The Art of Managing a Cross-Functional Team

Harvard Business Review did a study which found that a a whopping 75% of cross-functional teams were dysfunctional!

Here’s why these work styles have failed to work:

  • Lack of accountability
  • Lack of clear governance
  • Goals that lack specificity
  • Failure to prioritize
  • Not meeting budget
  • Not meeting customer expectations
  • Failure to stay on schedule
  • No alignment with company vision and mission

So, what’s the best way to make cross-functional teams more productive?  We’ve broken down the skills required, along with some key strategies for keeping team members engaged and happy.

Best Practices of Successful Cross-Functional Team Leaders

Get stakeholder buy-in

Without cross-functional manager-buy-in, the project will lose momentum and may slide off the rails, into oblivion.

Getting the support of someone high-up in your company hierarchy will work wonders. Now you need to expand that to each manager that your team reports to. If your team senses that their boss is invested in the project, they will work extra hard to generate great ideas and will make it a priority to meet all budgeting and scheduling goals. Without cross-functional manager-buy-in, the project will lose momentum and may slide off the rails, into oblivion.

Bring out the best in your team members 

Cross-functional team managers usually don’t choose their team members so they’ve got to figure out how to best work with each person. Understanding their team member’s strengths and personal skillsets and planning accordingly will allow your team to reach its maximum potential.

Understand who makes decisions

Establish right away how decisions are going to be made and who must be involved. Do your team members have the authority to make decisions? Are you going to need to engage their managers or other stakeholders?

Whether it’s someone high up the food chain making decisions or if decisions will be made by consensus, be consistent and your team won’t get bogged down in long meetings or arguments. This will also help a cross-functional team leader in terms of accountability and team buy-in.

Encourage regular communication

GettyImages-1213470229Communication is what keeps a team feeling like a team. In the absence of a water cooler, build a centralized team dashboard, and use collaboration tools.

Chat to each member often, learn what makes them tick and what motivates them. Get them to reach out to their fellow team members to discuss progress and to problem-solve. 

Webex Teams is a very useful tool for team communication and Miro is great for whiteboard work.

Schedule check-in meetings with clear agendas

Open-ended meetings are killers. They waste time, energy and momentum. Prior to a meeting, send team members the list of topics and stick to it. Use online forums so that anyone, at any time, can add an issue or idea for discussion. Reach out and remind people to do this.

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Manage meeting contribution

Make sure everyone can contribute and task someone to manage this. Don’t let the “talkers” take over – keep things on track.   Meetings can quickly deteriorate into a series of endless anecdotes and jokes, so keep things moving with regular, structured, brief meetings that serve the project, not the egos of team members.

Expect innovation

Allow creative, out-of-the-box thinking from your team members and you’ll be rewarded with innovative ideas. At the same time, if a once-promising idea has hit a dead-end, cut your losses and move on.

Celebrate small wins

Create intermediate objectives for your team; little milestones that can be recognized and enjoyed as a victory. By breaking up a project into smaller pieces, it will make the entire process less daunting. This also makes it easier to adapt to changing team members which is a common theme with cross-functional teams.

A strong cross-functional leader encourages people to drop their old habits and preconceptions.

Avoid the “silo” mentality

Team members who have spent a long time in their previous job or department will often want to do things the way they always have. They may also feel that their department is more important and effective than any other. That’s the “silo” mentality.

A strong cross-functional leader encourages people to drop their old habits and preconceptions; to embrace new ways of looking at things in order to arrive at a unique solution.

Paying heed to the above list will lead to improved coordination across functional areas, increased innovation in product and process, and reduced cycle time for key customer touchpoints.

At Virtira, we've had a lot of success working with cross-functional teams. If you’d like to talk about ways of improving the process and the results of your current or future cross-functional team, reach out.

If you want to learn more about how to manage a virtual team, follow along on our Thought Leadership page for up-to-date tips and strategies.

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