Cross-Functional Teams

What is a Cross-Functional Team?

A cross-functional team is one with members from different departments within an organization. It boasts people of diverse functional expertise working collaboratively to achieve a common goal. For example, a cross-functional team can include members from Product, Engineering, Sales, and Customer Success.

The idea of cross-functional teams is not a new one, although it is generating significant buzz these days. It has been used to good effects by companies in diverse industries for a long time.

Some organizations, by their nature, are cross-functional. Take the case of small businesses and startups in which there are no distinct teams. Employees having different expertise work together to get things done.

Real cross-functional teams are typically found in bigger organizations that have special departments and teams. They bring together members from the different functional areas to achieve set goals.

Benefits of Cross-Functional Teams

They guard against groupthink

Cross-functional teams can help to prevent situations where everyone sees things from just one angle. For example, a marketing team will address problems more by considering how they have to do with their direct work. This may cause less attention to be given to other pertinent issues. Having team members from different functional areas helps to address matters better.

They promote innovation

Related to the foregoing, a cross-functional team is friendlier to innovation. All ideas don’t just come from a single “genius.” Collaboration between people of different expertise results in better idea generation.

They ensure better coordination

If teams aren’t working together well enough, there is a lower chance of achieving the overall goal. Imagine what would happen when each team is only concerned with its direct area of focus. Cross-functional teams help to strike balance and ensure that everyone doesn’t lose sight of the broad company goals.

They improve customer experience

Having this sort of team may help to reduce frustration on the part of customers. For example, if a customer calls in to seek clarification or help, they do not get passed from one department to another. Working together, a cross-functional team ensures that requests are promptly addressed with reduced cycle times.

These teams help to do things faster and better. They can also aid in developing and engaging team members, thereby promoting retention.

Creating a Cross-Functional Team

Before proceeding to put together a team that is cross-functional, you should first establish your goals. These drive alignment and help make sure everyone is on the same page. It also helps to set milestones to enable team members to know how well they are doing.

You then need to identify the skills and experience necessary to achieve your goals. Figure out the people having the needed expertise in your organization to make things run successfully. Endeavor to have all stakeholders whose opinions matter represented on the team. This doesn’t entail having too many people on board. You can have one person represent each group.

Apart from expertise, it is useful to also consider personal attributes when choosing team members. Are the people you are picking capable of proving valuable in terms of contributions and decision-making?  The person to lead a cross-functional team should be someone that can guide discussions effectively. They should be able to ensure accountability and delegate when necessary.


Cross-functional teams can either do very well or fail woefully. It’s actually been said that the majority of these teams are dysfunctional. What can make this happen?

Here are some challenges often experienced:

Workload – Sometimes, employees view participation in cross-functional teams as unneeded extra work. It adds more pressure and stress, which may keep them from giving their best.

Vagueness – In certain cases, what a team is to achieve isn’t clear enough. Even if there are goals, lack of clarity about other important factors, including milestones and budget, can be an issue.

Power issues – The members of a cross-functional team can cut across different levels of seniority. When this obtains, it may have an untoward effect on group interactions.

Conflicting interests – And there is the issue of team members paying more attention to their functional areas. If unchecked, this can harm the success of the cross-functional team.

How to Promote Effective Cross-Functional Teams

A team must agree on the basics before continuing with its work. Part of this is having clear goals. Everyone should know what is to be done and how they come into the picture. Efforts should be made to ensure that every team member does their part of the work. No single individual should feel unfairly overloaded.

The team should agree on how decisions would be made. There must be clarity about what everyone can chip in on and what the leader may do alone without necessarily involving others.

An atmosphere that causes everyone to participate actively should be encouraged. Team members should not have any inhibition about saying what is on their minds.  There should be mechanisms in place for an effective resolution of any differences that may come.

Having the right tools can also enhance the success of cross-functional teams. These include reliable communication tools and software that enable them to be more collaborative and efficient.

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