6 people on screen in a video call

6 Tips for Managing Cross-Functional Teams

Managing a cross-functional team is NOT easy. In fact, the most referenced data from the Harvard Business Review suggests that 75% of cross-functional teams are dysfunctional. While research has shown how and why the overwhelming majority of cross-functional teams do not succeed, there is plenty of information available explaining ways to better manage your team and tips that you can follow to help avoid the common pitfalls.

Are you in the midst of planning a safe return to work? Check out our COVID-19 resource hub or book a demo to see for yourself how social distancing, contact tracing and workplace sanitation can be automated in a matter of days.

The aforementioned data from the Harvard Business Review cites 5 common areas of trouble for cross-functional teams. According to the Harvard Business Review, “In a detailed study of 95 teams in 25 leading corporations, chosen by an independent panel of academics and experts, I found that nearly 75% of cross-functional teams are dysfunctional. They fail on at least three of five criteria: 1.) meeting a planned budget; 2.) staying on schedule; 3.) adhering to specifications; 4.) meeting customer expectations; and/or 5.) maintaining alignment with the company’s corporate goals.”

These five areas on which the Harvard Business Review focused are a great starting point to determine what is important when it comes to managing a cross-functional team. Read on as we break down 6 tips to help you manage your team on a path towards success.

6 Tips for Managing Cross-Functional Teams Successfully

1. Connect Team Members Face to Face

This first tip comes from Toggl Plan, a task management company. Writing a blog post for Toggl Plan titled “How to Effectively Manage a Cross-Functional team,” Rose Keefe – an author and technical writer who writes about time management and productivity – stated, “All successful team collaborations are based on trust. The best way to create a quality professional relationship between members who may not have worked together in the past is to have regular face-to-face interaction, at least in the early stages of the project.” She further wrote, “If some members work at a different location, try to schedule meetings in person or via video conferencing instead of phone or email, which tend to be impersonal. The potential for miscommunication also recedes when everyone can see one another and both facial expression and body language can clarify the meaning of any ambiguous statements.”

2. Clearly Define Your Goals

Clear goals can help to set your team on a path towards success. And while that may seem obvious, it is a vitally important element that is often overlooked. As part of a larger post on “top strategies for managing cross functional teams, Lucidchart, an online collaboration platform, explains the importance of clearly defined goals, “Because cross-functional teams are drawn from different departments within an organization, they often have different, and sometimes conflicting, agendas or legacy processes that could hinder performance. Without clear alignment on shared goals, team members may find it difficult to cooperate and collaborate.” Lucidchart continues, “Project managers can fend off this discord by defining clear project goals. Determine the outcome you’re trying to achieve and map that back to the actual deliverables needed to achieve that goal. Make sure the team is working collaboratively to develop goals that are clearly defined and measurable.”

3. Constantly Re-evaluate

Cross-functional teams are meant to be flexible, and with that it is necessary to regularly re-evaluate your goals and needs.

Project Manager, a cloud-based company offering project management software, provides sound advice on why constant reevaluation is important. According to CEO Jason Westland, “The beauty of cross-functional teams, and one reason they’re so often seen in agile environments, is that they are flexible and able to adapt swiftly to change. A cross-functional team is ideal when you want to speed innovations to market. To achieve that goal, means for reevaluating priorities and processes are needed. This includes performance reviews. Because to remain effective, teams must always be measuring their progress and success. And this happens not only as a post-mortem at the end of the project, but throughout its execution.  Were objectives achieved? If not, why not? Adjust accordingly.”

4. Communication is Key

A clear line of communication between you and your team can make the difference between success or failure. Pingboard, a real-time organizational chart software company, found, “Ideally, team members should communicate amongst themselves as much as they communicate with the project manager. Everyone should be informed of the project status and what their responsibility is in that moment. Meetings should also happen regularly and be seen as a valuable use of everyone’s time.”

5. Thorough Organization

The Center for Management and Organization Effectiveness lists organization as one of their 9 “must-have” leadership skills: “To manage a team of this diversity and complexity, you’ll need a system for organizing deadlines, files, notes, data, research, and whatever else your team members will be bringing to the project. Depending on the goals and needs of your team, you may want to consider using some type of project-management software. Microsoft Planner and Asana are two examples, but there are many other options available. These types of applications will help you and the team organize the work to be done, assign tasks and deadlines, and allow team members to see the progress being made on the project.”

6. Assemble an “A” Team

Our final tip also comes from The Center for Management and Organization Effectiveness and focuses on a successful team being the sum of its parts: “When assembling your team, it’s important to put personal opinions or preferences aside so you can approach the task objectively. You may think you have the best employees for the team, but have you considered their individual strengths or whether they’ll work well together? If your dream team is comprised of valuable, high-performing employees who also have a history of taking charge and micromanaging other employees “for the good of the company,” you may need to rethink your team-building strategy.” The Center for Management and Organization Effectiveness also found, “Before you gather the perfect “A-Team,” spend some time defining the team’s goals and make a list of the strengths and cross-functional skills required to accomplish those goals. You will then be able to assemble the perfect team according to your predefined list of required skills and qualifications rather than targeting the “perfect” individuals ahead of time.”

There are of course so many other leadership qualities and tips out there to help your team succeed. If you’re looking to learn more about cross-functional teams or cross-functional team leadership, please subscribe to our Smartway2 Work blog.

Smartway2 offers a unique workplace scheduling software for modern, agile and collaborative companies. Our flexible software can enable you to increase productivity, optimize your space and reduce your carbon footprint.

Jane Young

Jane Young

Last updated February 11, 2021