cross functional teams

Organized, transparent, and flexible management is of the utmost importance when it comes to the success of a cross-functional team. As a team leader, you’ll very quickly find that managing this type of team comes with complexities rarely found in a traditional team-management setting.

However, if handled correctly with cross-functional team leadership skills, your team will reach new heights, break through long-standing barriers, work together to solve an array of organizational challenges, and accomplish goals that would otherwise be out of reach.

What Is Cross-Functional Team Leadership?

Cross-functional team leadership is the action of leading a diversified team that has different, but complementary skill sets. Having strong leadership in a diverse team can create a strong foundation and be a stepping stone for continued success.

Learn how to achieve success with these 11 key leadership characteristics for managing a cross-functional team:

11 Key Leadership Characteristics for Cross-Functional Teams

1) Excellent Communication

Without an organized communication strategy, your cross-functional team leadership doesn’t stand a chance. Clear communication is the first and most crucial component of your team’s success and should not be taken lightly.

Whenever possible, it’s best to meet face-to-face, but if regular in-person meetings are unrealistic, there are plenty of online tools you can use to provide a steady, dependable line of communication between you and all of your team members.

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2) Thorough Organization

To manage a team of this diversity and complexity, you’ll need a system for organizing deadlines, files, notes, data, research, and whatever else your team members will be bringing to the project. Depending on the goals and needs of your team, you may want to consider using some type of project-management software. Microsoft Planner and Asana are two examples, but there are many other options available. These types of applications will help you and the team organize the work to be done, assign tasks and deadlines, and allow team members to see the progress being made on the project.

3) Clarity

When working with a cross-functional team, conflict and misunderstandings that result from failing to establish accountability early on are very common. We’ve all heard it before: “I thought he was going to do that,” “I couldn’t start until she did this,” and so on. You can prevent these frustrating situations by defining crystal-clear goals and expectations, not only for the team but on an individual level as well.

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4) Mutual Understanding

It’s crucial that every one of your team members understands the importance of the team project. Keep in mind that the responsibilities of cross-functional teams are often in addition to your team members’ typical job responsibilities. If they don’t understand the purpose of the cross-functional team or its value, they won’t put in the time or effort you require for the team to have a successful outcome. Help them understand why the cross-functional team’s objectives should matter to them.

5) Individual Attention

When you focus on the team as a whole, maintaining the morale of individual team members can easily fall by the wayside—and this may result in the failure of the team. By giving each member of your cross-functional team individual attention, praise, and time, you’ll be able to

  • Become better acquainted with the different strengths and skills at your disposal.
  • Set clear expectations for each person.
  • Cull any disinterested or counterproductive parties.
  • Obtain a better view of each aspect of the project.
  • Encourage and reward hard work, innovation, and team-oriented thinking.

6) Conflict Resolution

When a team is comprised of people from different departments (with different motives and loyalties to different areas of the company), you’re going to experience some conflict. It’s important for you to be prepared to handle conflict effectively. Many industry experts suggest you provide your cross-functional team with conflict-resolution training before bringing them together, but if this isn’t possible, be sure to confront any conflicts you encounter head on. Ignoring conflict will only make it worse. Create working agreements with your team members ahead of time and foster an environment of open communication so you can work through any team conflicts constructively.

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7) Strong Bonds

Provide ample opportunities for your team members to get to know each other better, increase their trust in one another, and form strong connections that will contribute to the effectiveness of the team. Arrange social events outside the workplace, create a space for cooperative work, and conduct a few outdoor team-building exercises.

8) An A-Team

Cross functional team working togetherWhen assembling your team, it’s important to put personal opinions or preferences aside so you can approach the task objectively. You may think you have the best employees for the team, but have you considered their individual strengths or whether they’ll work well together?

If your dream team encompasses valuable, high-performing employees who also have a history of taking charge and micromanaging other employees “for the good of the company,” you may need to rethink your team-building strategy.

Before you gather the perfect “A-Team,” spend some time defining the team’s goals and make a list of the strengths and cross-functional skills required to accomplish those goals. You will then be able to assemble the perfect team according to your predefined list of required skills and qualifications rather than targeting the “perfect” individuals ahead of time.

9) Flexibility

One of the greatest benefits of a cross-functional team is that it fosters innovation. By bringing people with multiple areas of expertise together into a productive and encouraging work environment, you’re creating fertile ground for fresh ideas and new, game-changing insights to flourish. To take advantage of these ideas and help the company improve, you must be flexible, open-minded, and allow these opportunities to manifest. The worst thing you can do to your cross-functional team is stifle it with narrow thinking—or allow others to do the same. Create an environment where all ideas are welcome.

10) Decision-Making

As your cross-functional team continues to grow and progress through projects, helping them make efficient and effective decisions is critical. This requires having the ability to think clearly and confidently amid fast-paced circumstances. In addition, good problem-solving skills require taking a productive approach—putting aside emotions, weighing the possible outcomes, and trusting your intuition. It also requires tapping into the expertise of your cross-functional team members to ensure you’re making the right decision.

Guiding team members through this process will help them trust you as a leader and, more importantly, gain confidence in their own problem-solving abilities.

11) Delegation

Your teams carry different but complementary skill sets. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each team member is critical to delegating effectively.

Delegation not only helps achieve tasks more efficiently, but it also nurtures successful performance. Good delegation allows cross-functional team members to combine resources and achieve their full potential.

The Pros and Cons of Having a Cross-Functional Team

Is it worth it to build a cross-functional team? Decide for yourself after reviewing these pros and cons.

The Pros

  • Improved performance: Rather than focusing on individual talents, cross-functional teams leverage the collective talents and skill sets of the entire group. This allows teams to achieve goals efficiently.
  • Shared purpose: Cross-functional team members work together to achieve a common purpose. Sharing a common “why” improves engagement, fosters collaboration, and fuels business growth.
  • Learning opportunities: In a cross-functional team, team members are exposed to individuals with different interests, skills, and backgrounds. This is an excellent opportunity to network and learn a new set of skills, gaining insight into various roles at the organization.

The Cons

  • Buy-in from everyone is easier said than done: While the benefits of having a shared purpose are undeniable, receiving collective buy-in can be challenging. Leaders must take time to develop a clear vision and test out ways to communicate that vision to stakeholders.
  • Disorganization: Depending on the number of individuals in a cross-functional team, it can get easy for projects and tasks to grow disorganized. Leaders should establish clear roles within a given project and appoint an accountable leader. An accountable leader should be someone who oversees and ensures every milestone is being completed by every individual.

A cross-functional team can be your company’s greatest asset if it’s managed properly. By using the nine key ingredients listed above, you’ll be able to assemble and manage a powerful team of highly effective, committed professionals that you’ve positioned for great success. Reach out to CMOE to find out more about our leadership development workshops and start improving your skills today.

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About the Author
CMOE’s Design Team is comprised of individuals with diverse and complementary strengths, talents, education, and experience who have come together to bring a unique service to CMOE’s clients. Our team has a rich depth of knowledge, holding advanced degrees in areas such as business management, psychology, communication, human resource management, organizational development, and sociology.

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