Strategies Virtual Managers Use to Keep Cross-Functional Teams Organized

Imagine a beast that was in ten, twenty, or even thirty places at once, doing ten, twenty, or thirty things at once. Imagine also that this beast had no head, just a lot of limbs sticking out every which way.

Cross-functional projects, even in the best of times, add work to what’s usually an already-packed day job.

Now…imagine trying to tame this beast. It might be easier teaching a grizzly bear how to fetch.

But that’s the challenge of trying to keep a cross-functional team, or X-team, on track and above all else - productive. Cross-functional teams are usually comprised of people reporting to different managers, usually in different locations, who don’t report to the team lead (hence, no head). And if you’re a part of this beast, you may feel like pulling out your fur every now and then.

What’s tricky about cross-functional projects, even in the best of times, is they add work to what’s usually an already-packed day job. They’re complex tasks, even if you’re working in the same office with the others. But when you’re all working remotely, it can seem like the last challenge in the world you want to take on. Even so, there are things you can do to tame the beast and keep team members engaged. Here are some tips guaranteed to help your X-Team excel.

Plan with Whiteboards

When everyone’s working remotely, project planning can be tricky. You can’t all just pile into the conference room and brainstorm your way through lunch. That’s why you should consider implementing online whiteboarding tools like MIRO to help visually communicate ideas, draw and link process flows (allowing others to add their own online sticky notes), move things around, and brainstorm. You’ll find, even though you’re not all in the same room, your team can easily innovate, create, and organize through these kinds of freeform platforms.

Nurture Your Newbies


One consultant says that in order to be effective, a cross-functional team needs to work together for at least two years. This, frankly, is poppycock — it never happens. Cross-functional team members change frequently. Between medical leaves, organizational changes, job turnover, and whatever else life throws at people, you can end up with a constant churn of new team members. That’s why it’s essential that someone new to the project has the ability to get quickly up to speed and be a productive team member. And here’s where dashboards come in handy.

A project dashboard, with a summary of the project charter and objectives, along with a project overview, schedule, risk, timelines, metrics, team members, and other relevant information, is a great way to bring new people up to speed quickly. They provide an instant snapshot that also empowers stakeholders and executives to monitor anything you’re working on. Keep it professional and up-to-date, and you’ll be treated like you deserve to be — a project rock star!

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Empower Employees to Escalate

Especially now, no one can afford failure. X-Teams can create X-ceptional work if they can work together while being physically apart.

Over the years, my team has estimated that at least 50% of the business projects fail because leadership demands unrealistic, unattainable goals. Show me a big project that fails in a spectacular way and I’ll show you a leader who set a completely unrealistic date, along with a big consulting company that knew this from day one and still took the $200M to build the solution.

Usually, the people who actually have to try and pull off Mission: Impossible know it’s…well, impossible. But few ever speak up because, well, it’s the executives pushing these impossible projects, and trust me, no one is going to risk their job by calling a COO on the carpet. In virtual teams, especially cross-functional ones, this reticence increases. The quiet hallway conversations with influencers, where you can hint at impending disaster, don’t happen, and it just isn’t the same via messaging or the phone.

So, I’m going to suggest this, although I have never seen an organization implement it—empower your employees to speak up about these not-yet but soon-to-be disasters. Especially now, no one can afford failure. Suggest to leadership that an early warning system be created to flag potential risk. Make it anonymous and link it to a leader who can come in and realistically assess the situation.

X-Teams can create X-ceptional work if they can pull off working together while being physically apart. The above suggestions can help your team remain unified and unstoppable!

Our experts at Virtira have been organizing virtual teams for more than a decade. We can help your team get back on track.

Looking for more strategies on how to keep cross-functional teams organized? Follow us on LinkedIn for all our virtual team content. 

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