Cross-Functional teamsOn August 11, 2019 by Raul Dinwiddie
Cross Functional Teams in Project Management Imagine a strategic plan by the CEO of a car
manufacturer to come up with an answer to a new product introduced by his competitor.
The competitor has built a new car that runs on electric batteries.
The CEO starts this endeavor by meeting with the engineers to come up with a prototype
for his new car. Months go by until the prototype is created. After the engineering department
is done with its part, the finance department has to estimate what the costs would be involved
in such a project. Raw materials, labor and other costs are estimated and more time passes
by. The finance department then hands off the data to the marketing department which
does a competitive analysis. Department after department does their part
as this initiative takes months to research, analyze and bring online. In fact it takes
so long that by the time the company is ready to build this car on its assembly line the
market trend has changed and now cars that run on solar power are the new trend. The
project is cancelled. What’s an alternative to this sequential approach?
I’m Nathan Ellison. And today I will be discussing cross-functional teams and why they are a
better approach than the scenario I just described. Let’s imagine a different scenario. In this
approach the CEO assembles a cross-functional team and becomes a sponsor for his appointed
project manager. He charters a team formed with representatives of the engineering, finance,
marketing and any other specialty needed for this product launch. From day one members
of this team are collaborating. The CEO is feeling awfully good about his
new approach. There are a number of advantages with a cross-functional team. The primary
advantage is speed. Rather than the initiative getting stuck in a department until it’s ready
to move on to the next department, all technical experts are exposed to the challenge at the
same time bringing the breadth of skills and experiences from such a diverse group.
The team members are no longer restricted to brainstorming within their own departments
but can now have their ideas evaluated by technical experts in other disciplines.
For example, engineers are made aware of customer preferences by the marketing and sales department.
The Marketing and sales department are learning about costs and product variations from the
engineers and financial analysts on the team. The CEO and project manager soon learn that
cross-functional teams do not come without their drawbacks though. One of the challenges
of cross-functional teams is that because these teams are constructed of such diverse
specialties any poor interpersonal skills are amplified. Suddenly, members of these
groups are required to figure out solutions with their colleagues who have completely
different specializations, different ranks and perspectives?
One solution to these issues might be in how work is rewarded. Instead of giving awards
and incentives to staff for individual performance as is the case at many organizations, organizations
would benefit from rewarding team members for sharing information and collaborating.
As a project manager, try to persuade your sponsor to consider rewarding team members
for being good team players. Another solution might be to set ground rules:
Ground rules could be about: How team meetings should be conducted.
For example, how often and on what days are meetings conducted? Would meetings be daily
scrum meetings which are more common in Agile methodologies or would they be more traditional
with action items and meeting minutes? The CEO and project manager also find out
from the functional managers that another challenge with cross-functional teams is that
team members have competing responsibilities. These team members are reluctant to participate
on the team because they still have deadlines and responsibilities to their functional departments.
As a project manager you need to negotiate with functional managers to reserve time slots
for work that their staff needs to accomplish for the cross-functional team.
Remember in every team interaction there are challenges to overcome and cross functional
teams are no different. However for many projects, the benefits of cross functional teams out
way the obstacles. I hope you’ve enjoyed my webcast on cross-functional
teams. If you’d like to see my other webcasts you
can visit me on my website: www.Nathanellison.com
Thank you. Nathan Ellison