Companies select people from different functional areas to create cross-functional teams. For example, a cross-functional team might include a representative from areas such as marketing, sales, production and human resources. Companies often create these teams for specific goals, but a cross-functional team setup is the primary structure organizational structure for some companies. The varied skills and talents can improve problem solving and promote quick decision-making. Even so, the very nature of cross-functional teams can be disadvantageous and cause a team to fail.
Sales cross-functional teams can be helpful in providing better customer service because they develop products with customer specifications in mind, but bringing people from different areas to service customers can also pose issues for the company because team members must rethink their roles in the organization. A member from product development might find that he has to keep sales in mind, for example, and the member from sales might feel that involving others in customer management might jeopardize her relationship with customers. The sales representative also might resent having to consult with other members before making decisions, and this can result in slow customer response time.
When cross-functional teams comprise workers from different departments, they’re likely to remain focused on the interests of their primary departments. This can result in a lack of coordination between them. Problems with coordination also occur when members of the team are not clear about their duties and responsibilities in the team. If members with the proper skills needed for the project are not included in the team, it might not be possible to meet the project’s objectives.
Cross-functional teams often are temporary in nature, set up only to achieve a specific goal. This puts the team members under intense pressure to show results quickly, which isn’t always possible because teams need time to understand the project, formulate strategies and begin work. They also need time to build rapport with each other and learn to work together. They also might face unforeseen complications that require time to resolve, and a temporary setup might not allow time for adequate solutions.
Because companies often establish cross-functional teams for a particular goal, there are often more expectations from them than from usual teams. They’re expected to do their jobs exceptionally well and their achievements are under scrutiny from other departments. Additionally, while cross-functional team members might be capable in their respective departments, they might not be trained to deal with the specific issues needed for the particular project. For example, a team member from accounting, finance or legal might have no knowledge of the minute details that goes into manufacturing products, and so might not understand why the production and sales team members don’t welcome cost-cutting efforts.
Effective communication can sometimes be a problem with newly created teams. In traditional teams, members understand the same jargon and so can easily understand each other. Cross-functional team members hail form different areas, each with its own unique jargon. A cross-functional team structure changes the dynamics of leadership, and team members who used to report to higher management might report only to the team supervisor. Decision-making responsibilities now shift to the new supervisor, who is in charge of a group of people with diverse skills. If the new manager can’t communicate effectively with the team members, they might not accomplish their goals.