Responding to challenges in a fast-paced world requires creative and unconventional ways to drive collaboration. Cross-functional teams can instigate innovation, create new networks and lead to a more efficient working environment. Striving to be ahead of the competitors leading tech companies like Amazon, Google and Facebook encourage projects in cross-functional teams. Also start-ups apply cross-functional collaboration methods as they often consist of less employees simultaneously performing multiple tasks.
A Cross-functional forum brings specialists from different areas together to work on a common project. Taking into account different professional (and often cultural) backgrounds and an increasingly virtual working environment, building cross-functional teams can be a challenge.
There are 5 key steps that you can take to ensure a successful collaboration in cross-functional projects.
Build the right team.
Select key representatives from each area covering the skills necessary for a particular project. Sometimes using detailed organizational charts can help you get an overview of skills and identify the right members of the team. It doesn’t always have to be a department manager or leader but rather who will best understand how their area is needed for this project.
When building this team appointing a skilful project lead can help manage the risks, conflicts and keep the project on track. It can be advantageous if this project lead brings not only some specific, but also general knowledge covering the different areas of expertise. This will mean they are capable of understanding, and successfully communicating with all team members. A project lead is there to support the team and alleviate any possible internal conflicts.
Have a clearly defined plan, goals, timeline and responsibilities.
In larger organizations cross-functional projects often consist of people that have not worked together before. Situations like this can end up in unconscious competition and conflicts. In order to avoid them, responsibilities of the respective team members should be clearly defined at the beginning of the project so everyone knows who does what. Break a project into small manageable tasks that are assigned to team members according to their experience and strengths.
Moreover, it is essential to have a well-defined plan which serves as a roadmap. Without it a cross-functional team might end up going off track. A clearly defined project goal prevents the team from losing focus and getting consumed by individual priorities and reverting back to working in silos.
Communication is the key.
Finding a common language for people from different work areas might be challenging. Every company and even different departments may speak “different languages.” Miscommunication easily leads to misunderstandings and conflicts. Therefore, it is important to set clear rules of communication right at the beginning. It creates transparency and trust which are important for efficient networking, knowledge sharing and conflict resolution.
Developing a cross-functional shared language facilitates collaboration and creativity. Come to a consensus on terminology at the start of the project, you could even create a glossary of key terms that all members can reference.
Provide your cross-functional team with the right tools for collaboration.
Creating an efficient working environment depends not only on the set of rules, but also on the right tools for communication. Especially taking into account the growing trend of remote working, it is essential to create the right channels of communication.
Choosing a user-friendly software can enhance communication and create a platform for knowledge sharing and better collaboration. Try to pick one communication channel and stick to it and ensure documents are accessible by all. It might take some team members time at the beginning to learn new tools but in the long run all communicating in the same way will save time and stress overall.
Ensure evaluation and continuous re-evaluation of the project.
For project success agree on the performance metrics and KPIs at the start and check in on them at key points. These metrics help to track progress and give unbiased feedback to the team on how the project is going.
In order to keep the momentum, it is important to constantly re-evaluate the scope of the project. Regular performance reviews not only help get an overview of the project progress, but highlight project adjustments that might be needed. It may be tempting to leave all reviews to an end of project retrospective but assigning key times to check on KPIs will bring blockers to light. Also it will help keep the team motivated – if you are meeting these midway points in a project then you know the work being put in is worth it.
Although working in cross-functional projects bring specific challenges, these 5 steps can help avoid them and allow your business to benefit from working in interdisciplinary and creative environments.