— October 10, 2018
As organizations take on challenges that require increasingly innovative and agile solutions, the value of cross-functional teams is becoming more evident than ever. Bringing together the resources and skills from employees across different departments and functions, these teams are capable of delivering better and faster results if they are well-organized and managed effectively. Through teamwork and collaboration, they can become an invaluable asset to an organization.
Cross-functional teams also present some unique challenges. Their structure and how they function often differs significantly from what people are accustomed to, so careful consideration must be given both to how they are formed and how they are managed. Many of these teams also need to have access to practical tools to be successful. Here are a few best practices that can enable cross-functional teams to perform more productively.
1: Promote Frequent Communication
It’s difficult to overstate how vital good communication is to the success of cross-functional work teams. Whether the team is colocated or virtual, establishing and maintaining clear communication guidelines ensures that everyone will always have the information they need to do their respective jobs. This allows team members to focus on their responsibilities with minimal distractions, confusion, and contradictions. Good communication fosters better collaboration, helping teams come together to solve problems, manage conflict effectively, and make decisions faster. Regardless of their structure, most teams benefit greatly from information sharing.
Expectations and standards for how the team communicates need to be clearly defined from the beginning, with special emphasis placed on transparency, honesty, and collaboration. Since many team members will be coming from different departments and may be accustomed to different expectations in terms of communication, it’s important to clarify how the team will share information and express opinions. Team members should also be aware of who needs to informed about specific issues, as well as when and how to contact them. Employees who tend to work more independently may also need some guidelines for how to work in an environment that promotes teamwork and collaboration. Regular meetings, dedicated software channels, and frequent status updates can all help team members feel like they’re up to speed on the team’s current status and ongoing goals. Good communication can also improve cross-departmental collaboration in general.
2: Establish and Maintain Processes
The members of cross-functional work teams often come from different departments or functions and may not share the same approach to achieving goals. In some cases, they may be accustomed to a different workflow, use different formats and templates to collect and report data, or use different software to communicate and track progress. They may also use different metrics to measure success, causing them to focus on areas that other team members don’t feel are very important to the team’s goals. And they may not be used to a decision-making process in which no one has clear authority to make those decisions.
By standardizing work processes and clarifying roles to support teamwork and collaboration, team members can ensure consistency and continuity across functions and departments, which will ultimately improve workflow and enhance performance. Establishing who has decision-making authority in the event of disagreements is also important because it helps resolve potential conflict and keep the team focused on its goals.
Having a process in place that clearly outlines how the team works also makes cross-functional work teams scalable across an organization. In some cases, this may require service level agreements between departments that increase the likelihood of cross-departmental collaboration.
3: Organize Regular Team Building Activities
Cross-functional team best practices show that teams are far more effective when there is trust and accountability between team members. When teams lack these qualities, people become less engaged, deflect responsibility, and even exhibit negative behaviors that further undermine productivity. Since cross-functional teams are made up of people from different departments, they may lack an inherent sense of trust that an internal team drawn from the same department of function may possess.
While trust is best built over time as team members demonstrate credibility, reliability, and empathy throughout the course of their work, team building activities that give them a chance to get to know each other can accelerate this process. Frequent face to face meetings, celebrating wins, and even engaging in fun activities that are not specifically work related are just a few examples of easily implemented team-building strategies. Learning about the people they are working with helps team members cultivate a climate in which they can trust and confide in each other without the fear of judgement. This makes them more likely to engage in productive collaboration and propose innovative solutions to difficult challenges facing the team, making team building one of the key best practices for all forms of teams.
4: Measure Performance From Multiple Angles
While it’s good to consider ways to bring team members closer together and encourage better collaboration, at some point, cross-functional work teams still have to deliver results. Every team should put a clear set of goals in place when they are formed to ensure that everyone understands what the team is trying to accomplish and what their individual roles are in making progress toward those goals. Highlighting Key Performance Indicators (KPI) that directly relate to those goals makes it possible to determine how well the team is performing and to hold team members accountable for the results.
Employee surveys and other feedback tools can also shed some light on the team’s performance. The results of this review often identify problem areas that affect productivity and hinder effective collaboration. By exposing these impediments and deficiencies quickly, organizations can implement changes to get the team back on track. When administered regularly, these practical feedback tools can help teams determine whether or not problems represent long term, structural failings or represent more fleeting issues that can be easily remedied with a few simple changes.
Outside evaluations are also an important way of measuring performance. If independent stakeholders such as customers and clients are displeased with the team’s results, this external feedback can be used to identify which processes and behaviors need to be adjusted in order to improve the team’s performance. Functional communication training and onboarding programs may be needed if the team is consistently failing to meet expectations.
Building effective cross-functional work teams can be a serious challenge for an organization, but it doesn’t have to be an impossible one. By taking a few easily implemented practices to heart, they can give team members the tools and support they need to achieve the goals set out before them. Developing a consistent approach to cross-functional teams and incorporating key best practices also makes it easier to organize them whenever they are needed.