Many of the factors necessary to making the employees into a team are cultural, and should ideally be organic. Certain measures can be taken to bring this about, however. Leadership should be split between the three groups. The precise arrangement of this will need to vary depending on the particular work at hand and whether it most requires pattern recognition, problem-solving or specialist research. Jobs should be assigned to the department as a whole rather than singling out constituent elements, and wherever possible material rewards or praise for good work should be given across the whole department as well. Such policies, along with communication of the desired team values, will help to instil the ideas of collective accountability, group purpose, and the emphasis on problem-solving.
The importance of teamwork should be emphasised, facilitating employees’ recognition of the essential values relating to it. These are the existence of a positive team environment and the drive towards solutions to problems. The peripheral issues attached to these are the responsibility of managers to address when they see fit. They must organize team performance as a matter of course and manage task conflict and promote perspective when interactions between employees become divisive or excessively focussed on a narrow goal. In the latter two cases, it may be beneficial to adopt Lewin’s policy of “unfreeze, change, refreeze,” (Lewin 1947) locking in the changes made so future problems of a similar nature are avoided.
Trust is of tantamount importance, since each division will rely on the others to complement their work effectively. The best way to build trust is through measured but steadily increasing social and professional interaction. This will enable each division to see the benefits offered to them by the others without being immediately repulsed by their differences. Managers should monitor interactions with the explicit aim of building trust, taking care to mitigate potential flash points and deal with the specific issues that are likely to arise at the initial interaction of the different divisions.
Both socio-emotional and instrumental cohesiveness have a role to play, but the latter is more important. Socio-emotional interaction and similarities should be encouraged and stressed at first to allow groups to mix, but the main purpose is, after all, to establish effective working relationships. Instrumental interaction can demonstrate to groups the benefits to be gained from others, such as the specialism provided by the HR professionals, the problem-solving of the strategic consultants or the specific research of the doctorates, without emphasising the natural difficulties that will inevitably exist from varying cultural and professional backgrounds.
The skills possessed by cross-functional teams must be complementary as far as possible, and should also be suited to the work that is required of them. This will necessarily link closely with the development of these teams, since in practice it will be very difficult to establish the ideal balance of skills without observing the teams’ real work. However, these two stages are the easy ones. In theory, having such a variety of experience and expertise should mean highly effective results, but the reality of leading such teams to coherent goals is difficult. Measures should be taken to communicate the values desired of the teams, instigate procedures that will bring these about, and most importantly actively monitor situations so that adjustments can be made and problems can be addressed as soon as necessary. As Kotter says, the modern world demands “more leadership from more people” (Kotter 2012), and it is on this that many an effective cross-functional team will stand and fall.
- Lewin, Kurt. (1947). Frontiers in Group Dynamics: Concept, Method and Reality in Social Science; Social Equilibria and Social Change. Human Relations 1947 1: 5. 5-24
- Kotter, John P. (2012). Leading Change. New York: Harvard Business Review Press.