Working on a cross-functional team—best practices
Cross-functional teams — maybe you’ve read the term in a job application, or perhaps you’ve heard your colleagues use it around the office. Either way, if you’re an accomplished professional, chances are relatively high that sooner or later, you’ll be asked to join one. But what exactly is a cross-functional team, and how can you be successful working in one?
What is a cross-functional team?
As Alison Randel points out in her Medium article “A Practical Guide to Cross-Functional Work,” organizational isolation isn’t conducive to success. For example, if your company is launching a new product, R&D, marketing, sales, and distribution must all work together to bring it to market. Or if your employer wants to improve the customer experience, sales, distribution, and customer support need to be aligned around this common goal.
And that’s precisely where cross-functional teams come in. According to Inc., a cross-functional team is a working group that’s comprised of professionals from a variety of different areas within an organization. Oftentimes, these types of teams are temporary units that are set up in order to accomplish a specific goal.
How to be successful working on a cross-functional team
Because cross-functional teams are usually quickly assembled and have a limited time in which to achieve an objective, it’s important to know what’s expected of you and how to interact with the other team members. Keep the following pointers in mind:
- Look to the team leader for direction. Oftentimes, cross-functional teams appoint a leader who’s responsible for coordinating tasks so you keep moving forward towards your goal. Even if you’re more used to working in a matrixed environment, it’s advisable to listen to the team leader, since he or she will likely have a better overview of the team members’ individual specializations and responsibilities.
- Try to understand everyone’s priorities. In her article titled “4 Things You Won’t Know About Working on a Cross-Functional Team Until You Do It” for The Muse, Tiffany Poeppelman explains that everyone on the team will be looking for their own outcomes. It’s important to know where this specific project ranks in their lists of priorities so you have a better idea of the kind of time and effort everyone will invest.
- Communicate clearly and respectfully. Whether you know anybody on the team or not, it’s critical to communicate clearly and respectfully. Otherwise, a lack of communication or a miscommunication could stall the project you’re working on.
- Ask for resources when necessary. If you don’t have all the resources you need, inform your team leader as soon as possible. You can’t be expected to perform well if you don’t have all the tools you require.
- Accept accountability. In a cross-functional team, you’ll likely be the only expert in your specific field. That means you have to be accountable for the aspect of the project that pertains to your field. Make sure you understand what’s being asked of you and give it your best effort.
Working in a cross-functional team can be interesting and invigorating. What’s more: As long as you keep these pointers in mind, it’s an experience that can help you advance your career.
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