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18 Reasons Why You Should Build Cross-Functional Teams

18 Reasons Why You Should Build Cross-Functional Teams

By Steve Pogue

Building a cross-functional team—or a team that involves people from more than one department—can feel daunting. But trust us—it’s worth it. Here are 18 reasons why you might want to consider putting together an A-Team of people in differing roles to solve that big problem that’s been on your mind lately.

1. You’ll Be Encouraging a Collaborative Culture

Instead of merely saying, “Our company values teamwork,” you can actually walk the walk by proving it with cross-functional teams.

So many different kinds of backgrounds and areas of expertise come together to form a collective knowledge base that is the cross-functional team, and if you’re not harnessing that kind of synergy in your biggest projects, you’re missing out.

2. You’ll Be Encouraging Continuing Education & Experimentation

When a marketing guy and an IT guy come together to tackle a project, no doubt there will be some learning going on. And what if your marketing guy always kind of wondered how the back-end stuff works when it comes to IT? What if the IT guy has some cool ideas on marketing that he picked up in his night school classes?

A huge part of autonomy and worker satisfaction is giving your employees the space to always keep learning and growing, and cross-functional teams let you do that.

3. You’ll Learn New Tools

Coming together and seeing how people do things differently is a great way to find out who’s using what tools and to see if you can benefit from incorporating these tools into your day-to-day, too.

Maybe you’ll see how one developer from one team organizes their work, and you can take that methodology back to your team. Or maybe this project manager swears by their new to-do list method and you can use that too.

It’s always good to know who the Excel, Powerpoint or CRM wizards are within your company—they can come in handy in a pinch.

4. You’ll Make Friends Outside Your Department

You’ll finally be able to strike up easy conversation with the QA team that always look like they’re having so much fun in the break room.

Professional growth aside, it really is just a great way to meet new people and become more familiar with more of the faces in your company.

Maybe you don’t click so much with your own department in a wanna get drinks after work?-sort of way, but you might click that well with personalities outside of your department.

And same goes for your teammates: could they make a new friend by working on a cross-functional team?

5. You’ll Exercise Communication Skills

Team communication can make or break your effectiveness as a team. And it’s not all about “just listening better”—there’s a lot that goes into good team communication. Constructive feedback, agreed-upon communication channels, and understanding diversity issues are just a few parts of this.

Having a cross-functional team that’s not all that used to working together is like putting your communication skills to the test. Our struggles and strengths with communication really come out when we have to do it with people we’re not used to communicating with.

6. You’ll Hone Your Management Skills

Because smashing two teams together and expecting them to merge into one mega-good team is unrealistic and probably has never happened in the history of management.

You’ve just been thrown in the water with little to none swimming lessons and now your management skills will really be put to the test. I know this doesn’t sound like a benefit, but trust me—in the long term, it is. You’ll be able to add “managing cross-functional teams” to your resumé now.

And by the way, that’s what project management is all about about.

14 Project Management Tips For Better Team Collaboration

7. Your Team Can Practice Conflict Resolution

Because trust me, there will be conflict on any team. It’d almost be weird if there weren’t. 

Natural sources of conflict when working with cross-functional teams are: differences in educational/training background, differences in work processes and tools, and lack of understanding of roles/purpose of roles. And these are just a few.

But knowing that these are common issues that come up and recognizing them when they do crop up is half the battle. Remind your team: Hey, it’s only natural. It’s only natural that we’d bump heads a little coming together from such different backgrounds.

And now that you’ve recognized there’s conflict? You and your team can get to work resolving it.

8. It’ll Mix Things Up a Bit

Bored at work? Tired of the same old same old? Here, have some stimulation.

Cross-functional teams are exciting purely for the fact that they shake things up a bit. Sometimes it feels like it’s for the better, and sometimes it feels like it’s for the worse, but either way, you’re in for a break from the daily grind.

Get people to break free from their mental roadblocks and daily habits by throwing them into a new environment.

9. You Get to Try Others in Leadership Roles

You may be the manager of marketing, and you may be friends with the product management director, but when you get together—well, then who’s boss?

You might be. Or she might be, depending on the project. But what if you made one of your best marketing folks the lead for this newly-formed team? That’s the cool thing about cross-functional teams: you can try out new folks in leadership roles and find out whether or not they thrive. With cross-departmental teams, the typical guys aren’t always in charge, and this can pump new life and perspective into a project.

10. You’ll Spark Innovation

Now and in the future, you’ll get your marketing people thinking like IT people, your coding people thinking like your design folks, and your writers thinking like marketers. It’s probably not even possible for a group of a bunch of different people in different roles to not think outside of the box when grouped with new people.

11. You’ll Strengthen Alignment to Company’s Vision

When you do one thing or work in one role all day, it can be tough to remember why you’re doing it—especially if you’re in a big organization and your role seems like a teeny, tiny piece at the bottom.

But what you do does matter, otherwise someone wouldn’t be paying you to do it. There’s meaning there, and it may take teaming up with others who work on the other side of the same machine to remind you of it. Your role in making the overall vision happen gets a whole lot closer to your face when you’re working with others who do different things, but for the same goal.

12. You’ll Speed Things Up

Each team member is painfully familiar with their own department’s roadblocks, bottlenecks, resource suckers, headaches and weak points. But they’ll also know their strong points and what processes have helped them succeed in the past.

When everyone brings their best practices to the table, a team can thrive. A self-aware team member knows what holds their department back—and, on the flip side, knows what roadblocks to avoid and how best to leverage the team’s resources.

It’s this kind of departmental knowledge that only comes from working in the trenches for some time that can be a huge help when figuring out what your department can bring to the table in a cross-functional team.

14. You’ll Benefit From Online Tools That Make It Easy

Cross-function like it’s 2017, baby, not like it’s 1999. What I’m saying is, we have tools that make this stuff easier now, so let’s use them. Remote cross-functional teams especially can benefit from tools like Slack and Workzone that’ll keep everyone on the same page.

Tools like Zapier, Dropbox, Google Drive, and many more, could smooth out those natural bumps in the road that come from new people working together in a new way. Get the logistical stuff out of the way with handy online tools and you can focus on solving more important blocks to cross-functional success.

15. You’ll Break Stereotypes & Benefit From Diversity

Marketing thinks the engineers are egghead blowhards who are only good for your trivia team, and the engineers believe marketing spends its time gluing construction paper to popsicle sticks—and not even that well.

Well, you’re both wrong. Maybe they’re actually cool people and you won’t find that out until you’re teamed up to work with them on a new app and matching marketing campaign.

When you’re in marketing mode all day, no doubt it’s hard to understand the tech guys. Or the writing guys. Or the HR guys. But when you’re put in a situation in which you all need to work together, it’s only a matter of time before the close contact and common goal helps foster a bit of understanding between departments.

In addition to breaking stereotypes, you’ll also benefit from diversity. Whether it’s a new mix of people of different ages, different races, different socioeconomic backgrounds, or different tastes, you’re in for a mix-up of how things are normally done. Bringing new perspectives to the table can cause conflict, which is only natural. But it can also cause innovation and unlikely friendship and teamwork pairs—which, if you’ve ever seen a picture of a baby duckling being cuddled by a cat, you’ll know are the best.

And understanding like that in a workplace, where working together literally means the success or failure of your business ventures? It’s gold.

16. Your Team Will Rally Towards One Goal

All the better to build that team spirit with, my dear.

It’s kind of hard for your copywriting guy to feel 100% motivated and responsible for the writing project he’s doing when he’s so far removed from the results, and because often his good work is less visible and measurable than the marketing, web design, and sales folks’ work.

It kind of goes back to the uniting everyone under the company’s vision: it’s nice to have a goal you can all have a hand in. Whether you’re the writing guy on the project or the IT guy, it’s cool to have a common goal and a hand in its success.

17. You’ll Get to Experiment With Processes

Just like how everyone can come together and share their toolbox and find out what tools might work best for the team, let’s come together and learn about each other’s processes and what work processes we might be able to use to get things done most efficiently.

Everyone has their own way of doing things, their own processes, and the best thing about a cross-functional team is that it’s a great playground to experiment with this. Trying new processes, that is. If one doesn’t work? It’s all good—it’s hard to pin down what processes will be most efficient for a newly minted cross-functional team full of so many differing roles. Just try another.

18. You’ll Solve Big Problems

What’s the number one reason—the only real, big reason—to work in cross-functional teams at all?

The need for cross-functional teamwork comes from the need to get something big done—something that can’t be done by any one department. It’s something that spans multiple departments, takes many different kinds of minds, and is so big and important that it takes the best people, regardless of where they work department-wise.

So yeah, forming a cross-functional team is a lot of work and is usually a high-pressure situation, because you’re working on big things. And that’s scary and intimidating, but it should also feel empowering. Have a big problem? No worries: you can build a big team of the greatest minds in your company to tackle it.

How Will You Create Cross-Functional Teams?

And what will be your reasons? Perhaps you’ll do it to build team spirit or break the ice between departments in a new company. Maybe you’ll do it to shake things up a bit and experiment with new processes and tools.

Or maybe you’re just looking to solve your company’s next big problem. Either way, how will you use cross-functional teams this year?

Steve Pogue is the Marketing Operations Manager at Workzone. He writes about project management tips and the buying process. When not at Workzone, you can find him playing vintage base ball or relaxing with his family at home.