So different and yet the same

How cross-functional teams are managed properly

In the business world the word “agile” is making its way and so is the need for cross-functional teams. As the concept of such teams is still evolving into its own species, businesses aspiring to transition to a more “agile” work process are still discovering what defines a cross-functional team, how they work and what are the important considerations in composing one. Most of, they are still learning how to fit leadership in a complementary, self-regulating team of experts.  

 

Many of you have played with Legos as a child. A cross-functional team is much like a Lego kit. Out of the many colorful block combinations, some will be better than others and it’s up to the leaders to build the successful one.

Cross-functional or beyond micromanagement

Cross-functional teams are composed of members with different talents and areas of expertise. In traditional management that can be a nightmare, but in agile companies different talents collaborating at once is a dream come true. Instead of putting extra effort in figuring out how to micromanage this eclectic crowd, the teams are given creative freedom and sufficient autonomy to manage their work process. Here, diversity is the basis for performance and productivity. In this context, the important questions are how leaders can build and macromanage these teams successfully.  

Two heads are better than one…

…as they say. In most cases this is true and in a cross-functional team this belief takes the lead. For example, at the US-based tech company Pivotal Labs several employees regularly work on the same computer (Peer-Programming, Mob-Programming). For that model to work, team members, despite some differences, have to share common personality characteristics, motivations and values. A skilled executive’s key role is to recognize and take into account these common denominators when picking her staff.

Executives as buffers

Once the cross-functional team has been composed, managers still have to lead to a common goal. The differences are in the details. Their paramount responsibility is ensuring the team has all the necessary information and resources to make their work effective. Ideally, a good leader is an excellent observer and can identify and resolve conflicts and problems as soon as they arise. The leader is like a helicopter hovering over his team and getting a feel for the environment. Last, but not least, the manager takes the most important decisions and stands by them on behalf of the team.

Finding the right chemistry

As in love, good chemistry is crucial within a team. For one to grow as a whole, certain conditions need to be met. Apart from the complementing expertise and skills of individual team members, their personal qualities also play a decisive role. If the they do not exist in symbiosis, team members won’t look in the same direction. If the leadership cannot manage to eliminate such a paradox, conflicts and problems will arise down the road, which can endanger the balance in the team and the project’s progress.

The composition and management of cross-functional teams therefore presents a challenge which should not be underestimated by any leader. Nevertheless, the process remains challenging in a positive way; the fun is in finding the right combination of colorful Lego blocks to build something unique.