Cross-Functional Team

Knowledge Center


Description of Cross-Functional Team. Explanation.



Cross-Functional Team

Definition Cross-Functional Team. Description.

Cross-Functional Team (CFT) is a group of people whose members hold different backgrounds, expertise and functions working toward shared objectives. A Cross-Functional Team is also known as a Multidisciplinary Team or an Interdisciplinary Team.

For example, a CFT can be constituted by people from Sales, Marketing, Finance, Engineering, Procurement, Design, Customer Services, etc...

Note that team members can also differ on many other dimensions (besides their discipline or function), such as age, gender, ethnicity, religion, culture, personality, beliefs and attitudes.

History of Cross-Functional Teams. Origin

In the second half of 20th century, changes in the business climate imposed new rules for business organizations. The focus changed to teamwork, flexibility, Empowerment, network, information. In this new context, cross-functional teams are replacing traditional Functional Teams. Although their boom is relatively recent, the concept itself is not new. In fact already in 1950 an American Insurance Company, Northwestern Mutual Life, is reported to be one of the first organizations that used a cross-functional team.

Usage of Cross-Functional Teams. Applications

CFTs are getting popular in many organizations as a means to boost innovation and creative decision making.  Sometimes, for special projects where information is shared through more than one player of an industry value chain, cross-functional teams can be formed by people of different companies such as clients, suppliers, external consultants, and representative of public stakeholders.

In some companies cross-functional teams became the primary organizational structure while in others, they can exist in addition to the organization's main hierarchical structure. Typically CFTs are temporary and assembled and dismantled according to a project needs.

Generally a particular CFT is not suitable for all types of project, since its composition of members should vary depending on the nature of the project.

The aim of this type of people clustering is to boost diversity, as it enhances creativity and social collaboration, and to make sure that the various departments of an organization have a say in a project.

Cross-Functional Teams can also be used for downsizing and cost-cutting strategies, to integrate and implement new technologies throughout an organization, to improve the service-profit chain, etc.

A  common application of cross-functional teams is in design and new products development, since both processes are based on creativity and need input from a wide range of skills and perspectives. The diversity and simultaneous collaboration brought by CFTs resulted in reduced product development time and Time to Market and allows more flexible adaptation to market changes.

Cross-functional teams can also be created to: integrate and implement new technologies throughout an organization; improve the service-profit chain, decrease product costs.

Cross-Functional Team Best Practices

Research from Elisa Fredericks, published in 2005 by Emerald, revealed 3 key tips for successful cross-functional teams (in NPD):

  1. Organize pre-project meetings, so that project members can socialize before the real project starts.

  2. Set formal procedures to ensure and monitor involvement of all members throughout the product development process.

  3. Make sure from the beginning that all members understand the NPD process, project goals, roles, responsibilities, and tasks throughout the NPD process.

Imperative to the success of CFTs are also:

  1. Members must be open minded and highly motivated, more than in a functional team.

  2. Each team member must come from the appropriate function depending on the nature of a project.

  3. A strong team leader with excellent communication skills.

  4. A CFT has to be provided with the authority, support and resources needed to accomplish the project goals.

  5. The whole is bigger than the sum of its parts. P. Doyle argues that successful CFTs embed skills that no individual may have.

Implementing Cross-Function Teams

Implementation Tips for Cross-Function Teams:

  • Think carefully about the task and the skills it requires.

  • Identify those around you who have those skills, capabilities and the enthusiasm to tackle the project.

  • Choose what kind of personalities should be present in a team (Belbin Team Roles). Consider also how well team members can work together.

  • Learn About the Stages of Team Formation.

  • The implementation of cross-functional teams in an organization is frequently subsequent to organizational changes, or it is itself an Organizational Change. As such it is often feared by those who were used to work in a functional team.

  • Manage eventual conflicts that may arise for variety of reasons. Typically, people who are ranked higher in the organization chart tend to be more authoritative even if they have marginal roles in the cross-functional project team, generating conflicts. Disregard the rank of each member as far as CFT activities are concerned. Provide team members with conflict resolution training.

  • Put team members together on an daily basis to strengthen communication processes within the team.

  • Set goals of the cross-functional project team. This will help reducing conflict generation.

  • Assign responsibilities and make sure key interdependencies among team members tasks are clear for all, so that the project cannot be stuck because someone cannot proceed with his tasks.

  • Make sure all project stakeholders are (equally) represented in the team.

  • Ensure that goals and priorities of the cross-functional project team are shared by all functions of an organization, to avoid obstructions from department that may feel threatened by the new project or new working practices.

  • Work closely with customers. Try to invite customers to attend some meetings, or even to join the team. If it is not possible to physically host a client representative, you can appoint a member to act as customer.

  • Agree on involvement level of each team member. Some may work more in certain project phases, i.e. start-up or closure, others may last for the whole project.

Limitations of a Cross-Function Team. Disadvantages

  1. Extra pressure on CFT members due to having multiple assignments. Often their role within the organization can conflict with their role in the CFT.

  2. Extra pressure on CFT members due to management request for high performance, the importance of the project, being in new territory / new competencies, having to convince the current organization of new ways of working.

  3. An organization’s departments or functions might compete with each other, turning members into enemies, leading to a poor performing CFT.

  4. In their 2002 research, Cross-functional teams: Good concept, poor implementation, John W. Henke, A. Richard Krachenberg and Thomas F. Lyons found out that even though there is an exhaustive positive literature on CFT phenomenon, its practical implementation in many companies has not shown many significant results, apart from those in New Product Development.

  5. CFTs can limit the professional growth of team members as they remain focused on very narrow areas restricted to a single project. Also working for the same project for a long time can be boring. This point is controversial: CFTs supporters argue that to grow professionally, a CFT experience is needed for any business leader.

  6. If the project scope is too wide, CFTs may be the wrong solution.

  7. Not respecting classic project rules and best practices such as fixing deadlines and interim reporting may result in poor performance whatever the composition of a project team is.

  8. A traditional Performance Appraisal and individual compensation system may not work to motivate members of a CFT. To partially overcome this limitation, team incentives have been created: however employees often don’t rely on this type of incentives as they feel they have little control over the team results. Some CFT members may have the feeling the company is asking more from them without giving an appropriate direct reward back.

Cross-Functional Teams Special Interest Group

Special Interest Group (50 members)

Cross-Functional Teams Forum  

Recent topics

  Leading and Developing a Virtual Team
A virtual team - also known as a Geographically Dispersed Team (GDT) - is a group of individuals that work across time, space and organizational bouda...
  Cross Functional Teams Weaknesses
One major weakness I have realised about cross function teams is that they promote individualism when you're using experts as members.
  How to Build More Diverse Teams? Pitfalls and Tips
Diversity can help to build powerful teams. Members can thrive in such teams. Respect for diversity can be considered...
  Leading a Crossfunctional Team
What qualities, style make someone into a suitable team leader of a crossfunctional team?...
  Socializing a Cross-Functional Team
I like the implementation part of the summary in the knowledge center that states there should be a pre-meeting so that the cross functional team memb...
  Managing a Diverse Workforce: Challenges and Measures
There is consensus that in general, a diverse workforce is inevitable as much as it is beneficial to the general interest of an organization. Diversit...
  Increasing the Effectiveness of Cross Functional Teams
Here are two tips to increase the effectiveness of CFTs that I know from experience:
1. If about 30-40% members have dual/triple specialisations ...
  The Moral Responsibilities of Members of Cross-functional Teams
What are the moral responsibilities of cross-functional area professionals? How should each manager in a function area deal with morally ethical dilem...
  Using Interdisciplinary Teams to Overcome Resistance to Change
How can managers use interdisciplinary teams to overcome employees’ resistance to change?...
  Integrated Marketing Might Be a Feasible Alternative
When a cross functional team is considered, the company could sometimes also practice an integrated marketing philosophy: departments within th...
  Project Based Firms and Organizations
The cross functional team approach is a phenomenon frequently found of the so called project based firm, where companies tend to address improvement s...
  History of Cross Functional Teams
The article is well done, with exception that there is no citation-reference to the origination of cross-functional team. In fact, cross-functional te...
  This Can Be Used to Train Human Resource Managers
Since the world is becoming a global village and absolutely no one can exist on its own, the more diversity in terms of varieties of staff, various et...

Best Practices - Cross-Functional Teams
  Cross-Functional Teams: Reasons for Failure
Of course teams - including cross-functional teams - may fail: not achieving the set targets - or not efficiently, in terms of time/resources utilised...

Expert Tips - Cross-Functional Teams

Effective Top Management Teams in Multinationals. Requirements and Characteristics

Board of Directors, Leadership Teams, Multinationals, Top Team Management
There are three requirements for effective top team management in large, multinational enterprises:<...

The Role of Team Familiarity in Project Team Effectiveness

Team Formation, Team Building, Project Management
Although managers intuitively understand that team familiarity affects the way a team or group will ...

Cross Functional Community

Global Integration
I am "new" to this group and value all of the commentary as they relate to the world of commerce or ...

Resources - Cross-Functional Teams

Management Across Cultures: Managing in a Global Context

Cross-Cultural Management, Cultural Dimensions, Cultural Intelligence, Multicultural Teams, Global Leadership, Global HR
This presentation consist of six sections that together form an extensive description of management ...

Pitfalls and Best Practices of Cross-Functional Teams

Change Management, Innovation, Team Work, Multicultural Teams
In this micro-learning video, Stanford MBA students share 4 interesting pitfalls and 4 best practice...

Employee Empowerment, Teamwork and Communication

Performance Management, Employee Empowerment
Colorful presentation with speaking notes about 3 tools to improve organizational performance: Teamw...

3 Key Benefits of Cross-Functional Teams for Innovation

Innovation, Team Work, Multicultural Teams, Bureaucracy, Multi-Functional Teams
In innovation you need a team of people with the right mix: the members should come from different d...

Corporate Diversity and Inclusion

Cross Functional Team, Organizational Culture, Globalization, Organizational Change, HRM, Cultural Dimensions
In this introduction video, top managers of Skanska share their vision on Diversity and Inclusion an...

Introduction to Managing Creativity and Innovation

Innovation Management, Managing Innovation, Managing Innovative Employees, Managing Creative Employees
Presentation about Innovation and Creativity, thereby mainly focusing on creativity in organizations...

Introduction to Working in Teams, Team Work and Related Concepts

Team Management, Team Work, Groupthink
Presentation about teamwork, including the following sections:
1. Importance of Teams

Virtual Teams and Leading such Teams

Team Management, Virtual Teams, Remote Teams, Virtual Leadership
Presentation about Virtual Teams and effective leadership of such teams. The presentation includes t...

Managing Virtual Teams and Multicultural Teams

Team Management, Virtual Teams, Leadership
Presentation about leading virtual and multicultural teams. The presentation includes the following ...

News about Cross-functional Teams


Videos about Cross-functional Teams


Presentations about Cross-functional Teams


Books about Cross-functional Teams


More about Cross-functional Teams


Special Interest Group Leader

You here? Sign up for free


Return to Management Hub: Change & Organization  |  Communication & Skills  |  Decision-making & Valuation   |  Human Resources  |  Knowledge & Intangibles  |  Leadership  |  Marketing  |  Program & Project Management

More on Management  |  Return to Management Dictionary  | 


This ends our Cross-Functional Team summary and forum.

About 12manage | Advertising | Link to us / Cite us | Privacy | Suggestions | Terms of Service
© 2019 12manage - The Executive Fast Track. V15.0 - Last updated: 19-2-2019. All names ™ of their owners.