Cross-functional teams are an increasingly important aspect of how we work. If you’re part of a digitally mature company, you can expect almost all of your innovation to come from cross-functional teams. Reasons for this include their greater autonomy, more supportive leaders, enhanced access to resources, and other unique factors, according to Deloitte. Even now, about 30% of companies use cross-functional teams most, if not all, of the time.
What Is a Cross-Functional Team?
A cross-functional team is made up of employees from different departments who have contrasting roles. For example, a cross-functional team might include people from marketing, sales, finance, and production, and even at various levels of seniority. Such teams are often created for a single project or goal. However, as organizations come to understand the advantages of flat hierarchies and a focus on roles instead of position in the company, many cross-functional teams are a permanent setup.
Why Are Cross-Functional Teams Important?
Cross-functional teams are a great way to improve communication. They often sit in the same physical space, making the discussion of an issue as fast and as simple as turning around in your chair. If more opinions and expertise are desired, the whole team just needs to listen in.
Focus is another advantage. The traditional routine of a marketing employee, for example, is to deal with various projects and stakeholders at the same time. This can lead to scheduling and prioritizing conflicts, and also means that the employee needs to mentally switch from project to project. In a Cross-functional team, there is one dedicated goal and one set of priorities to deal with.
Put together, these improvements let the Cross-functional team work faster and more efficiently. All of the main decision-making people are available on the spot to discuss and make choices, and to clear up misunderstandings. This shortens development times and reduces mistakes.
Another strength is creative thinking. In our age of brilliant technology billionaires, the myth that innovation is the achievement of lone geniuses has remained. But the reality is that super-creators only succeed because a long line of people before them make it possible. Similarly, the phenomenal entrepreneurs of today are experts at building teams that enable what is known as ‘collective genius’.
Turn this idea around and you find an additional advantage. Cross-functional teams minimize the issue of groupthink, a phenomenon that leads people to choose the alternative that is most accepted by the group, instead of the best one. Groupthink often happens because team members have similar backgrounds and approaches. In comparison, Cross-functional teams enjoy the diversity of skill and experience.
Companies also use Cross-functional teams for additional reasons, such as ‘test driving’ a new approach to doing business. For example, if an organization wants to experiment with agile development.
Cross-functional teams can also boost engagement and retention rates. Some employees feel disconnected in a large group setting, and that can affect their productivity and sense of belonging. This can cause a lack of interest in work and eventual churn. In contrast, Cross-functional teams might lead to a better understanding of the tasks at hand, a greater feeling of accomplishment, and an improved connection to a more diverse range of people.
What Are the Risks of Cross-Functional Teams?
The main challenge to forming and running a successful Cross-functional team is leadership. Cross-functional teams can start on the wrong foot or lose cohesion. In addition, they might recruit members who don’t have the correct skills or personality to function well and fit in with the group. To avoid these problems, organizers and leaders must:
Define a clear mission
What is the purpose of the team? A Cross-functional team should have an established workplan and be created with a specific purpose, instead of being a vague buzzword initiative. Even long-term Cross-functional teams are built with a certain goal in mind.
Recruit team players
This seems obvious, but when a team includes people from different management levels, egos can come into play. Making sure that Cross-functional team members are self-aware is essential.
In view of the Cross-functional team’s mission, conduct a skills gap analysis and upskill your people accordingly. At the very least, put the candidates through a teamwork skills refresher course.
Add GrowthSpace to Your Team
It can be challenging to ensure that your cross-functional teams – and all of your employees – have the skills required to do the best job possible. As your organization grows, so do the complexities of L&D programs.
With GrowthSpace, you can match individual skill needs to top experts, no matter how many employees you’re dealing with. What’s more, GrowthSpace helps you implement and assess customized L&D efforts through a proprietary method that’s becoming the choice of successful companies all over the world.