Cross Functional Teams: Mastering Interdepartmental Collaboration

Traditionally, organizations operate from the top-down and separate teams by their skills and function. Marketers work with marketers, sales people work with sales people, and decisions are made at the top. However, this can encourage silos and decrease efficiency. There is a way to address this issue though—with a cross functional team. 

Cross functional teams are teams consisting of people from various departments and segments of the business, and they work together towards a common goal. These teams can provide new insights, offer different perspectives, breakdown silos, identify potential problems more quickly, and more efficiently achieve their goals. They can also foster interdepartmental collaboration by encouraging people from different backgrounds and departments to work together and pool their strengths. 

In today’s article, we’re going to take a closer look at cross functional teams, their benefits, the challenges associated with them, best practices for creating and managing cross functional teams, and how to integrate diverse skillsets and perspectives. 

Understanding Cross-Functional Teams

First, let’s start with the basics—what is a cross functional team? A simple cross functional team definition is a team consisting of various people from different areas of the company, such as members from marketing, sales, and finance working together towards a common goal. However, it’s a bit deeper than that. 

Cross functional teams can come in many different shapes and sizes. You might have a cross functional team where each of the members is still part of their regular team, and they may only meet occasionally to discuss progress, issues, and future goals. There could also be a cross functional team where the team members are working together daily for a specific project or goal. There are many different ways to put together and utilize cross functional teams. That said, there are some things that are universal for all of them. 

One of the main focuses of cross functional teams is that they bring together a diverse group of skill sets and perspectives. Since people from each department are tuned to look for different things, deal with different problems, and solve different challenges, you get a very versatile team that can approach things in a multitude of ways.

To illustrate how a cross functional team can operate differently from traditional teams, let’s use an example. At some point, we’ve all had to call customer service only to be transferred from one department to another without the issue ever getting solved. That is a perfect example of how a traditional team can lead to blindspots and shortcomings. Since each department is isolated from the rest, no one knows whose problem it truly is. 

Now, consider a cross functional team. If the customer service team handling that call is a cross functional team, they’ll have a varied group of perspectives. Since there is someone with experience from every department, they can more quickly identify the root of the problem and get it handled. 

It is ultimately this variation in perspective and expertise that makes cross functional teams excel. They can look at a problem or goal from all different angles, providing unique insights that wouldn’t be mentioned if it was a traditional team. This can excel the process, increase efficiency, and ultimately lead to better results. 

cross functional teams

Challenges of Cross Functional Teamwork

With the basics covered, let’s talk about some of the challenges of cross functional teams before we cover the benefits in more depth. Though cross functional teams present numerous benefits, they aren’t without their potential hurdles. 

One of the biggest challenges to cross functional team collaboration is communication. As with most things in business, communication is key. However, encouraging people to communicate effectively and clearly can be a challenge. Some people may be reluctant to communicate and collaborate with those outside of their department. The differences in approach from people of various departments can create conflicts. Being able to communicate and address those problems is essential for cross functional teams. 

Another challenge is resistance to change and the breaking up of departmental silos. People get comfortable within their groups and departments, and they’re often resistant to change. Being able to overcome that resistance is incredibly important if you want to put together cross functional teams. You’ll need to have strategies and methods for encouraging change and cross departmental communication if you want to see your teams succeed. 

Benefits of Cross Functional Teams

Though those challenges may seem substantial, the benefits make dealing with them worthwhile. There are numerous benefits to utilizing cross functional teams, and it’s important to understand those benefits before you make any decisions. 

It’s no secret that creativity and innovation play a big role in business, and cross functional teams can help you increase both of them. Since you are bringing together people from different departments with different skills, strengths, and perspectives, you can find new and creative solutions. 

For example, a salesperson is going to look at a potential new product differently from someone in finance. The person in sales might be more concerned with how easy it will be to sell, while the person from finance might be more concerned with profitability and profit margins. Bringing those perspectives together can result in a boost of creativity that leads to further innovation—ultimatley benefiting your business. 

Similarly, cross functional teams can also improve problem solving. Again, having a cross functional team means you’ll have people looking at a potential problem from all sorts of different angles. 

Someone from marketing might be able to solve part of the problem the best, while someone from research and development can help with the rest. Bringing together talented people with varying perspectives can bring a huge boost to your ability to solve problems quickly and effectively. 

One last benefit is an improved decision making process. A cross functional team brings in varying perspectives, so you can look and analyze a decision from multiple viewpoints. A certain team member may identify potential concerns as it relates to their area of expertise that might have gone unnoticed. Another team member may see benefits that others missed. 

Best Practices for Managing and Bringing Together Cross Functional Teams

Cross functional teams come with a whole suite of benefits, but you have to be able to create and manage them effectively. And due to their unique nature, they have to be approached a bit differently. So let’s look at some of the best practices for establishing and bringing together cross functional teams. 

First and foremost, you need to establish clear goals and objectives. Goals and objectives are one of the key things that will bring your team together. Working towards something together can do an incredible job of bringing people together. So be sure that you clearly establish goals and objectives for the team(s).

You also need to have effective communication strategies. A team is built upon communication, and that’s especially important in cross functional teams where people have different perspectives. Establishing communication strategies that ensure people get to express their opinions and consider the opinions of others is essential for managing a cross functional team. 

Tying into that, utilizing technology also plays an important role. Technology can help enable seamless communication and collaboration. Cross functional teams need to be able to speak to each other and work together with ease, and technology can enable that. 

For example, some platforms enable you to set-up a virtual office where other team members can stop in at any time for a quick chat. This can help encourage casual conversation, as well as make collaboration much more efficient. 

It’s also worth noting that a good company culture is important too. Collaboration and communication are much more difficult when people don’t trust and respect each other. Creating a culture that fosters trust and respect for others can have a massive impact on your ability to communicate and collaborate. 

Integrating Diverse Skill Sets and Perspectives

As we wrap things up, let’s quickly talk about integrating diverse skill sets and perspectives. This is ultimately one of the most important yet difficult aspects of creating a cross functional team, and it’s something you’ll have to accomplish to achieve your goal. 

Encouraging open dialogue and idea sharing is one of the best ways to integrate various skillsets and perspectives. People need to be comfortable sharing their ideas and viewpoints, and others need to be open to listening. This ties back to the importance of communication, trust, and respect as well. 

Embracing diversity and inclusion is key as well. Cross functional teams are all about embracing the diversity in perspective and skillset that makes us unique, so your team and its members need to be ready to embrace diversity and inclusion. They should be leaning into each other’s strengths and weaknesses, pooling their talents to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts. 

If that seems like a lot, don’t worry. Team building events can actually help you address all of these. These events can help people see the importance of embracing diversity, sharing ideas, collaborating, communicating freely, and more.

For example, the Nexus Speed Networking event utilizes a series of fun challenges combined with discussions that help people learn more about their coworkers. This can help them realize each other’s strengths and weaknesses and understand the importance of embracing that diversity. The Do Good Bus can help bring team members together through mystery and charitable work, encouraging team work, collaboration, and more. 

Embrace Collaboration with TeamBonding

Cross functional teams are an incredibly powerful tool for a business. By bringing people together from various departments, you can create teams that have a variety of skills, perspectives, and insights. This can lead to increased creativity, innovation, problem solving, and the breaking down of silos. So embrace interdepartmental collaboration and utilize it to help your business reach new heights.

If you’re ready to take action and start building cross functional teams, consider TeamBonding. We have been doing corporate events for over two decades, and we can help your teams come together and build stronger bonds. We have a variety of events perfectly suited for cross functional teams, so get in touch with us today.

Anna Webber

Team Contributor

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