6 Tips for Forming Successful Cross-Functional Teams

Whether you’re part of a company with 50,000 employees or five, there’s no reason you and your team should work in a “bubble” with minimal or no interaction with other teams. Still, for whatever reason, oftentimes people from different departments don’t work on projects together.

A cross-functional team is another phrase that is thrown around the workplace, but it does serve a very real and tangible purpose. This term is referring to a group of people with different skill sets and expertise that work together for a common goal. For example, marketing and customer service, IT and SEO are all departments where it makes sense to collaborate.

Think about it, there probably have been projects that your team or another team have undergone that could have achieved so much more if employees had collaborated together. As the manager, you should make it a priority to capitalize on times where cross-functional teams can serve as a competitive advantage. Your planning abilities can be greatly enhanced when you involve others in the process.

By encouraging others to participate, you elicit more creative and innovative ideas for solving problems, and with more ideas, you find the best solutions. Early inclusion of peers and team members creates buy-in with those who can best support you in successfully implementing your vision for the project.

Some managers operate in a fashion where they value individual contributors more so than teamwork. The issue with this mindset is that they may make decisions in a vacuum and base those decisions on their limited perspective, emotions, or impatience to reach closure. If you listen more closely to others’ opinions, open up your decision-making processes, and make more of an effort to develop and work within teams, more will get accomplished.

However, like so many aspects of management, this is easier said than done. When you decide that a project could use a cross-functional team, you have to make sure that the right people are selected. You need to first identify who has the best skill sets along, with ensuring they have enough enthusiasm and passion for the project. You might need to call on your manager or another senior level executive to help you identify the best employees for this project.

Here are six tips to keep in mind:

  • Assess your decision-making style and pay attention to the extent to which you solicit others’ ideas. Look for opportunities to use a more participation-based approach.
  • Identify ways to build ongoing relationships with stakeholders outside the team and to create opportunities for team members to interact with them.
  • Encourage cooperation, rather than competition, between different work units.
  • Make sure groups set their goals in harmony with one another and that the goals are mutually supportive.
  • Encourage everyone involved to speak a common language. To avoid alienating outside groups, educate them and help them to understand the “lingo” of the team.
  • Success depends on successfully executing both the immediate short-term objectives and plans and the long-term strategic plans. To balance both long and short-term goals, review the work that you and your team have done in the last quarter. Determine whether enough has been accomplished on both short and long-term issues. If the balance is not right for your priorities, re-prioritize how you and your team are spending time.

While a big contributing factor to the success of the project does depend on how well the team works together, you’re not off the hook. Like many other aspects of an organization’s culture, good teamwork begins with managers showing their commitment to the concept of teams.

Once you and your team are “all in,” your cross-functional team could become the model for the company to get projects accomplished.

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