Cross Functional Team Leadership – How to Manage It?

A cross-functional team is a multidisciplinary team that can be very effective for the company if there is a capable leader who will be managing it.

It’s a tough task. But first, what exactly is cross-functional leadership and which skills are must-have to manage a workgroup made up of employees from different areas? Which are the downsides? Let’s explain this complex work position.

Cross-Functional Team Explained

A cross-functional team is a workgroup made up of staff members from various functions who cooperate to accomplish a given goal. For example, if there is a software company, they can create a team made up of engineering, sales, marketing and customer service to produce a new application.

team word

Oftentimes organizations create cross-functional teams on a temporary basis required by a specific project. Although, some enterprises create permanent cross-functional teams instead of a traditional hierarchical structure. This kind of team can be used in organizations of any size.

In this kind of organization, the emphasis is on communication and working together to achieve the goal. Every good company as well as a team leader wants to prevent the organization from functioning in silos. That can be very frustrating for customers, staff and the company in general.

The Purpose Of Cross-functional Team

Many companies use this kind of team to produce better results more quickly and more effectively. Ideally, a cross-functional team will include professionals from different areas. Each team member contributes their professional and all other skills needed for a specific project.

multidisciplinary team

This kind of team will succeed if the organization puts in place strong governance with high-level leadership that oversees its progress as well as holds accountability for its success. Here we come to the very demanding team role – managing cross-functional teams.

Managing Cross-functional Teams

A company can choose among a single executive or multiple leaders from different areas. One of the main leadership goals is to ensure the team has clear goals, realistic schedules, adequate resources and support.

Tips To Build Effective Cross-functional Leadership

These tips will help you (as a team leader) put together an effective cross-functional team.

  • Promote Diversity – That’s the very important thing. Diversity is essential for success and that diversity refers to age, status, viewpoint, background and position in the company.
  • Setting Ground Rules – A team leader should set clear ground rules about how to achieve a certain goal. As a leader, you need to decide how decisions should be made. Each team member must know what’s expected from it.
  • rules

  • Gather Buy-in – An effective team should include leaders of members from various departments. These members should effectively communicate the team’s work to others.
  • Set Clear Goals – A leader should establish clear goals with specific requirements and deadlines.
  • Encourage Conflict Resolution – Because team members come from different areas, have different backgrounds and viewpoints makes them more susceptible to conflict. So company leadership should minimize the risk, which can include conflict resolution training, team-buildings, after-work activities, etc.
  • conflict solving

  • Establish Authority – It’s very, very important to establish the team leader’s authority and the team’s authority. A team who respects its leader and who is respected within the company will produce better results.
  • Stay Flexible  – Some circumstances can change and require the leader and his team to adjust accordingly. A good leader will explain to members what’s happened and how to act.
  • Involve Team Members In Project Planning – Use a collaborative approach that supports team participation in the planning process.
  • project planning

  • Review The Completed Project Plan With Other Area Leaders – It isn’t recommended to begin the execution phase of the project without consulting with other area leaders.
  • Ask For Feedback – It’s good to get feedback through face-to-face meetings so you can deal with any issues.

Essential Cross-functional Leadership Skills

Leading a diverse team is challenging and it’s not a small ask. Effective leadership plays the main role in overcoming the barriers every leader can face. These skills are critical for every leader:

  • Great Communication Skills – Good leaders have the ability to clearly communicate the purpose, status, rules, goals and results to other team members.
  • communication skills

  • Aversion To Assumption – Making assumptions can be extremely damaging. Avoid doing that, clear communication should be the number one priority.
  • Clear Vision – It is the leader’s responsibility to see where his team is and how they heading toward the set goals.
  • Agility – Every leader can count on unexpected problems. Sometimes it will be necessary to adjust expectations, timelines and activities.
  • Comprehensive Documentation – Documenting every element of your work is very important – it should be available to the team and other stakeholders.
  • documentations

  • Empathy – Last but not least, this characteristic is very important. A leader should be able to support his members, make sure they feel heard and create the opportunity for each member to express their challenges and concerns.

Cross-functional leadership isn’t easy, but it’s very powerful, especially when all mentioned skills are combined.

The Challenges Of a Cross-functional Team

Because of the team diversity, there are big challenges for the person (or people) who manage the team.

team figures

You need to deal with competing demands and conflicts. There are day-to-day demands of the team members’ day jobs. That causes big pressure and responsibility for the person who leads the team.

Also, you need to have a broad knowledge of different fields so you can manage teamwork.

Finally, soft skills. They should be on a high level because you’ll work with people and need to listen, understand, recognize and solve many ongoing issues. That can be very challenging.

Final Verdict

Cross-functional teams are very common in organizations in many companies and industries. They can be very effective and provide multiple benefits depending on the team members’ skills and most importantly – quality leadership. Cross-functional team leadership presents special difficulties that aren’t common in traditional teams.

Joana graduated in 2014. and has a master's degree in linguistics. The education makes her an expert in business communication while her 5-year work experience gives her expertise in business researches and writing. She has been working on several services as an editor and writer studying business cases and publishing results she has come to. She has established many collaborations with experts in human resources and management so she uses the knowledge of experts for writing the articles.