What are cross-functional teams?

Members of a cross-functional team must work together.

Cross-functional teams are units within a company that include members from various departments of the company. The team can be assembled temporarily to work on a specific objective and short-term goal, or it can be a permanent unit that is designed to address ongoing business issues. Using cross-functional teams can be a highly effective business strategy for companies in many different industries.

Cross-functional teams include people from multiple departments within a company.

The origins of the cross-functional team appear to be in the 1950s, when companies began exploring the idea of ‚Äč‚Äčassembling teams with members drawn from multiple departments. By combining people with different areas of experience and skill, a company can create a very small functional unit capable of accomplishing a lot. For example, a company working on new product development can move the process much more quickly with cross-functional teams than it would when moving the product sequentially from one department to another.

Cross-functional teams can work quickly and efficiently and can be given a lot of autonomy.

Members of a cross-functional team work together, but they also keep the needs of their home departments in mind. For example, someone in marketing will remember marketing needs when discussing goals with team members and can set the direction for decisions made by the team in a way that will benefit the marketing department. Likewise, a person in the department that focuses on packaging and distribution would consider issues related to that department, and so on. This can reduce inefficiency along the line by ensuring that the needs of different departments are considered at every step of the decision-making process.

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Cross-functional teams can be tasked with making decisions, developing products, and solving problems faced by the company. They can work quickly and highly efficiently and can have great autonomy. Using cross-functional teams in operations can spur innovation as people can feel more comfortable exploring and presenting new ideas in small groups.

When assembling cross-functional teams, companies need to think about their needs and how to get the right mix of people. Typically, a team leader is assigned to coordinate the group, but as the group is small, it is critical to ensure that everyone works well together. Interpersonal conflicts can decrease efficiency, as well as create an unpleasant work environment, which will make it difficult for the team to achieve their goals. On the other hand, team members who think a lot alike may not make a great team because they will have a hard time seeing the big picture or thinking about problems in new ways.

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