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Cross-functional teams, at least in theory, are good things for any organization. When employees are able to break out of their departmental silos and work closely with colleagues from other areas of the business, they have access to more information and a wider set of capabilities. When things go well, these teams are able to solve problems more quickly and effectively, giving the organization maximum value for its investment in each project or program.

get the most out of cross-functional teams

In reality, cross-functional teams rarely live up to their expectations. Team members often have difficulty communicating with colleagues with different skill sets and backgrounds, and feel obligated to stay loyal to their own department rather than fully committing to the team. In other cases, cross-functional teams simply lack leadership and eventually lose sight of their initial goals.

If your organization’s cross-functional teams are missing the mark, you’re not alone. A study recently published in the Harvard Business Review reported that 75 percent of cross-functional teams at the enterprise level are dysfunctional, costing companies hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Fortunately, by following a few simple strategies for cross functional project management, you can clear the obstacles and put your teams on the path to success.

Make Someone Accountable

Many cross-functional failures are rooted in a lack of accountability at the top. Researchers have found that project governance is often inadequate on cross-functional teams, resulting in slow progress and bad decision-making. No matter how many departments or divisions are involved, each project should have one leader who is fully accountable for the ultimate success or failure of the project. Whether that person is you or someone else on the team is up to you to decide.

Set Clear Expectations

One of the benefits of a cross-functional team is that it brings together employees with different backgrounds and perspectives. However, this mix of viewpoints can also create challenges in determining what success should look like. Team members from accounting may be highly focused on keeping the budget under control, for example, while engineers might place top priority on the functionality of the final deliverable. In order to prevent confusion or conflict, organizations should ensure that cross-functional teams are given very specific goals in areas such as budget, timeline and quality.

Encourage Collaboration

Even within the same organization, employees and teams can have radically different ways of approaching their work. Cross-functional teams can only be successful if team members are able to work their own way, while at the same time communicating effectively with colleagues who may be using a completely different methodology. A unified project management and collaboration tool like Clarizen can help keep the information flowing on even the most complex enterprise teams. Online collaboration also helps build personal connections that might be missing when employees are teamed up with people they have not worked with in the past.

Todd Valentine
Todd Valentine, Senior Product Manager