April 28, 2021

5 Key Reasons to Use Cross-Functional Teams for Projects

Whether you’re seeking to dismantle silos or benefit from diverse perspectives, cross-functional teams provide a definite boon for your business.

Previously, the hierarchical structure of firms meant that departments would work in silos, in a relatively linear fashion.

Yet today, the accelerated pace of change forces companies to shift their approach and build collaborative teams with contrasting skills and perspectives.

With the above in mind, here are 5 key reasons to shelve a siloed approach and enlist cross-functional teams who can bring your goals to fruition…

Reason 1: They Facilitate Divergent Thinking to Solve Problems Faster

Unexpected blocks or bottlenecks are the banes of any project. From scope creep and misalignment to reluctance to pivot midway, issues can quickly arise that cause lengthy delays to deliverables. Unlike groups of specialists who possess similar strengths and skill-sets, cross-functional teams bring novel perspectives to the table. In this sense, their contrasting backgrounds and insights compel constructive critique, helping breakthrough moments of stasis to reconsider problems anew. Whether by reframing the issue itself or scrutinising a sub-par strategy, a diverse mix of people naturally ideates at scale, resulting in new and novel solutions at a refreshingly rapid pace.

Reason 2: They Transform Communication Silos Into Open Feedback Forums

Communicating clearly with others is integral to effective teamwork, enabling members to work together towards a collective goal. However, the nature of homogenous teams can make this challenging to achieve in practice; specialists may seek to showcase their knowledge at the expense of listening to others. Yet the long-term success of a project depends on multiple parties and people, both to consider the needs of the customer and how elements can come together to optimise the user experience. Thankfully, cross-functional teams can transform these long-standing silos, facilitating the flow of feedback that improves the end result.

Reason 3: They Encourage T-Shaped Skills to Support the Success of Projects

Contrary to popular belief, depth and breadth of knowledge are far from mutually exclusive. Instead of solely pursuing one specialism, T-shaped people combine depth and breadth of knowledge, enabling them to excel in several domains. So how does this come about? Working in synergy together, members of cross-functional teams develop skills in other specialisms, enabling them to pivot and adapt when required to less familiar tasks. As they expose themselves to unfamiliar disciplines, they become open to new ways of thinking and competent in other areas that complement their chosen niche. This collaborative, close-knit structure allows workers to cross-train each other and apply this newfound knowledge to support the team as a unit. Through this process, individuals become agile, T-shaped people, who are generalists and specialists simultaneously.

Reason 4: They Inspire Constructive Conflict that Fuels Creativity and Innovation

Traditionally, signs of conflict in the workplace are viewed in a negative light. Yet opposing thoughts and opinions offer a source of competitive advantage. Contrary to popular belief, positive forms of conflict can compel constructive critique, paving the way for problem-solving.  Rather than shunning conflicts or seeking to dominate discussions, members of cross-functional teams thrive in a lively environment. This constructive form of conflict compels them to challenge their assumptions and suggest novel ideas that build on insights from others. The dynamics of cross-functional teams can further support this process; by dismantling stagnant silos, members connect and communicate at a level that helps them brainstorm cohesive solutions. Given the value of innovation, approaching work in this way can help firms stay one step ahead.

Reason 5: They Reduce the Risk of Groupthink Causing Suboptimal Business Decisions

When it comes to making decisions, it can be challenging to remain objective, with the desire to concede with others superseding personal objections. Referred to as “groupthink”, this phenomenon is ubiquitous in business today, resulting in irrational, blinkered decisions. Unfortunately, the omnipresent threat of groupthink can jeopardise any project, compelling unquestioned consensus and agreement over objective critique. As such, members may favour unquestioned beliefs or overlook the flaws of a strategy that requires further refinement. Conversely, a diverse, cross-functional team reduces the risk of groupthink; as members are generally dissimilar, group identity is far more fluid, allowing impartial opinions to flourish. Unsurprisingly, these contrasting perspectives and viewpoints improve the accuracy of pivotal decisions, encouraging members to challenge ideas or suggest contingency plans that prevent members from becoming complacent.