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7 Simple Tips for Building Cross Functional Teams

Posted by Maggie Millard

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Aug 3, 2016 7:00:00 AM

Overwhelmed guyLast year, research by the Harvard Business Review found that 75% of cross-functional teams are dysfunctional, meaning that “They fail on at least three of five criteria: 1) meeting a planned budget; 2) staying on schedule; 3) adhering to specifications; 4) meeting customer expectations; and/or 5) maintaining alignment with the company’s corporate goals." Yikes.

According to the researchers, “Cross-functional teams often fail because the organization lacks a systemic approach. Teams are hurt by unclear governance, by a lack of accountability, by goals that lack specificity, and by organizations’ failure to prioritize the success of cross-functional projects.”

With a smart approach to cross-functional collaboration and some attention to the details, your cross-functional team does not have to be doomed. Try these tips to avoid the fate that so many have suffered.


#1 - Start with a Diverse Team

When people think of cross-functional teams, they often envision a team made up of members of different functional areas. But job description is only one way that people are diverse. It also makes sense to create a team that includes people who differ in experience, age, gender, location, skills, seniority, and engagement.

#2 - Include Influencers

In most organizations, there are individuals who others look to for direction. These people may not have any direct reports at all, but their opinions are highly regarded and they are trendsetters within the company. Make sure that they are involved in your collaborative improvement efforts. They will inspire others and increase engagement.

#3 - Involve Subject Matter Experts

There are people in your organization who know more about particular processes, procedures, products, and customers than anyone else. These are the people everyone turns to when they need help or have a question. Make sure that these folks are involved in your cross-functional teamwork. Not only does this help get problems solved and work done faster, but it also offers an opportunity for that valuable insight and information to be spread.

#4 - Don’t Over-Rely on Meetings

If every action or decision by your cross-functional team requires a meeting, you are probably in trouble. For one thing, scheduling is difficult, and people will resist participation on teams if they feel like they will be wasting a lot of time in unproductive meetings. Some meetings are necessary, of course, but many can be avoided with the use of a collaboration platform that makes it easy for everyone in the group to communicate and check in on the progress of projects at any time.

#5 - Measure and Promote the Impact of Team Work

Every time team collaboration results in a change, the impact of that change on the organization should be measured. Capturing and promoting these achievements is the best way to get others excited about cross-functional teamwork. It is also critical if you want to maintain executive enthusiasm for this kind of work.

# 6 - Embrace Random Collaboration

Not every cross-functional team needs to be formally composed and managed. A serendipitous meeting in the hallway or café might just yield an idea for the ages.  That’s why some companies like Google, Facebook, and others design their office space and break areas for the purpose of encouraging people from different parts of the company to bump into each other and chat.

# 7 - Align Goals

Never forget that people will do what you recognize and reward them for doing. If one department, for example, is measured only by the speed of production, while another is measured only by quality standards, they are at cross purposes and you will have a very hard time getting them to collaborate. Instead, be sure that every person and department’s goals are aligned with the over-arching company objectives. This will help keep everyone rowing in the same direction.

Some of the most innovative and impactful ideas we’ve seen have been the result of cross-functional collaboration. So while we’re sure that the failure rate reported by the Harvard Review is accurate, we do not believe it is inevitable. We hope these tips will lead to some fresh thinking and improve your odds of success.


The Savvy's Leader's Guide to Employee Engagement


Topics: Collaboration

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