How to Build a Cross-Functional Team?
In traditional organizations, multiple departments are responsible for specific functions - marketing, finance, human resources, operations, etc. Most of the time, these departments work independently and share information only when multiple departments are involved. However, the modern requirements of building and delivering software require solving numerous problems at high speed. The need for a complete team to reflect the variety of expertise of providing solutions is where cross-functional teams come into play.
What Is a Cross-Functional Team?
A cross-functional team is a group of people from different fields who achieve a common goal with their unique abilities. Cross-functional teams are not only a cross-functional collision of expertise but also a vertical top-down structure contrast.
Source: the Open Source Software Supply Chain Lighting Program-Summer 2021 event.
It is not uncommon to find a cross-functional team made up of both team members and leading decision-makers.Cross-functional teams are beneficial for organizations that practice the DevOps approach. And their value is visible in many ways:
- Cross-functional teams help reduce bureaucracy in critical decisions. The goal here is to have the necessary representation when you need to make decisions quickly, which makes cross-functional teams very suitable for DevOps. Agile thinking is the key to faster iterations and improving the quality of results.
- Cross-functional teams can also improve problem-solving skills. In the DevOps approach, quality and total customer value are essential, so any problem that arises needs the best solution. The cross-functional team has various people with cross-functional expertise, and each member can put forward different ideas. For example, when discussing how to display products and services and obtain effective customer feedback, the opinions of marketing experts are more referential. They know more about the right conditions for customers to interact with products and provide valuable feedback.
- Cross-functional teams to improve team cohesion. People in different departments can be encouraged to know more about their differences (mainly at work), which helps bring them closer and build relationships, which can be helpful in collaboration. In this way, group thinking and a single echo chamber will disappear, and people who express non-mainstream or different opinions will be more comfortable.
Challenges for Cross-Functional Teams
Source:the Open Source Software Supply Chain Lighting Program-Summer 2021 event.
Although the idea of cross-functional teams sounds ingenious and quite simple in practice, up to 75% of cross-functional teams are not successful. Cross-functional teams are plagued by work habits and subculture differences. Each member from different departments of the organization has their habitual way of working.
This makes it a little difficult to adapt to the new way of working. Remember, if each team member has his preferences, he may not be used to this way of working. Other challenges faced by cross-functional teams include non-aligned goals, poor communication, misunderstanding of roles and chains of command, different tools, and conflict of methods.
Each team member can contribute to the whole project. But it's easy to forget the connection between their work and other team members. It is a common problem, especially for team members who temporarily adjust the product. But it often leads people to misunderstand some issues, such as when a specific member's task should enter the cycle. Members may only do minimal work when completing tasks. These conflicts extend to more minor details, such as data storage formats and other aspects. The result is uneven delivery quality and the need to re-examine the product, which slows down the team.
Cross-functional team members are often difficult to enter a good communication rhythm. First, they may be used for different channels, which may cause the information to be out of sync. Second, there may be differences in communication frequencies. Some team members may like to send frequent notifications about every change they make. But others may want to receive messages about more essential milestones and significant changes. Some people may prefer written summaries and short voice records, while others prefer longer face-to-face meetings to analyze plans, discoveries, analysis, etc.
Failure to receive critical information in a timely and consistent manner may result in errors and delayed results.
Misunderstanding roles and chain of command
In many cross-functional teams, members of one department may make recommendations that another person must implement. For example, a business person might suggest developing a function to track specific indicators of user behavior. Developers and UI designers may only consider it a suggestion until someone at a higher level signs it. But the project leader may have regarded it as a project that does not require any additional permission.
In essence, team members may know something about each of their work, but they don't know the full content of the team's ultimate goal. Sometimes, people who only need to connect with one or two other members may not even know what others do.
In many traditional organizations, digital transformation is not comprehensive, and technologies such as cloud computing may not penetrate the whole organization.
In addition, many departments may use different tools in their daily tasks. Whether it's automated testing or communication about the progress of the software development life cycle, having too many other devices can cause headaches.
Once team members start working together, it is challenging to put all relevant data in one place and achieve complete visibility.
Conflict of methods
In a department, the part equivalent to testing and quality assurance is generally placed last. Another department may adopt agile methods to complete the project. When members from these different method backgrounds meet, their ways of completing the project may lead to out-of-sync progress.
Considerations for building a successful cross-functional team
Source:the Open Source Software Supply Chain Lighting Program-Summer 2021 event.
To build a successful cross functional team, there are many aspects to pay attention to.
- Concrete leadership: The whole team needs an end-to-end leader for each function in addition to a leader for each function. Each team member should also know which leader gives specific instructions.
- Clear objectives and planning: It's imperative to establish a significant goal for the team from the beginning, develop a detailed plan/roadmap, and draw milestones on the schedule. The ability of each team member should be reflected in how it achieves its ultimate goal. In addition to mentioning expertise, talk about the tasks that the person will complete.
- Frequent evaluation: draft an evaluation system for each function in the team to ensure that they do not score using the wrong method. In addition, track overall target progress and analyze data to determine whether the problem is overall team cohesion or specific function.
- Effective communication: make sure everyone knows who they will spend the most time talking to and what they will talk about. Keep them consistent in terms of tools, nature/composition of messages, frequency, and other practices.
- Flexibility: build a team so that you can receive input regardless of the actual location of the contributor. Making room for sudden expansion makes it easier for members to find substitutes. It can be done by always saving the document so that new entrants can get started quickly. Cultivate an agile mindset among members so that they can predict any curveball and adjust accordingly.Bonding and trust: a practice that helps strengthen relationships within the team so that members are not afraid to make comments and admit failure.
Don’ts of Building a Successful Cross-Functional Team
To build and maintain a consistently successful cross-functional team, avoid the following mistakes:
- Unreasonable prioritization: avoid supporting only one function while ignoring the rest. It may be seen as favoritism and demoralizing other team members. Try to strike a balance between providing resources and meeting different needs. When resources are not sufficient, give the least to the collective for the most significant benefit.
- Disorderly hierarchy: don't create a situation where a member always runs to different members and asks them to agree to continue an operation. Identify which behaviors are low-risk, which are decided by the members themselves, and which require the superior's consent.
- Micromanagement:minimize the number of meetings unrelated to important announcements and progress inspection. Where creativity is needed, leave room for team members to come up with the best collaboration solution. If this culture is not encouraged, team members will deal with escalating minor challenges and seek solutions that cannot be obtained from leaders.
- Blame: the habit of avoiding blaming when problems arise, or goals are not achieved. In many cross-functional teams, failure is usually caused by improper handling by multiple people with different functions. Since many tasks depend on others, it is not always one's fault. The focus is on lessons learned from successful operations, especially those that can also be applied in other areas.