08 Dec Cross-Functional Team – Benefits and Challenges
Sometimes, a project may demand expertise from various departments at every stage of development, which means you can’t really complete the task one after another passing through each department systematically. You need inputs from all of them simultaneously. What can you do? Experts from different fields are brought together to work towards the same goal and such a team of individuals with varied expertise is called a cross-functional team. For example, a new product development project demands collaboration between the product developer, marketing expert, sales expert, finance expert, and HR personnel to liaise between them and rope in talent. The success of such teams depends on the team members being motivated, goal-oriented, open-minded, accountable, and communicative with role clarity. This strategy has many advantages alongside a few disadvantages that I have mapped out here.
Let us start with the benefits
These are the primary benefits of a cross-functional team.
Success is entirely dependent on each and every member of the team. Everyone has to contribute else the goal cannot be achieved. This means that every member is equally important and no one can undermine the other’s efforts since everyone possesses different expertise. In a cross-functional team, you have to adapt to different personalities and eventually working styles. This creates employee engagement as you cannot adjust without interaction. When 10 brilliant minds work to deliver the same final product simultaneously, the processing time is considerably reduced and you can expect faster ROI.
Have you ever overheard the topic of conversation between a group of men or women or children? Their conversations inevitably revolve around sharing their experiences with respect to what they usually do or wish to do or something they saw or learned about; anything and everything pertaining to their lives and experiences. Similarly, when creative minds from different spheres of work come together, they naturally tend to engage in conversations and also brainstorm ideas. And often one thing leads to another and behold! You just brainstormed a new idea. So working among different perspectives makes work more interesting as you get more insights into the project and also drives innovation much to the envy of your competitors.
A successful project indicates top-notch communication skills. I am sure you know how much effort, brainstorming, meetings, reviews, sometimes disappointments, and even disagreements go into the making of the final product. But once the project is delivered, you realize how much communication has gone into every interaction in the course of the project. It’s not simply the expertise that makes a successful project but effective communication that absolutely adds value to the whole process. Can you imagine the havoc that can be wreaked based on a single miscommunication? And to constantly be in the loop with everyone throughout the journey is a skill that has to be cultivated over time. Hence, project managers must always ensure transparency in communication to maintain role clarity and accurate exchange of information between team members.
Opportunity to Upskill
Gaining deeper insights into a project and related hurdles give you a new perspective on your role. You realize the need to learn new skills that can help in further projects and eventually prove to be a stepping stone to career growth. You can reassess your strengths and areas of improvement in the light of the in-depth knowledge you accumulated over the course of your stint in a cross-functional team and also from generous inputs of team members. You will admit how precious valuable feedback and new expertise are to your career. Unity is desirable but in this case, you can definitely benefit from diversity.
Depending on the stage of project development, every member gets to lead the team at some point in time. When you get an opportunity to showcase your leadership skills, it adds excitement and a sense of duty towards your work which is good, right?
Let us talk about the challenges
Listed below are a few challenges I believe, you may face while adopting a cross-team collaborative approach.
Unity is a very important aspect of any team. Diverse talents are pooled in to further a common cause. Sometimes one or more team member’s perception may not be in tandem with the rest and leads to misunderstandings and lack of direction. Role clarity gets blurred by such misalignment of priorities.
When individuals who are experts in their respective fields brainstorm and discuss, it may lead to arguments and over discussion of ideas, and eventually you won’t be able to arrive at a consensus. This hampers the advancement and speed of the project work. Reversely, too little communication may also occur which leads to the same eventuality.
Projects managers should take the responsibility to encourage team members to share information with other teams and departments of the organization so they know the amount of progress made in a particular project and share insights on the working dynamics of a cross-functional team.
You must understand, creating such a team is not easy on the organizational chart. The top management has to factor in all the implications of this random cluster of experts and hence, is usually hesitant to adopt a collaborative approach between teams. Hoarding information also aggravates the resistance and creates trust issues.
Traditionally, it is easy to measure individual contributions towards team goals. Here, owing to diverse roles and inputs, sometimes individual roles are overshadowed by the concept of teamwork and team spirit followed by a lack of individual recognition and rewards. Technological disconnect might also add to the problem.
You and your organization can benefit from a cross-functional team, if managed effectively. All-round development of a project in real-time yielding ROI faster is the rationale behind the cross-functional strategy, and let me end with a quote I like by Ken Blanchard:
“None of us is as smart as all of us.”