Learn How Cross-Functional Teams Are Beneficial

Cross-functional team of software developers working with office staff on usability of a new computer app.

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"Who wants to be our department's representative on the company picnic committee?" the boss asks. Everyone looks down at their papers or out the window, not wanting to make eye contact with the boss for fear of "winning" this assignment. Maybe the picnic committee isn't your idea of a plum assignment (or maybe it is), but being on such a cross-functional team is good for your career.

Cross-Functional Teams

Cross-functional teams are created to address issues that involve several or all departments in an organization. They may be directly business-related, like a team to brainstorm a new product for the company, or they may be for social reasons, like the picnic committee. Sometimes they are in between, like a safety committee.

Sometimes the committee chair is appointed by management, as in the case of the product development team. Other times the committee appoints its own leadership, like the picnic committee. The team is comprised of representatives from all departments that have an interest in its work. Sometimes the department representatives are appointed, sometimes they volunteer. And sometimes they volunteer because they are about to be appointed.

The members from the different departments then work together to accomplish the goal set for the team. It may be a short-term assignment, like planning this year's company picnic or it may be an ongoing commitment, like the safety committee. Generally, these assignments to a cross-functional team are in addition to an employee's regular duties, but they can be a temporary change in their duties, as in the case of the new product brainstorming team.

Many Cross-Functional Teams Exist

Depending on the size of the company, its industry, its mission, and its leadership there can be many different cross-functional teams within an organization.

  • Picnic Committee: A group to plan and execute the annual company picnic. It involves picking a location, scheduling a date, planning the food, developing activities for employees and their families, and managing the event budget. There are similar teams for the annual holiday party and any other social activity of this type.
  • Special Projects teams: These are usually appointed to address specific problems that cross departmental lines. These teams can be charged with brainstorming a new product for the company or finding ways to streamline a key procedure. They are the most organized of the cross-functional teams and usually require the largest time commitment.
  • Safety Committee: In companies, without a safety department a cross-functional team is often established as a way to develop the necessary safety procedures. The team members develop safety procedures and emergency plans for things like natural disasters, power failures, snow days, etc. and then communicate the information from the group back to their individual departments.
  • Director Steering Committee: A small group created by the employees to bridge between upper management and the rank and file employees.
    The group consists of a handful of directors who coordinate the efforts of all director-level employees to ensure adequate and effective communication in both directions between management and the employees.
  • Employee Giving Group: A team that organizes events to channel participation by employees in charitable activities. The team plans and oversees fundraisers and other philanthropic activities for the company's employees. Often the company supports the team with a small budget or matches contributions from the employees.

Why Is Being On A Cross-Functional Team Good?

There are three main benefits to being on a cross-functional team, learning, networking, and visibility.

  • Learning: When you work on a team with people from other departments, you learn more about what they do and what others in their departments do. It can give you a better understanding of how your work contributes to the company's overall goals and it gives you ideas on where to go when you need something. It also lets you get a better understanding of whether you might be happier or more successful by transferring to a different department.
  • Networking: On these teams, you meet people from other departments. You build friendships. You learn about them and what they do. Later, when you need something, you know who to go to another department for answers or help.
  • Visibility: When you participate in a cross-functional team you increase your visibility within the company. Managers of other departments, recruiters, trainers, and senior management are usually aware of members of these teams. If you do well, it will be noticed and you will have increasing opportunities.

How Can I Get On A Cross-Functional Team

Ask. When the opportunity arises, and it's something you are interested in, ask your manager for the opportunity to represent the department. Just make sure you have the time to commit to doing a good job on the cross-functional team without detracting from your main job responsibilities.