9 Benefits of a Cross Functional Team — and 5 Ways to Make One

Cross-functional team working together on a project

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Haley Baird Riemer57
June 16, 2024 at 6:57PM UTC
Are you considering developing a cross-functional team at your company? Maybe you've noticed issues with project management, innovation or bureaucracy within your organization that are inhibiting the team's efficiency as a whole. Perhaps you have a project or problem that's too big to be handled by just one department. 
Cross-functional teams transcend traditional barriers between departments of an organization and structures of leadership, ideally creating an environment where new projects can be created and completed effectively and decisions can be made holistically. This kind of team has become popular recently for its ability to unify a company's different departmental teams to work together and address issues with collaboration and thoroughness. If you think your company might benefit from a cross-functional team, there are several ways you can develop one.

What is a cross-functional team?

A cross-functional team consists of people from different areas of a company with diverse skill sets, working together on a project or toward a common goal. Kind of like a relay team, a cross-functional team brings together people with different areas of expertise who may not normally work together. They can even include people from outside the organization. Usually, these teams are more temporary, and their members may have more or less leadership status than their position in the broader structure of the company. A department head may be on the same level as a lower-level employee of another department when put on the same cross-functional team.

A cross-functional team may bring together people from human resources, marketing and sales, for example, and create an environment where workers that are usually in a higher or a lower position to work together on the same professional level. The difference between regular work teams and CFTs is the fact that the common goal of the team may sometimes be at odds with a specific department's goals and put workers in complicated ethical positions when it comes to prioritizing a goal over another.

The importance of cross-functional teams.

Precisely because the goals of CFTs often transcend departments, they are important elements within a company that will ensure widespread progress is made and results are prioritized over departments' exclusive goals. Aside from tangible, short-term goals achieved by CFTs, they also provide a meaningful, durable impact for those involved. Being part of a CFT can broaden the mentalities of specific departments' workers and get them to think outside the box. 

9 benefits of cross-functional teams

By having workers of very different departments come together towards achieving one shared goal, like HR and IT, you will most likely see a shift in thinking from people in both departments, who will learn how individuals work and think in different focuses.
The benefits of CFTs do not stop here. There are many different ways this problem-solving structure can enhance your workplace. 

1. You'll learn new tools and skills. 

Cross-functional teams are bound to equip workers with tools and skills they previously lacked or had underdeveloped. Undoubtedly, by having workers with a defined skillset interact with those of departments with their own defined skillset, both groups will garner some new skills or at least learn a few important tools they didn't know about. People in certain departments may know the ins and outs of a specific software in ways you don't. Through CFTs, you will gain insight into how to better employ software like PowerPoint or Excel and then bring what you learn back to your department, which will benefit your peers greatly.
Just because your department doesn't necessarily utilize certain tools or software doesn't mean it won't come in handy to learn them for opportunities in the future. A cross-functional team can leave an IT worker with exceptional filing and organizational skills after having worked with HR people, and those from HR will perhaps learn how to use software to log their information that they don't normally use. 

2. You will foster collaboration within your organization.

Learning to work as a team within your department is a given. Day-to-day, matter-of-fact goals are "part of the job," and perhaps with time will stop feeling innovative, motivating or challenging. Branching out of the status quo and of routine fatigue can be motivating and invigorating in and of itself, so from the get-go, CFTs will add value to your organization.
Working well with those who don't have a lot in common with you can feel very rewarding. Because it might not feel like an easy, natural task, the challenge that comes with understanding people different to you and knowing that they are also making the effort to understand you better will create a work environment that prioritizes collaboration and welcomes lots of different ideas. 

3. You can make friends outside of your department. 

Spending too much time with the same people on a daily basis can quickly turn into a tedious routine. This can impact not only the quality of your work but your personal experience at work. Expanding your social circle at work outside your department can freshen up your interactions at the office, help you broaden your perspective and maybe even give you a little bit of an escape from your own department and the people and culture within it. 
Social networking at work is a great opportunity, and if your company is pretty segregated by department, CFTs can give you a rare chance to branch out.

4. You'll improve your efficiency.

Working in a cross-functional team can speed up the work process, as everyone is bringing knowledge of their strengths and weaknesses to the table. Everyone has an extensive knowledge of obstacles and strengths in their own department and as the representative of their department on the team, can bring that prior experience to expedite the process. 
CFTs also naturally shake things up and create an environment of innovation and communication. When people are surrounded by new ideas and an environment that supports them, they have renewed energy and drive.

5. You'll come together driven by a common goal. 

Cross-functional teams are efficient because they unite people toward a common goal. This keeps everyone motivated and focused toward a result they can actually see. In a traditional workplace structure, the work of one person in one department can be quite removed from its role in the grand scheme of things. As an editor on a project, you work in a limited capacity with the work and are largely removed from the broader process and its impact. 
Working collaboratively to tackle tasks outside of their departments and take on more responsibility due to the size of the team, people on a CFT have a common goal and greater ownership of the work they complete. 

6. You can switch up leadership roles

In traditional hierarchical leadership roles, it takes a while to get to a leadership position. On a cross-functional team, though, you may be able to take more of a leadership position even if you are not usually operating in that role. This gives employees a more well-rounded experience within the company and the confidence to take initiative. It also gives companies an opportunity to "try out" people in leadership roles outside of the conventional ladder-climbing structure. A new team member might be a natural leader, and their position on a small, cross-functional team highlights this quality and sets them up for success. 

7. You'll get to try new approaches.

Cross-functional teams put a company's value in teamwork into actual practice, and this opens up a lot of new approaches to a problem. When new personalities and ideas are thrown together, you will naturally find more ways to approach a project. The collaborative nature of CFTs creates an arena for innovation, creativity and critical thinking that pushes everyone to take action and ownership. 
In a CFT, you get to try new approaches, fail if it doesn't work out, communicate with team workers and adjust accordingly. 

8. Your team will hone management and communication skills.

Working in a small team requires personal time management on the part of every individual member, as well as greater leadership responsibilities from everyone. When everyone on a team is the most qualified member of the team in their particular field, they must step up to a more managerial role. 
Communication is key, and CFTs are a great way to develop greater communication skills within a company. Even once the cross-functional team finishes its objective, the communication skills needed to work across areas of expertise and communicate ideas to people outside of your field will carry on, enhancing interdepartmental communication in the company's future. 

9. You can tackle big projects and problems.

The main need for cross-functional teamwork comes from the need to tackle a project that transcends the jurisdiction of just one department. In order to accomplish a project of this size, you need many different minds, skills, ideas and initiatives. This is where the magic of CFTs can occur. 
Bringing all your best people together toward a solution is a big move — one that has high stakes and, therefore, big results. 

5 ways to establish a cross-functional team

1. Evaluate the current structure.

Is it divided more conventionally? Is the leadership hierarchical? Do people already work across their team lines? Considering what you're starting with will give you an idea of how much work will need to be done in order to establish this new kind of team structure. Then, put together the right team.

2. Bring in team members from different departments.

Consider which members from different departments you are going to bring together to be a part of your team, what they each bring to the table and what their leadership and working styles are. 

3. Establish communication channels.

This is critical for making a cross-function team work effectively. Establish proper channels for team members to communicate and make it clear that they should be using them regularly.

4. Consider time management.

Time is always of the essence and no more so than when you're building a cross-functional team. Remember: the goal is to make things more efficient and accomplish more in less time.

5. Choose great managers and leaders.

Cross-functional teams can be creative, productive learning experiences for everyone, as long as they are managed efficiently. Since it will likely be less hierarchical and traditional than your company's larger structure, the leadership of your cross-functional team will need to be carefully laid out. Often, cross-functional teams do have a leader, though everyone on the team has equal responsibility and ownership over tasks. Pick a team leader who can delegate, enforce accountability and be a good communicator. 
Consider a cross-functional team to get out of your company's normal functional routine. You may be surprised by the results.

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