Managing Cross-Functional Teams

Balancing Team Needs and Functional Lines

© Veer
Garry

With a cross-functional team, it's important to communicate clearly and widely.

Barbara is a manager with more than 10 years of successful leadership experience.

She's been put in charge of a cross-functional team whose objective is to create a new way to package their company's products. She thought that she was prepared for this role, and she was really excited about working with such a diverse group of people. The trouble is, things aren't working out at all!

All of the members of the team are highly accomplished in their functional areas, so Barbara assumed she could leave them with their respective tasks – and then meet every so often to move the project forward. She does this with her regular team all the time, and they come back with excellent results. But that's not happening with this group.

Every meeting becomes an argument about which issues have the highest priority, and which perspective is the right one. In fact, every time people meet, there seems to be less progress than before, and people are obviously frustrated and de-motivated. Barbara thought that if she put together a team of responsible, highly capable individuals, they would be easy to manage. Instead, she feels as if they need one-on-one supervision to do even the smallest task.

Why is Barbara having so many problems?

The Uniqueness of Cross-Functional Teams

Cross-functional teams are significantly different from teams that are aligned on one functional level. For example, a group of marketing people generally "speak the same language," and they have a solid understanding of what their department is trying to accomplish. With a cross-functional team, you may have representatives from a wide array of specialties – finance, accounting, operations, legal, human resources – and each person has his or her own perspective and issues. This diversity is both the reason why cross-functional teams can be highly effective, but its also the reason that they're often problematic.

In this article, we'll look at the specific challenges of leading a cross-functional team versus a single-function team. And we'll show you how best to use the creativity and capabilities that a cross-functional team can provide.

Leadership is Essential

It's not enough to simply manage a cross-functional team - you must ...

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