How to form a successful cross-functional team
By Brodie O'Carroll 21 May 2020 Way of Working
Skills and challenges faced when forming a cross-functional team.
In the modern working enviroment, communication is boss. Having a team that is able to communicate effectively, whilst also having the skills and knowledge to work on a task from start to finish is incredibly valuable to the success of businesses in today's professional scene. This type of team is defined as a cross-functional team; i.e. a team that is made up of a group of people who each have an individual specialty and also a range of shared essential skills.
These kinds of teams can work in a range of businesses with one of the major benefits being their ability to negate the need for outsourcing; therefore minimising time spent waiting for other departments to finish their section of work, and also maximising time spent on the project with the team undertaking the project in its entirety; from start to finish.
Especially in a start-up environment, like Codebots, it is necessary to have cross-functional teams in order to achieve goals set by the company and by our clients.
Essential skills of a cross-functional teams
In a cross-functional team, it is pertinent to the successful completion of nominated goals that every member is on the same page; that they have the same understanding of what is expected of them within this working environment.
I-shape vs T-shape skill base
Historically it has been beneficial to specialise completely in one area, however with our ever changing landscape and the need for continuous modernisation, within both our technology and our way of working, the need has changed to develop a range of essential and transferable skills as well as a specialisation.
An I-shape skill base is one that has a very high-level of specialisation, fantastic in certain occupations but in the tech space it pays to be across a number of areas. A T-shape skill set still has a specialisation in a particular field, whilst also having a range of low-level skills such as: communication, creativity, and basic skills in other team members' specialisations.
The following are five essential skills for members of cross-functional teams:
1. Questions authority
Questioning authority and challenging assumptions are crucial aspects of any cross-functional team's skill-set. Being able to challenge traditions and pre-conceived ideas allows for the improvement and development of new ways of working, experimentation and ultimately success.
2. Transparent Communication
Communication across all areas of your team ensures a mutual understanding, not only of the mission (task at hand) but also of each individual's tasks and roles - creating a safe environment of trust that makes for incredible progression. This level of communication builds trust within the team and increases accountability. Transparency across communication also allows for the development of shared goals and mutual understanding of team culture; what is expected.
Transparent communication allows for a deep understanding of the following concepts within the team, enabling the team to create their own team culture:
- Credibility: How much team members believe each other
- Reliability: The tendency of team members to complete tasks at hand
- Intimacy: Defined as how well team members confided in each other and empathise with each other's work load
These concepts ensure an epic team culture, resulting in a capable and confident working team.
Being a part of a diverse team with members with different specialisations and often coming from different and already established teams, requires each member to be across all aspects of the team and its projects. This requires a high level of organisation from both an individual team member level and an overall team level. Tying in with the need for transparent communication, organisational skills enable all team members to have a thorough understanding of all other team members jobs, skills and knowledge, as well as a deep understanding of the task at hand.
Flexibility is another key skill needed to ensure the success of a cross-functional team. When team members practice open-mindedness and flexibility, it allows for a safe team environment which fosters innovation, making this team adaptable to many different projects and work loads.
5. Willingness to learn
A willingness to learn is an essential attribute of any member in a cross functional team. One of the benefits of being a part of a team like this is the opportunity to broaden your skillset: becoming competent in a range of transferable skills which can be used across a range of different projects and situations. Taking advantage of being a part of a cross-functional team is only possible by having a willingness to learn. Furthermore, having team members who are not only capable but willing, is incredibly beneficial to businesses in creating a culture of determined, highly skilled individuals positively impacting the output the team.
Challenges of having and forming a cross-functional team
As with implementing any kind of change, there are challenges of forming and having cross-functional teams within any business.
Prioritisation of issues and goals becomes a challenge with team members having both their specific role and the expectation to take on or help with various other tasks to help the team achieve the goal.
Differing personalities can create issues across all workplaces in any capacity. When it comes to a cross-functional team, it is pertinent to the success of the team that members not only get along but have mutual respect for each other as professionals. Friction within the team causes tension, lack of trust, and ultimately projects left incomplete.
With understand of challenges and implementation of solutions, cross-functional teams are incredibly beneficial to businesses of all shapes and sizes.
I was privileged enough to be able to have conversations with product manager, Shane Sendall and agile coach, Cheryl Tansey, regarding the challenges and benefits of having a cross-functional team. Check out the video here:
Example of a cross-functional team
Here at Codebots, we have found that in order to work efficiently on a project, creating smaller cross functional teams, for the above mentioned reasons, is the best approach. These smaller teams can then be joined together as the project develops and more minds are required.
Our Way of Working (WoW), what we follow to tackle projects, is based upon a cross-functional team structure consisting of a Lead Developer, Designer, Squad Lead (sometimes a junior developer as well). These team members liase with an account manager and the customer to develop the best possible application to fit the customer's needs.
- Lead (and junior) developer: Develop the customer's application using the Codebots Platform. Web engineers are typically full-stack developers who are comfortable doing both server-side and client-side development. They also ensure the quality of the application during the development phase.
- Squad Lead: responsible for understanding the capacity of their development team, whilst also looking out for the customer to ensure that the best product is built.
- Designer: responsible for discovering the problem the customer is trying to solve as well as client-side development; this requires awesome communication and excellent prioritisation skills.
- Account Manager: responsible for the partnership with the customer, and are in charge of educating the customer about the Way of Working before the project starts. Once it has begun, they are involved in all stages to ensure that the customer's journey is successful.