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Best Practices for Cross Functional Working Groups

By Sarah Walker

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A cross-functional team is a working group that involves individuals from different departments or different branches of a company. They may have different levels of authority and oversee different functional areas, but have come together to achieve a common goal. In order for teams like this to operate effectively, communication and transparency must be emphasized. Cross-functional working groups are normally formed to complete a specific project or change initiative. Because these working groups bring together insights from different perspectives and specialized knowledge sets, they can be leveraged to complete a variety of projects with different sizes, scopes, difficulty level and duration.

Choosing the Right Team Members

In order for the team to work properly, choosing the right team member is critical. Teams should be created to maximize diversity, balance, and complementary skills. Each team member should add something unique to the team, such as subject matter expertise, a specific perspective, or a specialized skillset. Critical thinking and decision making abilities are traits to look for in a cross-functional team member; these traits will greatly add to team efficiency and creativity. Soft skills such as flexibility and communication ability can be helpful in building team trust, role flexibility and task delegation. While there may be many people that can add value to a cross-functional working group, it is important to remember that more than 10 members can add confusion and reduce effective communication.  For more specifics, refer to this blog post. 

Team Development

It is important to understand the stages of team development. Whenever a team is formed they go through four different phases: forming, storming, norming, performing.

  • At first the team is formed, and members get to know who is on the team and what they are grouped together to complete. During this stage, people tend to be unsure about the group and work more as individuals; therefore, productivity is low.
  • The second phase, storming, is a learning stage. Each group member learns how the others operate. Differences can cause tension and conflict during this phase of the team forming process.
  • After the group learns about each other and the best way to work together, the norming phase begins. The team becomes accustomed to the working behaviors of the group and productivity rises. During this phase, the group starts to resolve conflict and learn to respect each other.
  • After the norming phase, the group enters the most productive and final phase, performing. At this point in team development, all group members are comfortable with the working patterns of the group and understand how to be effective and efficient. By this phase, the group should no longer be composed of individuals, but members of the team working towards the common goal. Understanding that cross-functional groups need time to adjust and evolve is a crucial part of project management.   

Task Delegation

It is essential that tasks are assigned appropriately in cross-functional groups. In order to reduce confusion, each member of the team needs to know who is responsible for what. Delegating tasks and clarifying responsibilities in a large working group can be difficult. When responsibilities are unclear, efficiently completing an assignment or process is near impossible. While there are many different methods for assigning responsibilities, the RACI responsibility assignment matrix works best for large or cross-functional working groups. Learn more about RACI and how to use it Here.

Communication

Effective communication is the foundation for the success of a cross-functional working group. It is each individual team member’s responsibility to keep in touch with other group members and give updates on progress or roadblocks. It is important for teams to meet frequently throughout the project to keep everybody on the same page. Newsletters, weekly or daily updates can also be a great way of tracking progress. Proper communication, whether it is formal or informal, increases innovation, team member satisfaction and productivity.  

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