Building a cross-functional team: 9 tips and benefits

Team Asana contributor imageTeam AsanaNovember 9th, 20215 min read
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Summary

A cross-functional team is a permanent or temporary group of people with different types of experience working together to achieve a common goal. Cross-functional teams benefit companies because when team members with multiple skill sets work together, they can pursue company goals more efficiently. In this piece, we’ll explain what a cross-functional team is and provide tips for how to build one.

Most companies have departments for marketing, sales, finance, and the like. Team members in each of these areas have clear goals to meet based on their specialty. For example, the sales team goal may be to sell a million dollars worth of revenue each year.

While this structure aligns people with what they’re good at, sometimes grouping people with different strengths and unique skills can help companies better achieve their goals. This is defined as a cross-functional team. In this piece, we’ll explain the benefits of having a cross-functional team—whether it’s permanent or temporary—and offer tips for how to build one. 

What is a cross-functional team?

A cross-functional team is a permanent or temporary group of team members with varying levels and types of experience working together to achieve a common goal. 

With a cross-functional team, the lines between functional areas of a company are blurred. Team members from different departments collaborate, communicate, and coordinate with each other to achieve a greater goal. 

What is a cross-functional team?

When team members with unique skill sets work together, they can pursue business goals more efficiently. As a result, cross-functional teams are particularly effective ways to accomplish big company initiatives. 

Example of a functional vs. cross-functional team:

  • Functional team: A team focused on their specific department’s goals. For example, a marketing team focuses solely on achieving marketing goals for the company. Let’s say the company goal is to increase revenue year over year—the marketing project objectives are sure to increase brand awareness but may not impact revenue directly. 

  • Cross-functional team: A more varied team focused on larger, cross-company goals. In the same example, a cross-functional team might create a project plan that focuses on increasing company revenue through various avenues. The team may include members from departments such as marketing, product, finance, and sales.

With effective collaboration and a great project management tool, cross-functional teams have the potential to achieve goals in less time with fewer resources. 

Improve team collaboration with Asana

How do you create a cross-functional team?

Regardless of whether you’re building a permanent or temporary cross-functional team, start by evaluating your current team breakdown. Consider what additional strengths and expertise you need to achieve your target goal. 

As with any other team, your cross-functional group should have a designated project manager and include people with different skill sets that you think will mesh. 

Use the tips below to ensure your cross-functional team is efficient and can successfully meet company goals. 

How do you create a cross-functional team?

1. Focus on diversity

The main way to achieve a variety of perspectives on your cross-functional team is to include team members from different departments. However, aim to incorporate other elements of diversity as well, like race, gender, or age. The more variety you have in your cross-functional team, the more everyone’s perspectives can shine through. 

Tip: When creating a diverse cross-functional team, consider choosing team members with varying levels of experience and seniority as well as different hard and soft skills. You should also choose team members of different backgrounds, genders, and ages. 

2. Align goals

When creating a cross-functional team, ensure that each team member aligns their individual goals with both team and company goals. This is important because team members will need full visibility to successfully complete projects that meet company needs. If you’re the team lead, you can help new members understand the common goal and make sure everyone is on the same page. 

Tip: A helpful way to align team goals is to use goal tracking software. Goal tracking software can connect your daily work with larger company goals and clearly visualize progress towards those goals.

Try free goal tracking with Asana

3. Include subject matter experts

Having subject matter experts on your cross-functional team will increase your team’s problem-solving power and give you more leverage when moving through project initiation and delivery. 

Think of this example: If you have a finance expert on your team, you’ll be more prepared to manage a cross-functional project involving upgrades to your company’s financial database. While you may need help from the marketing and sales team members for external components of the project, your financial expert can handle key decisions, guide the team through technical work, and discuss the details of the project with your stakeholders.  

Tip: You may not be able to pull team members with expert power from every department. If you have limited subject matter experts in one department and you think they’re needed on their designated teams, consider asking these experts who would be a good match for a cross-functional position. Team members that are knowledgeable and natural teachers are good candidates for cross-functional teams. 

4. Embrace work automation

Using automation to your advantage can make your cross-functional team stronger. Automation reduces work about work so team members spend less time searching for information or communicating changes and more time getting skilled work done. Make sure you choose the right project management tool that automates many of your team’s tasks or processes in order to drive efficiency. 

When you embrace automation, both communication and productivity become easier because you can streamline your workflow and avoid bottlenecks.

Tip: Having a single work management tool can help your cross-functional team organize tasks, establish clear ownership and accountability for work, and centralize team communication.

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5 benefits of cross-functional teams

Cross-functional teams aren't always right for the job, but when used effectively, they can help you hit your goals more effectively. Below, we cover five tips on how to set up temporary or permanent cross functional teams effectively.

5 benefits of cross-functional teams
  1. Increases employee engagement: Cross-functional team structures can increase employee engagement because team members in this structure are more likely to feel they have a common purpose. While team members working in a marketing department may all work on marketing tasks, they’ll likely work on a variety of projects. Cross-functional teams gain a sense of unity from working on one project towards a common goal.

  2. Builds management skills: Cross-functionality can increase team members’ management skills because there won’t be multiple team members with the same skill set to support them. For example, there may be one or two sales team members on a cross-functional team. Because they don’t have an entire team of sales experts to support them, these sales team members will need to guide the team on sales topics.

  3. Promotes collaboration: While working on any team requires collaboration, cross-functional teams encourage strong collaboration skills because everyone must work with people and skill sets they’re unfamiliar with. Cross-functional teams require high levels of transparency to succeed.

  4. Creates learning opportunities: Because cross-functional teams are diverse, the opportunities for team members to learn from one another are high. For example, the marketing and finance experts on the team will mostly stick to what they know, but they’ll inevitably learn from one another as they collaborate on projects. As time passes, most team members will learn something new. 

  5. Improves visibility into the big picture: When team members work in specialized departments, they may not know what goes on in other areas of the company. Some team members may not even know what the company’s vision or goals are. Cross-functional teams increase team member visibility across the board so that individuals feel more connected to the bigger picture of the company.

Team members may find that working with people that have different skill sets provides a more exciting work environment. When individuals feel more excited about coming to work, their morale and performance will rise.

Read: How team morale affects employee performance

Reach your company goals with cross-functional collaboration

Whether you adopt permanent or temporary cross-functional teams, they can offer unique perspectives and boost innovation. While team collaboration may be an adjustment as team members get to know one another’s patterns and processes, you can reduce friction by adopting project management software. 

When you move your processes online, you create a unified user experience for all team members. By simplifying the workspace, you can make it easier for your cross-functional team to reach their goals.

Try project management with Asana

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