Increase business performance with cross-functional teams

It’s increasingly common for organizations to leverage cross-functional teams for increased business performance as consumer demand for personalized, high-touch experiences continues to grow. The days of the corporate hierarchy are dead. Organizations are solving complex business challenges through relationships and cross-functional teams.

“Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.” 
—Amy Poehler

What is a cross-functional team?

A cross-functional team is a group of individuals with different functional expertise working toward a common goal. A typical team includes employees from all levels within an organization. For example, a team charged with developing and launching a global brand might consist of representation from the executive level in various countries, members of legal, risk management, branding, marketing, communications, digital, social media, design, IT, facilities, and other departments, along with internal and external stakeholders. Teams would also include agency partners, external contractors, and vendors as necessary. 

Benefits of cross-functional teams:

  1. Alignment with the organization’s mission and goals: Connecting the dots across departments creates an atmosphere designed to meet business goals. Sharing critical data and aligning performance goals with the organization’s mission and business goals position cross-functional teams to support the overall business strategy.
  2. Break-down silosWhen an organization opens communication lines, shares information, ideas, perspectives, and experiences, they naturally eliminate silos. Breaking down silos reduces duplication, creates greater efficiency, streamlines operations, fosters innovation in product and process, and delivers a better consumer experience. 
  3. Faster decision-making: Communication and decisions are expedited with less hierarchy and silos for information to pass through. Faster decision-making means more immediate results.
  4. Identify blind spots and gaps: When team members from different departments work collaboratively, the result is a think tank of broad perspectives that shine a light on blind spots and operational and organizational gaps. Once identified, the team can move to close those gaps.
  5. Increased innovation: A diverse team of all levels with different skills, backgrounds, expertise, and functional roles working toward a common goal creates opportunities for a fresh perspective. Innovation isn’t possible when employees are too close to the problem. It’s like someone who has proofed the content so often that they no longer recognize the mistakes.
  6. Stronger work relationships: Employees realize new possibilities when they partner with others who have different perspectives and skillsets. They become engaged, learn from one another, and build strong collaborative relationships based on trust and mutual respect.
  7. Expanded skills: A cross-functional team provides an environment where team members are exposed to a broad range of skills, learn from one another, and pick-up strategies and skills they might not otherwise. Employees take new skills back to various teams and departments, which leads to innovation, best practices, streamlined processes, and more—all of which benefit the organization.
  8. Leadership opportunities: It’s common for a subject matter expert to lead cross-functional teams. When the most senior level person doesn’t lead the team, aspiring and new leaders have an opportunity to build and grow leadership skills such as communication, time management, negotiation, conflict resolution, problem-solving, and accountability. Having engaged employees at all levels with leadership skills benefits an organization when promoting from within.
  9. More productivity: When cross-functional team members from different departments work toward a common goal, they can leverage best practices and knowledge from the entire organization. In turn, this allows them to capitalize on the team’s collective experience to provide big picture solutions. 
  10. Solutions to critical issues: When subject matter experts who understand the problem, stakeholders, and risk come together to deliver solutions to pressing issues, you end up with a cross-functional agile team. The team brings multiple perspectives and long-term solutions to critical issues. 

While there are significant benefits to cross-functional teams, as a leader, positioning your team for success at the start is critical.

Leading a team that delivers results.

  1. Build the best team possible: Work closely with the client and stakeholders to ensure you have a comprehensive understanding of the project before assembling a team. An excellent tool for gathering information is a Business, Marketing, Project, or Creative Brief. Briefs can be customized and are used to define the project scope, budget, deliverables, deadlines, skills needed, channels used, and much more. It provides a leader with insight into what each team member brings to the table, how they might complement others on the team, and their part in completing the project on time and budget. 
  2. Have a road map. Would you ever go on a long trip without directions and a map? Chances are you wouldn’t. Leading a cross-functional team is no different. Your project may be a long journey, so have a plan. Understand the project’s scope, people, skills, information, resources, technology, and tools you need to meet deadlines and deliver results. 
  3. Clearly define goals: Without clear direction, a team is not going to function well. They will be quite dysfunctional. It’s essential to clearly define measurable project goals, expected outcomes, shared goals, deliverables, deadlines, and critical milestones. 
  4. Establish clear roles: The beauty of a diverse, cross-functional team is that each team member brings a unique perspective, background, expertise, and way they are used to doing things. Each person is on your team for a reason, so you want to create an environment where they feel ownership in the outcome. When each team member feels ownership in the project, they feel more comfortable contributing innovative ideas that deliver the best result. When each team member has responsibilities in the process, they’re also more likely to work cross-functionally with others to get the work done, leading to smarter, more sustainable decision-making.
  5. Communication: Provide an environment where balanced and transparent communication is standard. A consistently open communication line between you and your team is critical to the team’s success. Regular check-ins allow the team to evaluate, measure and refine. It sheds light on what is working, what isn’t, what needs refining and provides the ability to identify and address gaps in workflow, processes, and operations in a timely fashion. 
  6. Build a culture of trust and acceptance: Each team member comes to the table with a distinct way of doing things and jargon specific to their industry and functional roles. Get to know your team, listen to their ideas, become familiar with each team member’s style, and strive to bring out the best in that individual. When you develop an inclusive, cross-functional, simple, shared language, it’s easier to foster collaboration, trust, and innovation. 
  7. Encourage failure: When you strive for perfection, nothing gets done because you’re overthinking it. Instead, aim for imperfect action. Failure is OK; it’s part of the process. The Wright Brothers didn’t take flight overnight—they failed many times before they finally took flight. A culture where failure is accepted and used as a tool to learn often leads to breakthroughs. When failure happens, it’s an opportunity for the team to regroup, retest, rethink, and uncover new solutions to old issues. 
  8. Be prepared to be a peacemaker: Not everyone on the team will see eye to eye; they have different perspectives, perceptions, and opinions—and that’s OK. One study found that 85% of workers experience some regular form of conflict. It’s not unusual to see conflict on a cross-functional team because you’re bringing together team members from various departments within the organization that are often quite siloed. Once brought together, you may see team members struggling to understand other perspectives, or vying for power, influence, resources, and recognition. Look at these conflicts as opportunities to find a middle ground, learn, grow, collaborate and generate new ideas and solutions. 
  9. Encourage engagement: Celebrate wins and hitting key milestones. Leverage subject matter experts and guest speakers as needed. Ensure the team has access to the tools, training, and resources that empower them to succeed. The more engaged the team is, the better the result.
  10. Walk the talk: Set the bar for the team. Understand your role and responsibilities as a leader. Anticipate challenges the team will face, know individual performance goals, and what the team needs to succeed. Respect the team’s time by running productive and efficient meetings and follow-up with work assignments and deadlines. Take responsibility for decisions, communication and encourage feedback. It’s essential to be an engaged member of the team, not just the leader. 

When used effectively and led by a leader who can bring out the best in each team member, a cross-functional team can work collaboratively to deliver innovative, global solutions.

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Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

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