Building Cross-Functional Teams.

A cross-functional team brings together people with different kinds of expertise or from different departments in your organization.

Building Cross-Functional Teams.

Success stories vary, just as businesses and team differ. Though journeys and stories may greatly vary across industries and cultures, one common component of great success stories is that results are delivered by a team, rather than a single individual’s work. Yet it’s overly common for individuals to shy away from team work and try and balance their workload personally.

Skilled employers seek collaborative people, as team-fit is at the core of most recruitment decisions. Building a team can be an exciting process, but without considered foresight, the lack of alignment and balance within a team can cause huge headaches and chaos later.

Whilst people may avoid teamwork to avoid potential conflicts, in a group setting cohesion determines the group’s effectiveness and productivity. However, cohesion does not simply mean that group members have to agree with everything, and actively avoid disagreements as such behaviour would result in ‘groupthink’.

Groupthink is a phenomenon that occurs when a group of individuals reach a consensus without critical reasoning or evaluation of the consequences or alternatives. Groupthink is based on a common desire not to upset the balance of a group of people.

On the contrary, we should be open to conflicts and calmly solve them together as a team. Group members should feel safe to share their thoughts without any judgement. As much as we try to avoid conflicts great progress may be created from healthy disagreement and discussion. While the majority sticks to conformity, chances are we are letting great ideas and opportunities slip away with our dysfunctional decision-making. Thus, conformity and groupthink are the real culprits to why teamwork fails while conflicts are essential for the team advancement.

Single-Functional Team vs Cross-Functional Team.

Traditionally, organizations used to operate in single-functional teams to get things done. A single-functional team is a team which shares a common functional expertise working towards the same goal. Such as a team purely made up of graphic designers, or a team of developers.

"Teamwork makes the dream work" but a cross-functional team will enhance the team's speed and quality. Firstly introduced by Northwestern Mutual Life insurance company in the 1950s, many organizations have since adopted the practice of cross-functional teams to best meet their customer's needs.

A cross-functional team brings together people with different kinds of expertise or from different departments in your organization.

As opposed to a single-functional team, a cross-functional team will serve as revolutionary change for organizations to achieve higher goals.

Some of the qualities that cross-functional teams bring to the table are:

Diverse Thinking.

A cross-functional can be key to developing the next innovative ideas. People are idea generators, so when we bring them together we get ideas cascading across the room. What's more, when we have a group of people from different functional teams coming together, our perception of things change because different functional teams view the same problem differently. Giving key insights into multi-disciplinary functions, team members can be empowered with new solution-making strategies and a more rounded direction that includes a greater degree of foresight into all potential problems and viewpoints.

Time Management.

In a single-functional team, team members usually share a lot of the same expertise and knowledge. Thus, the process often involves an internal team meeting followed by a lot of chasing people from other departments in order to keep the work going. It is a tedious and time-consuming process.

A cross-functional team will save us a lot of time since the representatives for each department involved, are active members in the team. Therefore, it will speed up the process tenfold and the team will be able to perform more productively and efficiently.

Broaden Skillset.

A cross-functional team creates a win-win strategy for the company, and the team itself, due to the wide-ranging knowledge that the team possesses, it offers the members a great opportunity to learn from each other while solving the problems together.

For instance, if we have an engineer and a marketing manager in the team, they will be able to broaden their understandings of each other's roles. By the end of the project, an engineer may gain a better insight into the customer experience which they can then apply such knowledge to respond to the customer's needs in their next inventions. A marketing manager may learn about the process of how a product is made and use that information to bring the products closer to the key stakeholders.

Essentially, all team members are able to share their expertise while learning from each other.

An Effective Cross-Functional Team.

Despite how productive and efficient a cross-functional team may be, they may run into challenges just like any other single-functional team. In order to avoid the same mistakes, there are steps to consider in building an effective cross-functional team:

Identify the Problem.

It is mandatory that before we jump into action, we need to consider the 'What' 'Why' and 'How'. Likewise, before forming a team, we need to understand the problems that we are trying to solve and why we are solving them. As straightforward as it seems, not being able to clearly identify the problems from the get-go results in many dysfunctional teams.

Determine a Leader.

Forming a team is one thing but choosing the right leader for the team is paramount. It is possible for a team to work without a leader, but an effective team leader will optimize team progress. Similarly to other single-functional teams, a cross-functional team needs a leader whom is able to hold the team accountable whilst offering their support to make sure that everybody is on the right track.

Goal Setting.

Once the team is formed, team goals must be defined in the first meeting as a roadmap for the team. It is important that the goals are clear so that everyone is on the same page. Especially when we have people from different departments or skillsets working together, as they need to fully understand the aligned team vision. It also ensures team members individually understand their responsibilities and are performing their tasks to move progress forward.

Communication.

One usual concern is that team members stemming from different divisions may clash out with each other. In truth, this applies to all teams, not just cross-functional teams.

Teamwork is about collaboration, not competition. Therefore, conflicts are never intentional, yet they arise when mutual understanding is not being met and not because it is in people's nature to cause troubles in the team. With that in mind, the lack of communication can be what makes conflicts unhealthy and may cause people to refrain from teamwork.

As opposed to unhealthy conflicts, healthy conflicts do not necessarily mean that the team members have to change their views to fit the opposing views. It is about mutual respect and understanding the other people's point of views in order to find a common ground for the team to move forward. An ideal team is not a conflict-free one but one that maintains healthy conflicts to keep the team functional and productive. Thus, transparency and clarity should be the main communication objectives in a group setting.

Re-Evaluation.

In contrast with single-functional teams, a cross-functional team is unique because of how adaptable they are to change. In response to the fast-changing environment the team is required to constantly re-evaluate their processes and determine success, in order to ensure goals are being met.

A cross-functional team is more likely to challenge the status quo and find better ways to do things.

Choosing the Right People.

Great people are the foundation of a great team, therefore it is crucial to meticulously define the right members for your team. Unlike single-functional teams where team members can lean on other individuals to share their workload, a cross-functional team is a group of experts who each have key tasks to contribute.

For example two designers may individually be able to produce a rebrand by themselves, and two web developers may each be able to create an ideal website, however in the team of one designer and one developer, they each have responsibility solely based on their skills.  

Although a cross-functional team requires people with different expertise, considering expertise alone does not mean the team will be as effective and functional as we may hope. Another factor that should be taken into consideration is personality. A group of solely introverts, or purely extroverts, may seem compatible personality-wise but it does not imply that it would be wise to put them together and expect things to run smoothly.

Getting the work done is critical but building a healthy team culture is vital for work to prosper. Besides picking the most skilled people, other aspects should be balanced as well. A balanced team will increase productivity and cohesiveness between team members.

Even the most impressive individual (on paper) can hold a toxic personality that'll disrupt your project. At Mäd, our team is core to success and we ensure that we are always bringing our A game to meet customer demands. Hence, our passion in finding 'M' shaped people, both in skills but also in compatibility.

The Mäd ‘M’ shaped person.
Once the T shape was introduced, thinkers suggested ‘why stop there’ and mused the Pi shape, the Comb and the X. Suitably, we enjoyed the thinking behind the ‘M’ shape and how it helps us succeed.

Conclusion.

Businesses serve a purpose, and usually that purpose is actually shaped by the customer. There’s an importance of harmonizing action with the end user in mind, and being aware of their key needs and expectations. As such, utilizing a cross-functional team will allow for a more considered approach to each task, adding multiple perspectives to healthy discussions.

Find people who grow together, learn together, influence positively, both listen and speak their mind (productively), and who share a common passion and positive team spirit.  Great leaders inspire great change, exceptional individuals produce exceptional results, and combining a fantastic fit of extraordinary talent can truly create spectacular things - so take the time to invest in intelligent hiring practices, team development strategies, and brilliant HR processes.