How Do You Get Cross-Functional Teams to Work Effectively Together?

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Josie Copeland
July 11, 2019
You can’t be successful in any department; marketing, sales, finance or R&D, if you don’t have empathy and understanding of what other functions need to do to support your business. — Simon Lowden, President Global Snacks Group, PEPSICO

We compiled some of the top tips from CEOs and senior executives on what issues quickly arise in cross-functional teams and how to help employees to work together successfully.

The challenge: silos don’t stop!

In a detailed study of 95 teams in 25 leading corporations found that nearly 75% of cross-functional teams are dysfunctional. Many managers have highlighted a lack of motivation, unclear leadership or unclear understanding of the roles and responsibilities as some of the main contributors to this.

However, what about the unspoken barriers to success? Such as past unresolved conflicts? a lack of strong cross-functional relationships? or empathy to diversity?

A team is not a group of people who work together. A team is a group of people who trust each other. — Simon Sinek, TED talk presenter and bestselling author

Here are the top 5 ways to build a highly successful cross-functional team

1. Build strong 1-to-1 interpersonal relationships

You cannot use a cross-functional team as the only opportunity to build ties between different team members. For better relationships between teams as a whole, you must give people the opportunity to build stronger 1-to-1 relationships. Encourage employees to meet informally for a coffee to get to know each other further.

2. Increase diversity understanding

It’s difficult to drop the mindset of us vs. them. Getting team members to meet 1-to-1 with people who are not necessarily similar to them helps to develop their empathy, understanding and conflict resolution skills. Cross-functional teams are often made up of individuals with different interests, talents, work styles and ages so this skill is essential. Meeting colleagues from different functions 1-to-1 starts to break stereotypes and helps team members to better navigate complex group dynamics.

3. Increase trust and respect between colleagues

Trust and respect does not come hand in hand with a structural change - it requires a mindset shift. Challenge employees from different teams to meet 1-to-1 and discuss their respective industries over coffee. There many be baggage between departments that have previously competed directly/indirectly for resources, staff and recognition. Building a deeper understanding of different sides to the same coin can help employees to break the ‘victim mode’ of blaming external circumstances and, instead, strengthen alignment to the company’s vision .

4. Encourage face-to-face meeting where possible

Especially in the early stages of building 1-to-1 relationships, when possible, people should meet face to face. This focuses people’s attention and helps to drive transparency, trust and efficiency. It also helps to avoid faceless passive aggressive email threads further down the line.

5. Give employees the space to keep growing and learning

A lot of cross-functional teams are set up to tackle problems outside of each employees day to day activities so there is a risk that they will be disengaged. By encouraging education and experimentation, team members will be clear of the value they are gaining from this in terms of pushing people to think outside of the box and sparking innovation.

About Ten Thousand Coffees

Ten Thousand Coffees is an enterprise talent development platform that enables companies to scale and measure informal development. Every month, members receive data-driven introduction that are customized to their goals, interests and role. Feedback and success stories provide your organization with impactful business insights about the success of your people-strategies.  The Future of Work is transforming organizations: informal development between colleagues is where talent mobility and culture sticks. 

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