Do you know what that refers to?
One of the biggest consumer products ever developed was built by a secret, cross-functional team made up of the best designers and engineers from Apple.
Does that mean your team should do the same? I don’t mean have secret company projects (though that is an option) but rather, should your organization embrace cross-functional teams?
This is by no means a frivolous question.
The decision you make can trigger extensive ramifications affecting how projects and products are created and finished.
Traditionally, most teams take an assembly line approach, with each worker contributing to their section in the line. One person designs, places, or creates an element, attaches it to the product and then moves onto the next.
But there’s another way: when team members of different skills, talents and interests are combined to work quickly and deliver a new product.
Cross-functional teams can also tackle a particular problem, like improving sales or opening a new manufacturing plant.
In this post, we’ll examine the pros of building a cross-functional team and the problems that may accompany the process, as well.
The Pros of Cross-Functional Teams
1. Collaborative Culture
When you create and implement cross-functional teams, you create relationships that extend beyond the project. You’re creating shared experiences that colleagues and team members can remember and refer back to. This is especially true as your team grows from an all-hands-on-deck mentality to a specialty mentality. As your team grows, the bonds between one another will either become stretched or non-existent. Creating an efficient, cross-functional teams can create life-long bonds.bonds.
Keep in mind, if everyone is out of their element, nothing is sacred. Meaning that if this is a new working relationship, then there’s no “turf” to defend. Everyone is free to work together.
You don’t always know where your next great idea will come from.
Team members who design different use cases, retain unique skill sets, or behave in culturally “abnormal” ways will have a different perspective on how your product or service works and functions. Cross-functional teams can reveal biases and generate new and interesting ideas for a path forward on key decisions.
3. Better teamwork and management skills
Ever taken a personality test? What you’ll find is that people in similar jobs have similar personalities. What that means is that salespeople never have to deal with someone other than people exactly like them. That’s good in a lot of respects, yet it can also hinder the overall development of a team leader or manager. If and when you get to the top, you’ll have to talk to lots of different people. Working within a cross-functional team will give you exposure to an array of personalities and help you develop better interpersonal skills.
4. Better team communication
There are lots of ways to improve your team communication. Working in a cross-functional team helps you to define roles, communicate tasks clearly and work through strengths and weaknesses that you may not know you had. On a team like this, cross-functional collaboration is the name of the game. That means better listening, more patience and a focus on the tasks at hand.
5. Work quickly
The idea for a cross-functional team is to have all the necessary people, representing different skill sets in one place. Because of that fact, team members can look across the table or leave a quick comment in their project management tool and get feedback quickly. No more 2-week waits for approval by email. Therefore, cross-functional teams can ramp up the pace at which they produce, and churn out MVPs or new concepts faster than they could on a siloed team.
6. Continuous improvement
This is one of those business jargon words that can get frequently thrown around a lot, especially if you’re in a big corporation. But here’s what it really means: how can we get better at what we’re already doing?
If you’re part of a nimble company or startup, this seems like a no-brainer. Aren’t you always trying to get better? Technically yes. But if you have a massive organization with multiple product or service lines, new improvements don’t just happen with the snap of a finger. It can be easy to look over a company’s landscape and realize that it’s hopeless. Continuous improvement can be a dedicated effort to change those small things before they balloon into a monstrosity.
What does this have to do with cross-functional teams? The greater engagement that a team has with its issues, the more a team member feels like they can speak up. It doesn’t mean their idea will necessarily be accepted no questions asked–but it does get the communication flowing.
Cross-functional teams will expose more individuals to different parts of the business and products, where they can then test and see what needs to be improved. And hopefully, make their voice be heard.
Scrum & Agile Cross-Functional Teams
The popularity of cross-functional teams has risen in conjunction with the popularity of agile methodologies, like scrum. Scrum teams consist of cross-functional capabilities, so that no work has to be done outside of the team for a given project or task. Scrum teams include a product owner who sets the specs and scope and marketability; the development team who create the product; and the Scrum Master who works as a project manager keeping the project on task. This is supposed to help foster the best ideas and to be flexible while allowing the best ideas to flourish. Because of the incremental nature of delivery, Scrum teams can alter product deliverables while in process, instead of waiting for the product or app to go to market. That way a viable product is always available, but is always being improved. For more hacks on how to run your agile teams, check out this post.
How Many People Should be on a Cross-Functional Team?
Great question. It depends on how much work there is to do, but Scrum teams are recommended to be between three and nine people. Any more than that and the silo problem comes back. You can probably form two separate teams with more than ten members. The scope of the work and the amount that has to be done will impact this decision, as well as achieving individual sprint goals and milestones.
What size makes sense to you? The experts from Wharton Business School suggest five or six, but also acknowledge its age-old question. On a cross-functional team, it may depend on which roles need to be filled, but 12 or under seems like a good rule of thumb.
Problems of Cross-Functional Teams
However, everything doesn’t come up roses for cross-functional teams. Hurdles can stop cross-functional teams from achieving their highest potential. In fact, 75 percent of cross-functional teams fail, according to a report from the Harvard Business Review. Here are some of the problems that arise:
1. Silos don’t stop
According to the HBR article, silos from departments don’t stop. We mentioned this above, but it’s true: like-minded people like working with others like them. What can you do to remedy this? Intentionality and solid communication. If you’re leading a cross-functional team, you have to be aware of this from the beginning and then promote cross-collaborative efforts to break down those walls. And that’s not easy.
2. Who’s the leader?
Nope, it won’t do if your quality assurance teammates are going back to their old boss to complain. They have to know that isn’t their project anymore. Within a cross-functional team, a clear structure has to be developed and the old hierarchy has to be gone. The new cross-functional team needs a team leader or manager that’s in charge and accountable from beginning to end on the best decisions.
3. No clear objectives
All the pros listed above really work out when there are clear goals established. That way team members know when they’re making progress and can see an end in sight. This is especially true if the cross-functional team will only be together for a short period of time.
4. How long are we going to do this?
How long is this cross-functional team together? Is this a “permanent” arrangement or will team members move back to their old roles and old managers? It’s important to let team members know this from the beginning, so expectations are in line. If some team members liked their old setup, but have special skills on the cross-functional teams, they can still be a positive contributor to the team. If they’re aren’t sure how long it’ll last, they could be frustrated and disgruntled.
Why Project Management Software Like ClickUp Can Help
1. Keep People Accountable.
Do you know one of the top reasons why cross-functional teams fail? It’s because people miss too many meetings and aren’t held accountable. With productivity software and a project management tool like ClickUp, your team can comment, assign comments and communicate even if a meeting is missed. Meetings become a place for successes and addressing key problems, not just status updates. If your team realizes this, they’ll know that when a meeting is called, it’s essential that they attend.
2. Set Clear Tasks and Details
Remember what we said about good communication? The success of your cross-functional team is built on this. A productivity platform like ClickUp gives you plenty of room to set up spaces, projects, and task lists to make sure your work is in order. It’s a central place to store all of your details and information so nothing gets lost.
3. Flexible And Customizable For Different People
If you’re on cross-functional team, this could be one of your first debates: what project management tool will we use? This is difficult, because some people probably want to use Excel because that’s all they know. Others (like engineers or developers) may opt for something more complex like Microsoft Project or JIRA. These have a high-learning curve.
An advantage to ClickUp is that it has multiple types of views and is set up to be used by different types of high-performance teams, while still retaining the same information. Like a board view? You got it. What about a list? Yep. A calendar where you can change due dates? It’s yours.
Everyone on your cross-functional team can respond and view work the way they like.
In addition, ClickUp excels as a project management tool for cross-functional teams since it allows for complete customization of Spaces, to include Projects, Lists and Tasks relevant to any cross-functional job.
A Space could be set to the name of the job and the projects could be made for each of the team member’s specific focus, such as a project for design, development and more. At that point, the following Lists and tasks can be customized from there depending on the needs of each Team Member and the requirements of the job.
When it comes to cross-functional team collaboration, ClickUp’s Spaces have the perfect amount of structure and customization for different roles, while also allowing collaboration on tasks regardless of your specialty.
Have we answered your question yet? Are cross-functional teams worth it? Do the pros outweigh the problems? Ultimately, the key lies in the execution.
How willing is your team to work together? Are they willing to break down their silos and embrace something new?
In a cross-functional team, each voice is appreciated and recognized for what they contribute–and each role is essential to the project’s success as failure. In other words, there is no backup. You are responsible for your own work.
Point is, not everyone may be cut out to work on a cross-functional team. If you’re the team lead, be mindful of that when you’re putting your team together. And then once it is created, be aware of the difficulties and work hard to make sure you have the opportunity to succeed.