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9 steps to build a successful cross functional team

9 min read
Katie Oberthaler

Does it feel like your teams are working in silos, with departments striving to achieve goals that are in conflict with one another? When that happens, it’s your business that suffers. Establishing a cross functional team can help your departments get behind a shared goal and do what’s best for your company and your customers. 

Cross functional teams can also increase innovation, boost productivity, improve employee engagement, build leadership skills, and create a stronger team culture. In this post, you’ll discover what you’ll need to make a successful team.

What we'll cover

What Is A Cross Functional Team?

A cross functional team is a collection of people from different departments of your company who work on shared projects for a larger company-wide goal. Team members could come from marketing, sales, product, customer success, customer service, or any other area. Seniority levels among members could vary, too. 

Teams whose members have a wide range of skills can help drive innovation and solve problems in new ways, which may give your company a competitive advantage. Teams like this can often be found in start-ups or small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) — companies whose employees might have to perform several duties across departments. 

Benefits of Cross Functional Teams

Establishing a cross functional team can:

  • Increase innovation
  • Boost productivity
  • Improve employee engagement
  • Build leadership skills
  • Create a strong team culture

Let’s look at each of these benefits in more detail. 

Increase innovation

When teams keep information to themselves, it’s difficult to find and apply valuable improvements to the way you work. But getting your teams to work together can change that. 

Cross functional teams can help you create more innovative products and services. Imagine if you could combine insights from all your departments — marketing campaigns, sales conversations, product development, customer service, and more. A multi-skilled team brings all of that knowledge together, where everything you learn can help you make smarter decisions. 

Boost productivity

Each employee in each team knows what helps them to do a great job, along with what can hold them back. Why should team members keep this information to themselves?

Cross functional teamwork enables departments to share their best practices with each other, while working towards the common goal. When a team uses the best practices from across several departments, they can become more agile and use their collective knowledge to their advantage. 

Improve employee engagement

Employee engagement can have a big impact on how productive your business is overall, and employee engagement has been relatively low in the past few years. In January 2021, Gallup reported that U.S. employee engagement was at 39%

Shifting to a cross functional environment can help strengthen camaraderie and make for better workplace dynamics. With the right leadership, a cross functional team will break the silo mentality. And team members will become better employees by offering each other constructive feedback and learning from one another. 

Build leadership skills

Cross functionality can help you (or whoever’s leading the team) hone your leadership and management skills. These skills don’t always come naturally, so it’s a great opportunity to learn through experience. 

You’ll learn how to work with people from diverse backgrounds with various work styles, and how to get the best performance from each employee. You may even see opportunities to help others develop their own leadership skills.  

Create a stronger team culture

A lack of coordination between departments can break a business. When their interests are in conflict with each other, departments might stop doing what’s best for the organization and its customers. Working together, departments can stay focused on the same goal. 

For example, if you were trying to launch a service for large enterprises, marketing and sales can collaborate to produce marketing content that appeals to executives at these companies. And the product team can use market research and sales insights to prioritize working on features that would appeal to the ideal customer. 

Despite The Benefits, Most Cross Functional Teams Are Dysfunctional

Cross functional teams are created to drive innovation, boost employee engagement, and increase productivity. But there’s evidence that suggests this doesn’t always happen. A study reported by the Harvard Business Review found that 75% of cross functional teams were dysfunctional, failing to meet at least three of the following five criteria: 

  • Meeting a planned budget
  • Staying on schedule
  • Adhering to specifications
  • Meeting customer expectations
  • Maintaining alignment with organizational goals

The study also revealed that unclear governance, a lack of accountability, and vague goals undermined project success. 

Projects need strong governance support from leadership. Without that, cross functional teams might not have the tools they need — or the buy-in from all members — to successfully execute projects.

9 Steps to Build a Successful Cross Functional Team

Now you know about the benefits of a cross functional team, and what can cause dysfunctionality, it’s time to explore what makes for a successful team. You’ll need to:

  1. Set clear goals
  2. Assign a team leader
  3. Define roles and responsibilities
  4. Assemble a diverse team
  5. Involve the customer
  6. Create repeatable workflows
  7. Promote team accountability
  8. Establish individual and team metrics
  9. Invest in collaborative technology

Let’s review these steps one at a time. 

Step #1: Set clear goals

Without clear goals, a cross functional team will flounder. So it’s important to define goals for the team. Some of the points you’ll want to consider are your: 

  • Budget. What’s the maximum amount of money you can spend on the project?
    • Deadline. When does the project need to be completed?
  • Desired outcome. How will you measure the success of this project? Is there an action your customer should take? (More on the customer in step #5.)

Taking the time to define goals will prepare your team for success at working cross functionally.

Step #2: Assign a team leader

Choose a leader who can help determine the makeup of your team. This person should champion accountability and be eager to help each team member develop self-leadership skills. 

Your leader also needs to educate and delegate, while allowing individual autonomy. A cross functional team leader should collaborate with team members and involve them in the planning process. And they need to be accountable for the project’s success.

Step #3: Define roles and responsibilities

In assembling a team, you’ll need to decide which strengths or personalities would work best for specific roles. Who will be responsible for which actions and decisions? And how will roles relate to each other?

Your selection process shouldn't solely be about technical ability. Consider communication and decision-making skills, and peoples’ ability to work under deadline pressure or be flexible.  

Step #4: Assemble a diverse team

Diversity helps teams come up with fresh ideas and approaches to problem-solving. In creating a cross functional team, you want to include people from diverse demographic and professional backgrounds, such as marketing, product development, sales, creative, and legal. You should bear in mind not everyone on your “dream team” list may be available, so you should come up with a few ideas about who can fill your roles. 

Once your team is assembled, it’s important to make sure everyone feels included. If one person feels they aren’t as valuable as another, they might not feel at ease contributing ideas. So treat everyone fairly and encourage everybody to express their opinions.

Step #5: Involve the customer

For your cross functional project to work, your employees need to be aware of the common goal at all times. This is where it’s useful to involve your customer. Communicating with them can remind your team of what outcome the customer is expecting. 

Consider selecting a team member to be the point of contact for your customer. This team member can provide the customer with updates and collect their feedback, ensuring your team always acts with the customer’s interest in mind. 

Step #6: Create repeatable workflows

Your team will need workflows for review and approval — a framework everyone can follow on the path to a shared goal. Employees may become involved at different stages of the project, and the tasks at each stage might be tied to different metrics. 

A workflow can help everyone see who’s in charge of which aspects of the project, what needs to happen at each stage, and how processes can change and are approved. A workflow will help you to stay organized, on-time, and on-budget, and reduce the need for numerous revisions.

Step #7: Promote team accountability

A successful team knows your project isn’t a competition between employees. No one should be trying to outdo anyone else on the team. Every decision and action should support what’s best for the project, the team, and the client, not what’s best for any individual. 

Responsibility should be shared equally among employees, with the knowledge that the whole team will be held responsible for the project’s outcome. Members should help each other achieve their targets. Recognition should be shared equally, too, so that everyone feels appreciated for their efforts and success. 

Step #8: Establish individual and team metrics

You should be using metrics to measure employee performance over the course of the project. Metrics can help you see if there are any areas where team members may be lacking skills, and you can organize training sessions to help them strengthen their weaknesses. 

Time management tools can be helpful, too. You can track how long it takes to complete a project and how much effort is required, and compare that with the time and effort you expected the project would take to complete. 

Step #9: Invest in collaborative technology

Delivering the perfect project to your customer takes teamwork. And software has changed how teams work together and create high-quality work. Technology can help you communicate and collaborate, streamlining your ability to plan, monitor, and report on projects as they progress.

You’ll need to find software that fits the communication needs and working habits of your team. Ziflow makes it easy for cross functional teams — such as creative, marketing, and legal — to collaborate on creative and brand assets, ensuring fast project delivery and reduced compliance risk.

Final Thoughts

A cross functional team can:

  • Boost productivity
  • Enhance employee engagement
  • Build leadership skills
  • Create a stronger team culture

Unclear governance, a lack of accountability, poorly defined goals, and lack of leadership buy-in can get in the way of a team’s progress. So ensure your team has the right foundations in place to achieve its objective. 

Good organization and processes can help your team members understand their roles and responsibilities, so they can work creatively, confidently, and autonomously. Ziflow helps teams deliver creative projects faster by enabling seamless cross functional collaboration and expediting the review and approval process

See how Ziflow can bring your cross functional team together and help you achieve your goals. Sign up for a free trial today! 

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