Businesses depend on the specialized skills and well-defined priorities of employees across a range of functional areas to achieve company objectives, but there are occasions when companies face challenges, like new product development, which require several functional areas to work together towards a common goal. At times like these, the priorities of different functional areas tend to compete with one another, which can hinder the team’s ability to achieve its goal.
Research published in the International Journal of Management Reviews found that more than six in 10 cross-functional teams lacked both a sense of common purpose and the ability to sort out competing priorities. And more than seven in 10 team members felt conflicted about dividing their time between the cross-functional team and their regular responsibilities.
The Challenge for Supervisors
These findings might appear daunting, even insurmountable, especially if you’re a supervisor tasked with managing a cross-functional team. It’s important to remember that many such teams are successful, and their success hinges more than anything else on skills the team leader brings to the table.
These four actionable tips will help you achieve your team’s objectives:
1. Establish Your Role as Team Leader
As leader of a cross-functional team, you need to be prepared for conflict. Some of your team members have never worked together, and some who have don’t trust one another. You can mitigate conflicts and cement your leadership role by explaining to the group that their roles, priorities and goals have changed.
Explain that the job of finance is no longer limited to cost cutting. The role of marketing is no longer only lead generation. As team members, their jobs are to bring their considerable skills to bear on solving the group problem, and to do so collaboratively with a willingness to compromise.
2. Articulate the Team’s Goal
Some team members will be skeptical about the importance of the team’s work. You have to be clear not only about the group’s objective, but also about its importance to your company’s success. If your goal is developing a new product line, for example, explain how this will enhance revenues and grow the business.
Because this is something you’re likely to revisit from time to time, it’s a good idea todraft a team charter that documents what the team is trying to accomplish. Finally, to impress upon team members the importance of the project, work with company managers to incorporate achievement of the team goal in the goals of each functional area.
3. Hone Your Listening Skills
Members of your team will probably know more about their areas than you do. To gain their respect and trust, you have to respect their abilities. Successful leaders are skilled at listening to the people they manage. In meetings, listen more than you talk. When necessary, steer the discussion back to the task at hand, but don’t interrupt when others are speaking. When the topic of discussion calls for functional expertise, give team members the floor and allow them to lead the discussion. This will show you respect them and will increase their commitment to achieving the team goal.
4. Evaluate Performance and Reward Achievement
Performance evaluations are a powerful motivational tool. Your team members are accustomed to managers evaluating performance in their functional areas. Bring those same evaluative standards to your cross-functional team. That means letting team members know performance expectations at the outset and providing regular feedback on their progress. It also means rewarding effective performance based on the expectations you’ve outlined, which can be something as simple as expressing your appreciation for a job well done.
If you’ve been tasked with managing a cross-functional team, don’t despair. It’s true that many cross-functional teams fail to achieve their desired objectives, but it’s equally true that many succeed. You can help your team succeed by approaching your role as team leader with confidence, embracing the team challenge, clearly communicating expectations to team members, respecting their abilities and giving them the feedback they need to excel.