fosters user satisfaction. 

Cross-functional Teams Help in Reducing Cycle Time. 

When an organization decides on cross functional team collaboration, they help reduce the cycle time. 

Cross-functional teams are incredible at handling the customer pain points and delivering the solutions on time. 

Cross-functional Teams Foster Creativity, Flexibility, and Innovation

Creativity

Among the other advantages of a cross functional team, the one that stands out is when teams collaborate, more and more creative ideas are bound to flow.

Flexibility

Flexibility means that all the cross functional team members have to be adaptable in their approach to others’ ideas and insights.

Due to the diversity and expertise of the team members, everyone has a great scope for learning. 

While exchanging ideas and skills, individuals can also look at the bigger picture and work towards common business goals. 

Innovation

Cross functional teams help in the improved innovation of solutions and products. 

Since these teams are full of diverse skills, they crush the traditional thinking ways and discover a new way of innovating. 

What Are the Cross-functional Team Examples?

Let’s look at some of the cross-functional team examples to understand the concept of a cross-functional team better.

Collaboration for Projects

Mainly a cross-functional team is formed for a specific period of a particular project. 

All individuals assigned that project will come together and work as a team. 

This way, confusion and politics both get cleared out. 

For example, for an IT project, all the developers, business unit managers, and designers will collaborate. 

Collaboration for Product Development

A cross-functional team can also be used for developing a product

Product development requires innovation. 

Hence having a team of market researchers, engineers, marketers, and another diverse pool of talents is a must. 

Collaboration of Marketing and Sales Teams

Teams that are often not very cooperative such as marketing and sales, are brought together. 

They work on pricing, customer services, lead qualification and generation, and many other functions here. 

Collaboration of Information Technology and Business Units

When the IT team’s work pace level of responsiveness slows down, business units and the IT teams come together. 

This collaboration ensures that both the teams create, implement and support the exact requirements. 

The Pitfalls of Cross-functional Teams

Pitfalls of Cross-functional Teams
Pitfalls of Cross-functional Teams

Although there is an absolute value in having high functioning cross functional teams, here’s what the research says. 

Benham Tabrizi conducted a study on 95 teams throughout 25 corporations.

A panel of academics and experts selected these teams. The results showed that there is a 75% chance that a cross functional team will be dysfunctional

“Dysfunctional” in this study means you fail to meet three of five criteria. The criteria are as follows: 

  • Meeting a planned budget
  • Staying on schedule
  • Adhering to specifications
  • Meeting customer expectations
  • Maintaining alignment with the company’s corporate goals

Interestingly, the highest success rate came from a clearly defined cross-functional team management or a single, high-level executive champion.

The success rate was a whopping 76% compared to a paltry 19% when only moderate management was in place.

So without further ado, here are the reasons why cross-functional teams fail. 

No Clearly Defined Leader

One of the common cross-functional team challenges arises when the cross-functional team management is not well defined. 

Without a clear leader, the chance of success drops from 76% to 19%. That alone should be enough to determine the value of having a defined leadership structure from the get-go. 

Misaligned Goals and Priorities

On a microscale, an employee considers their total responsibilities when deciding how to prioritize personally. 

If the cross-functional tasks aren’t part of the employees’ overall assessment, they will lower priority. 

This is why a clear roadmap for employees is imperative to help them know what they’re working on.

In that same vein, making sure priorities are succinctly laid out will allow leaders to acknowledge and praise good performance without micromanaging tasks. 

An alignment matrix will allow your team to have a helicopter view of the features the stakeholders feel strongly about and which ones can have a lower overall priority. 

Too Little or Too Much Communication

Another reason why cross-functional teams fail is due to communication. 

Too little communication would keep people out of the loop on what they are working on. Not giving enough information can leave stakeholders in the dark. 

Similarly, having too many meetings or emails can leave a stakeholder feeling like they’re constantly playing catch up. It deprives them of the opportunity to complete their necessary tasks. 

Lack of Trust 

Bringing stakeholders together from different departments and working together in a group is no small task. 

These individuals don’t interact beyond their specific departments most of the time. 

Therefore, the best strategy to employ is to build trust incrementally, which can only be done from within. 

Having the team focus on small tasks builds trust over time, knowing that everyone will complete requirements at times intended. The results will not happen overnight, but they will happen. 

Lack of Diversity

A culture of inclusivity is invaluable for your cross-functional team and also across your whole organization. 

Your customer base will most likely come from a variety backgrounds. Therefore, it stands to reason that your stakeholders ought to come from a variety of experiences as well.

Creating anything through a single lens obstructs the opportunity of developing for a limitless swath of people when all perspectives are considered.

How To Manage a Cross-functional Team?

We have seen that a cross-functional team can bring diverse skills, innovation, experience, and many more advantages to the plate.

But when a large group of people collaborates on something, there may be some differences, conflicts, and hiccups. 

However, if the cross-functional team is managed effectively by its management, then you will clear the obstacles to achieving success for the business. 

Following are some of the ways you can implement to manage a cross-functional team better. 

Get the Teams on the Same Page

It is of utmost importance for a cross-functional team to know the desired goals. Such clarity results in less conflict, more cooperation, and collaboration from the newly formed cross-functional team. 

Three things to keep in mind when overlooking these teams:

Firstly, define SMART project goals. Mpa out the outcome and the way to reach it. And share it with your team and openly discuss the various ways to collaborate effectively.

Secondly, Give a free choice for everyone to have a say in the team. Having an open conversation makes an individual feel a part of the team. Also, when everyone contributes, new ways of doing things can come up.

Finally, if your goal is to smartly get the work done, then you must clarify and let each team member know their roles and responsibilities.

Communication Is the Only Key To Helping the Teams Collaborate

When you build a cross-functional team, people who are used to working independently may also be a part of it. 

Office communication tools and channels are a great way to collaborate with such a team.

Tools such as slack, google chat, work front, and zoom can work wonders to open up the conversation amongst the teams. 

A few ways to help cross-functional teams converse are:

  • Conduct team bonding exercises from time to time
  • Conduct regular team meetings and discuss progress, ideas, suggestions or just have an informal chat.

Foster Trust and Acceptance

When various teams collaborate, they bring along their specific expertise as well. 

Using jargon that others in a cross-functional team may not well understand will lead to a lack of trust.

Some ways to foster collaboration and trust are:

  • Create a common language in terms of simplifying the concepts.
  • Be ready to fail.
  • Listen to the team members trying to put their point across.

Be Prepared for Conflicts

As we saw previously, sales and marketing are the teams who are always on two extremes when doing their work. Conflict in any work setting is a regular occurrence too. 

And when a cross-functional team is brought together with diverse backgrounds, things will be no different. 

Conflicts can take place for various reasons, power, competition, lack of resources, and more.

Project managers must be ready to face such conflicts and take some measures to see how you can turn this into a fruitful experience for the team.

Create a Roadmap

We know why the cross-functional teams fail. But the other reason for cross-functional team challenges is the absence of a roadmap.

An action plan is a must for any team to know where they are heading. 

Some of the cross-functional team management tools that you may use are:

How To Improve Cross-functional Team Collaboration?

Having an Executive Support

If handling the cross-functional teams is becoming a heavy task, get an executive buy-in and support.

Executives may not always be available to join the meeting. However when they can, you could ask them to see the progress of the teams and where the company is headed. 

Use Only One Platform for Communication

We discussed how having a communication tool works very well for cross-functional teams. It is also important to have centralized communication channels in a single place. 

Switching from one platform to another may create unnecessary chaos. Hence, have a channel that everyone in the cross-functional team is comfortable using. 

Create a Team Charter

Team charters include objectives, goals, roles of team members, and expectations plan explaining you will handle the team.

Creating a team charter gives you and your team members a clear idea of who you are and what plans you wish to accomplish.

If you are in cross-functional team management, this can help you begin working with cross-functional teams. 

Religiously Using the Project Management Tools

Using a project management tool is a must-have in any workplace setting. 

That will help you carve out your day-to-day tasks without having to remember them.

With too much work and cross-functional teams to manage, it is quite right to have a project management tool at your side.

Conclusion

No two cross-functional teams are the same. And handling a team with such diversity can be challenging at times. 

But with proper planning and busting tips and tricks mentioned above, you are up for success.

Cross-functional teams, if managed well, can bring ideas never thought of before. 

If you given them a proper direction, they work well together. 

So go and build your cross-functional team and enjoy the advantages it delivers.

Crafting great product requires great tools. Try Chisel today, it's free forever.