What Is a Cross-Functional Team?
Cross-functional teams are a project groups composed of people with differing types of functional expertise, often drawn from various levels, divisions, or segments of an organization.
Many organizations create connections among different units, groups, and teams within their organizations by forming cross-functional teams. These teams bring together representatives with different backgrounds and responsibilities to reduce the insularity of each segment of the organization and increase the pool of available information needed to make an informed decision.
The representatives to such groups function as boundary spanners by building relationships that stretch beyond their own subgroups and divisions.
Boundary spanners are a group role that involves establishing relationship with individuals, groups, or organizations beyond one’s group.
Cross-functional teams are not the most stable, equable, or effective of groups, however. They provide organizations with the means to break down communication barriers between isolated units and increase collaboration, but in many cases the members of these teams do not have sufficient authority to make decisions for their units.
Also, when these teams must identify ways to solve problems, identifying ways to reduce costs, or suggest new initiatives, the members’ commitment to the groups they represent prevents them from cooperating fully with their other team members. Since their loyalties lie with the group they represent and not with the team, cross-functional teams are too often unable to reach their goals.
As one participant in such a team explained, “Very few of these meetings actually lead to creative problem solving…The result is that the group doesn’t take collective responsibility, and that can be very demotivating” (Denison, Hart, & Kahn, 1996, p. 1012).