A cross functional team is a “group of people with different functional specialties or skills, responsible for carrying out all phases of a program from start to finish.”
(source- Business Dictionary)
The functional areas of people in cross functional teams can range from marketing to sales to graphic designers. When you form a team of people from different teams like development, operations, sales to achieve a common goal, it is called a cross functional team.
CFTs can exist as a company’s primary form of organisational structure or as an addition to the organisation’s main hierarchical structure.
I will try to explain cross functional collaboration with an example.
There’s a problem with your phone and you call your mobile service’s support team to get the issue resolved. Instead of getting the issue resolved, the support team passes your call from department to department where every department asks you to state the problem again and again. Tiresome, right?
This is where a group of people having diverse skills form a team and work towards a common goal. In this case, it’s solving the customer’s issue and building a long lasting relationship with them.
The Purpose of Having Cross Functional Teams
When teams across departments work in a collaboration, team members become more efficient, work gets completed in time and relationships are built.
Here are a few more benefits that make clear the need for having CFTs in an organization.
Pushes Organisational Boundaries
Cross functional teams transcend functional boundaries. They go beyond organizational structures making sure that skilled employees from different departments are brought together to work in a cohesive manner. CFTs bring people closer and enable them to understand each other’s perspectives and ideas. This in turn ensures a healthy work environment where there’s a continuous exchange of ideas and information.
The idea for building CFTs is to break the silo mentality where certain sectors of a company refuse to share information with others in the same company.
Reduces Cycle Time
Business Dictionary defines cycle time as “the period required to complete one cycle of a project from start to finish.” Cycle time is the duration between a demand made by a customer for a service and the delivery time. The longer it takes for the assigned team to deliver the outcome, the more the relationship between the customer and company degrades. Over a period of time, this can also negatively affect the company’s bottomline.
But, when skilled people work together, problem solving becomes easier and faster. People can define their area of expertise for the project and divide the tasks accordingly. Once areas have been allocated and purpose has been defined, teams start communicating and collaborating to get the job done.
Thorough Decision Making
Working in a team is about making collective decisions and arriving at a consensus together.
Teamwork can help drive effective decision making. When teams work together, they come up with numerous alternatives to a problem than when working alone. And they generate these alternatives together.
Decision making becomes faster when working in a cross functional team. In a CFT, you have people from sales, marketing and operations working in the same team. As a result, when a problem with a project arises, these different departments make sure to understand the problem from a sales, marketing and operations point of view. This ensures that no aspect of a problem is uncovered. Also, when teams know the effect the problem can have on each department, they try to come up with a solution that benefits the customer and the entire business.
Offers a Fresh Perspective
Working alone can become monotonous. Or working with a team with the same area of expertise can be boring too. To look at things from a fresh perspective, you need people with diverse skill sets. Cross functional teams fit perfectly into this equation.
A group of people having diverse professional expertise can come up with new ideas that others might have overlooked. They can also perceive a problem or flaw with the solution that went unnoticed.
Brings Peers Closer
When teams collaborate, they sometimes agree or disagree with each other’s decisions. But it definitely brings them closer. Working together enables people to let go of any former judgements they might have formed of each other.
Team building lets people see how their team members arrive at a conclusion and their thought process. It makes them more understanding and accepting towards each other.
Regulates Internal Communication
For teams to be successful, they need to know what each and every member is upto. This is possible only when groups communicate amongst themselves internally.
Communicating regularly enables people to learn skills and strategies from their team members. A team that communicates tends to have more brainstorming sessions and bounces off more ideas. Such teams try to understand what’s best for the team than the individual and how each member can fulfill their roles effectively
But 75% of Cross Functional Teams Are Dysfunctional
A 2015 survey by Harvard Business Review found that dysfunction is common in cross functional teams. In fact, 75% of cross functional teams are dysfunctional on at least 3 of the following 5 categories:
Meeting a Planned Budget
Staying On Schedule
Adhering To Specifications
Meeting Customer Expectations
Maintaining alignment with the company’s corporate goals
But it’s 2019 now and management skills have improved a lot since then. Now that you know the problems, you can focus on fixing them first.
How To Build Cross Functional Teams
To avoid the drawbacks stated above and deflect other such similar problems, developing a skilled cross functional team is important. Here are some key points to remember while building such a team-
Assemble The Right Team
This is the starting point. How your team functions will depend on the kind of the team they are. Most importantly, you need to recognise if the employees will be able to play on each other’s strengths.
Once the project has been decided, figure out which employees can help in achieving the target. Here human resources can help you recognise employees who will fulfill your requirements.
Define Clear Roles And Objectives
Setting down objectives and having clear goals is a great practice to building successful cross functional teams. Clear objectives improve collaboration, communication and help the business grow. It also helps everyone understand where the business is heading.
When you set down the goal and delegate tasks, team members can understand how exactly can they contribute. It enables them to strategize and divide tasks among themselves easily. They can conduct SWOT analysis to figure out whose strengths lie where and how they can overcome their weaknesses as a team.
Having SMART goals can be used expertly by skilled cross functional team members. It can make dividing and following responsibilities easy.
Involve The Customer
This is a rather important topic. To ensure that the project proceeds smoothly and finishes in time, it is necessary to be in sync with the original goal. This is where involving the customer comes in handy.
Interacting with the customer allows teams to be clear about the outcome the customer is expecting from them. They can then proceed accordingly. Sometimes team assign a member of the team to represent them and interact with the customer regularly. These people update the customers at regular intervals and take their feedback. This regulates clarity and sync between the customer and the team.
Embrace Diversity and Inclusion
Cross functional teams give you the power to select people from really diverse backgrounds. You can choose people from various backgrounds like gender, ethnicities and professional expertise. Various researches have shown that diverse teams are more effective in processing information. They can also come up with solutions faster.
Once you’ve assembled a diverse team together, it is equally important to make this team feel important and included. If team members feel they are not as valuable as their team members, they might fall out of the team. This can cause the team to lose out on a skilled employee and increase the cycle time. To avoid this, treat everyone equally and fairly. Everyone should be given the opportunity to express their views and opinions.
Share Accountability and Responsibility
A successful team is one that understands that they’re achieving for the team and not try to be the best of the team. These teams can only function successfully when they understand that each member is responsible for the actions of the others.
Responsibilities need to be shared equally among employees. They should progress with the mentality that depending on the outcome of the project, the whole team will be held accountable. This will lead to them helping each other out to achieve their respective targets.
With shared accountability, also comes shared recognition. When cross functional teams deliver outcomes, the success is shared among each employee. Every team member is acknowledged and appreciated for their contribution.
Employ Project Management Tools
With the advent of technology and AI in business, HR is soon transforming into HR-Tech. Online tools for recruitment, communication and project management are all the rage now.
Project management tools can be used as a great commodity while managing cross functional teams. These tools keep track of time, budget and expenses used up in completing the project. Project management tools keep things on track and in sync.
Measurement makes room for progress and improvement.When you assess an idea, you can recognise the pros and cons of that thought. You can recognise the problems and the consequences they might have. Therefore, it is essential to constantly reevaluate.
Another way to use metrics is to measure employees’ performance and their progress. Metrics like time management tools can keep track of whether employees are completing their projects on time. Measuring can also help realise if employees are lacking somewhere. Doing this can allow employees to take up training sessions to upskill.