Almost all industries are segmented, but sometimes big changes require creating a team with representation from all sides of the business. Here are the basics of working with cross-functional teams.
Today’s post is by Mike Figliuolo, Managing Director of thoughtLEADERS.
Imagine an orchestra made up of nothing but trumpets. Imagine a baseball team of all catchers. Imagine a medical team that’s nothing but radiologists. Those aren’t good situations.
A cross-functional team is a group of people with different functional expertise working toward a common goal. It can include people from finance, marketing, operations and HR, and other key functional areas.
Employees from different levels usually participate on a cross-functional team. The team might include frontline operators, managers and directors, you may have analysts and project managers on the team. There may be other job families involved. These teams can also include people from outside the organization like suppliers, customers, or consultants. The important thing to note about a cross-functional team is you’re bringing together people with different experiences, different perspectives, and different skill sets to jointly solve a problem or implement an initiative.
Different perspectives and skills are designed to give you a higher chance of success since you’re involving relevant experts from relevant areas. If you get the opportunity to lead a cross-functional team, I encourage you to jump at that chance. You’re going to learn so much about different functions that you may never have experienced before and you’re going to see the power of bringing together those diverse perspectives and experiences and pointing them toward a common objective.
There are three common types of cross-functional teams. One type is operating within a business unit or a function. They include key experts from outside that business unit or function. For example, I worked in the division of a company and we were putting in a new phone system. The entire team was comprised of people from within our business unit, however, we had a couple of key experts from outside that unit. We had somebody from telephonye and IT as a member of that team.
The second type of cross-functional team cuts across multiple business units or works at a corporate or enterprise level. I was lucky enough to lead one of these cross-functional teams across the enterprise. We were doing a cost reduction project across every single business unit. I had team members from every single business unit, as well as team members from the various functions.
A third type of cross-functional team operates across multiple organizations. Things like an industry association can form a cross-functional team. I worked with one industry association where they had their own team from within the association, but they also had team members from various companies that the association represented.
You’ll most commonly be dealing with cross-functional teams that are within a business unit or function. They’re the most common, they’re self-contained, and they’re working on projects like the ones you’re most commonly working on. If you get a chance to work on or lead the other types of cross-functional teams, take advantage of the opportunity. They’re great learning experiences. You’re going to learn a lot about different functions in the organization and also learn a lot about yourself in the process.
When is the time right?
Cross-functional teams should be built when a project has a defined scope, that scope impacts multiple functional areas, and when the expertise required to successfully complete the project is not available only in the group leading the project. Scope determines which functions are or are not impacted. Without a clearly defined scope statement, it’s going to be hard to gather resources since people can claim they have higher priorities and their area isn’t in scope.
With a well-defined scope, it becomes clear whether or not you need a cross-functional team. If the scope calls for skills your team lacks or requires working with other groups, you’re going to have to build a cross-functional team. It’s rare for a team to have all the support functions and perspectives it needs for every project it works on. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples.
I was working on a major technology replacement. This required technology changes. It had telephone impacts. This project was going to change our financial reporting. It would have impacts on our call center, on our associates, and their workflows. It was going to change the associate desktops. It was going to fundamentally alter our operations. We needed a big cross-functional team in that situation.
I had another project where I ran a strategy and analysis team. We were going to make changes to the commissions we paid to some of our external agency partners. We own this function. We own the call center. We had the agency management function. The reporting was already built, there would be no changes there. We didn’t have any technology changes we needed to make.
We did not need a cross-functional team in that situation since we had all the resources we needed to make those changes. The easiest way to determine if you need a cross-functional team or not is to ask if your team has all the resources and expertise required to carry out an initiative. If the answer’s no, you likely need to build a cross-functional team.
Want to learn more about managing cross-functional teams? How about taking an entire course on it? Check out the video below to learn more about the course and get started. Or you can go directly to the course and start learning how to assess and improve your strategic plans. The entire course is available at LinkedIn Learning. Enjoy!
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