A cross functional team is a powerful business tool, but it can also be a thing of beauty to watch. Basketball is a great example, and since the NBA finals are going on, it seems like a fitting analogy. Basketball is a cross functional sport. Each player on the floor has a role that’s vital to the outcome. The ball never "sticks" with any player for too long and you can see the players anticipate each other's movements and needs and act together as one. When it works, it’s a thing of beauty and when it doesn’t the team loses and goes home. I doubt anyone reading this is an NBA basketball coach, but there are still a few things we can learn from the way a successful franchise builds its team.
Clearly Define Roles and Responsibilities
In basketball you need bigmen, ball handlers, and shooters. They all have different offensive and defensive assignments and can rely on everyone on the floor to effectively execute their own specialty. Business teams are no different. The first step to building an effective cross functional team is to outline everyone’s role and ensure the players (or employees) know that no one person is expected to - or should - do everything.
Foster a Shared Vision
A successful NBA team is one where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Five players on the floor think and act like digits on the same hand. Of course, a lot of that comes from practice and chemistry developed playing together over time, but a great deal of it is also a shared vision. They strive to give more and work harder because they believe in the team's ultimate goal of a championship, they want it personally as much as the team does. A successful team shares a vision, a goal that drives each member.
Institutionalize Feedback and Measurement
Sports have been in the big data business for years. Baseball has been tracking practically every possible stat for over one hundred and fifty years. The NBA recently installed high speed cameras at all their arenas that even measure how many miles a player runs in a game. Players never have to wonder how they are performing in relationship to their past results and to other players. Coaches are able to analyze what works best in particular situations in order to make adjustments accordingly. In the same way, business teams should use institutional memory and structured success measurement to guide decisions and demonstrate their effectiveness.
Reward the Champions
At the end of the playoffs, one team gets to hold up the shiny trophy and each of the players gets a huge championship ring. Businesses don’t usually win championships and team members don’t get rings, but there are still wins and successes that need to be recognized. Even if they aren't spraying champagne on each other in the locker room, recognizing those "winning moments" can go a long way in bringing your team together toward one goal.
Victory in basketball and business is a reward for working hard together. Creating a culture that supports cross functional collaboration will help lay the foundation for many big wins to come.
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