How to make a cross-functional team

7 steps to building a highly effective cross-functional team

If you’ve been in business long enough, you know that there are inevitable growing pains to overcome along the way – and they’re not always directly about sales, profits or finding efficiencies. Problems with creating an innovative team, encouraging collaboration and developing your brand strategy and company culture can all wreak havoc if you don’t have a plan in place. One strategy that can fix all of these problems is to build cross-functional teams.

Take the reins now and learn how to create cross-functional teams that will help your business succeed. With effective leadership and the support of a diverse crew, you’ll find renewed energy and problem-solving resources – and your team will build strong relationships and a thriving company culture.

What is a cross-functional team?

A cross-functional team is comprised of diverse members who have varying skill sets and come from different departments of a company, such as marketing, sales, product development, engineering and HR. They’re set up in order to facilitate creative problem solving and encourage innovation within an organization. They’re often created in addition to a company’s usual structure in order to solve a specific problem, but they can also be the primary organizational structure. The cross-functional team definition can apply to any industry and any size organization.

In a cross-functional team, all participants bring unique skills and drive to the collaborative environment. By harnessing talent from all levels of your organization into one team, you’ll encourage the sharing of new ideas and opinions that each department may not have thought of on its own. In short, the definition of a cross-functional team is one that leverages your firm’s deepest asset: its people.

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The main benefits of cross-functional teams

When done right, cross-functional teams do two things: First, they build a healthy, collaborative culture that allows every participant to exercise his or her full problem-solving capacity. Second, they distribute the workload so that no one person or department shoulders an undue burden. The most important answer to “What is a cross-functional team?” for business owners is that, when done right,  they’re a way to find efficiencies, boost collaboration and ultimately increase profits.

Achieving a healthy workplace culture

A healthy workplace environment is becoming more and more important as millennials enter the workforce. This generation, more than any other, values finding a home away from home with their colleagues and will leave a job quickly if they are unhappy at work. Having a cross-functional team allows team members to interact and collaborate freely so they are able to develop and harvest innovative ideas and strategies. The entire team shares responsibility. Well-designed cross-functional teams are also staffed with a mixture of personality types, leadership styles and professional skills, which builds inherent agility into the team.


Balancing the workload


As a business owner, having effective cross-functional teams is your key to peace of mind and successful business outcomes. Having a team of competent, like-minded professionals means the difference between being a business operator and a business owner. Nurturing a cross-functional team allows you to transition from being a business operator (someone who fails to delegate effectively and, as a result, is overwhelmed) to a powerful business owner (someone who not only understands his or her own goals, strengths and working style, but also strives to infuse that understanding into the collaborative team).

How to build a cross-functional team

You can’t just put people in a room together and expect them to come up with the next iPhone. The essential word in “cross-functional team” is functional. Successful teams need strong leadership, clear goals and a pathway to get there that’s aligned with your company strategy and culture.

1. Start with leadership

For any cross-functional team, having focused leadership is essential for success. As Tony Robbins says, one of the six basic leadership skills is being able to inspire others by discovering our own strengths and encouraging employees to do the same. Choose a leader who does this well: The team will produce consistently higher results, even in the leader’s absence. 

The cross-functional team must also thrive under the leadership style you choose. Common leadership styles include servant, democratic, visionary, coaching, affiliative, pacesetting and commanding approaches. There is no right or wrong leadership style, and the one you choose will hinge on your team members’ personalities, temperaments and skill sets.


2. Determine working styles


Since cross-functional teams bring different skills, communication methods and personalities to the table, you must also understand your team members’ working styles. Whether they prefer to work independently, in collaboration with others or alongside others, your team members’ styles will impact the systems you put in place to organize workflow. You’ll also be able to facilitate better communication and therefore get better results when you understand each person’s style.

3. Combine different personalities

It’s not enough to identify working styles and skills – you need to combine them in a way that encourages collaboration. An effective cross-functional team must have many different departments and levels of experience represented. While senior management and executives usually aren’t involved in this type of team, be sure to include all other levels and all relevant departments to get the best mix of ideas.

The best teams also have each type of business personality represented: an artist, a leader and an entrepreneur. Take our business identity quiz to find where your team’s passions lie and discover the complementary personality types you need to recruit for effective cross-functional teams.

combine different personalities in a cross functional team

4. Have clearly defined goals

have clearly defined cross to succeed in a cross functional team

Even the best cross-functional team will flounder if you don’t give them clear, actionable goals to achieve. Define your goals before you even create your team, since the goals inform who you decide will be on the team. Ask yourself what you want the team to achieve and who can best propel the company toward that goal.

While long-term and big-picture goals will always come from you, you should also empower your cross- functional team to develop short-term goals among themselves. Ask your team to create smaller SMART goals they will need to achieve over a certain period of time in order to reach the larger goal.

5. Celebrate successes

A good cross-functional team will thrive on success – and they will want to be acknowledged for it. Celebrating successes encourages the team to work together and help each other, rather than focusing only on their part of the project. When you recognize achievements, you’re not just recognizing the accomplishment itself – you’re recognizing the communication, teamwork and collaboration it took to get there. So make sure you take the time to celebrate when you have a big win, as this will inspire the team to work even harder.

celebrate success to succeed in a cross functional team

6. Provide the right tools

provide the right tools to achieve success in a cross functional team

If you have a large cross-functional team or one that needs to communicate frequently, it’s easy for things to get confusing. Make it easier on everyone by implementing project management software that will help everyone stay on track and on the same page. Consider also providing a chat tool, like Slack, Skype or Microsoft Teams, where you can create groups to stay in touch about certain topics. Finally, cross-train team members on the tools that other departments involved in the team use. You’ll provide professional development and be prepared if any team members are out of the office.

7. Commit to constant improvement

Your cross-functional team is extremely agile because of the broad range and mix of skill sets and talents, and they need to continue growing. This means constant re-evaluation and tweaking to make sure each member is reaching their potential. Cross-functional teams are also often created to perform just one task or goal, like getting a product to market faster or providing innovative advertising ideas. Once the goal is reached, evaluate the team performance and any takeaways that will help you be even more effective next time.

commit to constant improvement to succeed in a cross functional team

Cross-functional teams are an excellent tool to have in your business management toolbox. Now that you know exactly what a cross-functional team is and how you can build one, all that’s left is to get out there and excel.

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