Cross-functional team is becoming a dominant form of organisation in the business world. This trend is accelerated by the fact that digital technologies are now impacting every organisation, becoming the new normal. Yet, being able to quickly setup and deploy cross-functional teams also embeds complexity for people, projects and organisations. Therefore, which best-practices can be leveraged to optimise the collaboration within and between cross-functional team in order to reach the desired performance levels?
What is a cross-functional team?
A cross-functional team is a group of individuals with a different set of capabilities and skills that collaborate to reach a common objective. The underlying idea is that the level capabilities and skills required to deliver projects has become too complex, wide and evolve too fast for team with a fixed knowledge-base and experience. Innovation is moving so fast that organisation need to reshuffle teams according to priorities on a yearly, monthly or sometimes on a weekly basis. People need to adapt constantly (some will talk about agility) and team needs to work efficiently from day one in order to deliver their project objectives.
Why deploying high-performance cross-functional teams matter for organisations
Here are a few facts about the importance of cross functional teams for companies:
- In ten years, the number of cross functional teams has increased 5 fold: this trend has been accelerated by the digital transformation underway in all industries, the democratisation of agile principles and the emergence of new type of management such as holacracy (strongly pushed by generational shifts)...
- 75% of cross-functional teams do not collaborate efficiently according to a research paper published in the Harvard Business Review in 2015
- On average 10% of companies investments are wasted du to inefficient project collaboration: cross-functional teams are heavily concerned as they are now the standard type of organisation for large projects and investments
- Globally, inefficient team collaboration is estimated to cost 2 billion dollars a year to organisations
The challenges of cross-functional teams
Team governance in cross-functional setup
Lack of hierarchical links between team members and plurality of opinions can hamper decision-making.
Sharing information and silos-working
The difference in profiles (work culture, knowledge and individual personalities) generates natural friction that can promote the retention of information
The established systems are not called into question: the status quo is considered to be given. Organisational systems do little or nothing to encourage people's curiosity.
Lack of empathy and misalignment
Failure to recognise the perspective of the other is a source of organisational conflict. There is too little incentive for individuals to learn from others: to make diversity an asset.
These challenges come up with two striking paradoxes when interviewing cross-functional teams and project team members:
- Paradox 1:
Individuals favour “vertical” relationships but recognise that it is “horizontal” relationships that create the most value for the client.
- Paradox 2:
The prerequisites for complex projects (team size, framework, diversity, skills, etc.) also represent a significant obstacle to success.
Therefore, the critical challenge that leaders and organisations have to face is how to make teams collaborate more efficiently?
Which solution to unlock the potential of cross-functional teams?
Research from the Institute for Neuro & Behavioural Project Management 70% of team performance is related to human factors. Therefore, how to unlock the people dimension of cross functional teams?
You can only act on what you can measure
Many tools and methodologies are developed for traditional team and project management: GANTT charts, project backlog, milestone tracking and status reports. However, there is another dimension that need to be taken into account: people impression about how the team is doing.
Team health checks as a people-centric solution to improve team collaboration and performance
Team or project health checks tools are solution that enable everyone in the team to share its impression about the project on a regular basis and anonymously. Data are aggregated and analysed to produce a report about what is working well and what can be improved in the team. The results are shared with every team members and are used as a basis for discussion.
Sharing and acting upon feedback as a strong vector of team performance
Research conducted by Google (Project Aristotle) showed that the best performing teams are mixed teams where the psychological safety and the feedback culture is the strongest.
As a conclusion, if you are part of a cross-functional team you should consider focusing on creating and maintaining a strong dialogue within the group: that will lead to a superior performance and working experience for all.
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