Are You Leading Cross Functional Teams?


A recent report by Deloitte on Human Capital Trends 2016 has identified a significant change in organisations and a movement towards a “Network of Teams.” Driven by impacts of globalisation, expectations of employees and impacts of increasing technology innovation, organisations are abandoning functional silos, which are seen as too rigid for modern world.

However, the Deloitte report also points out that only 1 in 5 of executives feel comfortable in running cross functional teams, and as few as 12% understand the way people work together in Networks.

Whilst the structure that organisations adopt will vary, one thing is constant, its inevitable that people will work more in diverse and cross-functional teams. How do leaders bring these teams together and achieve the desired results?

Here are four steps a leader must take when establishing the team.

Shift your mindset about leading

Leadership is about enabling the team to function. In his book What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There, Marshall Goldsmith talks about letting go of the bad habits. Principle amongst these are “winning too much” and “telling the world how smart we are.” Leading cross functional teams require an approach that lets others flourish. Research shows that the best teams are led through setting a clear direction and then working to maintain focus towards objectives. To do this leaders need to be more inquisitive and less judgmental i.e. curious not furious.

Co-create team goals

People can be united by a Purpose. To create a legacy, something beyond themselves. In co-creating the vision, leaders can achieve 2 things: Firstly, increase motivation – People are more likely to be committed to delivering on an idea they have helped create. Secondly, provide a sense of urgency – people want to move towards something worthwhile, and better than the current state – if its worth doing, its worth doing now. Leaders need to spend time on team formation, focussing on creating the vision, establishing goals and setting objectives.

Build trust

Trust is vital to the dynamics in the team. People will only expose their true thoughts, feelings and ideas if they feel its safe to take the risk of being vulnerable. If the team is to avoid group think then there needs to be an opportunity for dissenting voices and room for disagreement. Ultimately trust will only flourish if team members feel that others are working toward team goals and not acting in their own self-interest. Leaders can help build trust in two ways. Firstly, conduct regular reviews. By talking through issues, set backs, as well as positives, leaders can surface the “un-discussable,” and maintain progress. Secondly, take the personal risk to express your true feelings, thoughts and fears. This will build intimacy and lead to establishing a more trusting environment.

Frequent and focussed communication

Focus and trust need to be continuously worked on. A cross functional team will be a diverse team; comprise of people who all will speak the language of their own functional expertise. This diversity can be a real boon to the team. The work of Kathryn Phillips at Columbia Business School has revealed that people will work harder – both cognitively and socially – in diverse environments. This can only be a good thing for generating ideas and building trust. A leader needs to establish good habits around communication. Give constant feedback – both developmental and affirmative, build intimacy by being open with others and encourage others to do the same. Consistency of communication will build credibility in the team. When addressing the team link all activity to purpose e.g. Why (are we here); How (we will achieve our goals); What (do we need to do now).

Ultimately, practicing these steps will enable leaders to develop the skills required for future success, whatever the shape of organisations will be.