How Cross-Functional Teams Drive Employee Development

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The practical benefits of cross-functional teams

 Organisations can often struggle with different departments working in their own particular silo, cut off from other teams, even when they have the same objectives. This is why cross-functional collaboration can have such a dramatic impact.

Bringing together the skills of everyone in the company to facilitate a greater understanding of the business requirements has a multitude of benefits. Not only does this empower employees by giving them new skills, but it provides them with a broader awareness of the mechanics of the company. It offers a collaborative and agile approach to problem-solving, shares the load across the organisation, makes it easier to provide training, complete tasks, and prevents HR from having to outsource business functions.

 While the primary benefit of having a cross-functional team is providing a backup person to perform a given task, the most significant benefits are the least likely. Here are ten ways that being part of a cross-functional team can help employee development.

  1. Skill enhancement

    This is perhaps the most obvious ‘pro’ for building a cross-functional team. Learning and Development (L&D) teams are always seeking new opportunities to promote and improve employee skills and provide better training. Cross-functional training is the perfect way to do this by allowing learners the opportunity to expand their skill sets beyond their primary roles. Working alongside colleagues with different expertise exposes team members to new perspectives, knowledge, and techniques which encourages continuous learning and enables individuals to build up those valuable skills that can benefit them in their current job and any future roles.

  2. Holistic development

    Being part of a cross-functional team means that employees gain a broader understanding of the organisation as a whole and develop a well-rounded skill set. Having a more comprehensive view of business processes, strategies, and objectives beyond their own functional areas allows them to contribute more effectively to the business and builds employee engagement. It provides more rounded training for individuals and can also lead to innovation, as people with different perspectives and different ways of working are brought together to solve a common goal. 

  3. Super-strong communication

By its very nature, a successful cross-functional team requires strong communication at its core. Working together towards a common goal on tasks, projects, and problem-solving initiatives enhances employees’ communication skills as they learn to articulate ideas, actively listen, and collaborate across departments. Team members will develop the language and terminology used by each group to talk more efficiently about their processes which will result in more productive interactions throughout the organisation as a whole.

  1. Kick-ass problem-solving abilities

    Cross-functional collaboration leverages the collective expertise of diverse individuals to solve complex problems. Having employees with a range of different perspectives offers the team scope for sourcing solutions, and what’s more, research shows that diverse teams are more successfulbecause this diversity of thought fosters innovative thinking, creative problem-solving, and the development of well-rounded solutions.

  2. Agility on steroids

    In today’s rapidly changing business landscape, agility is crucial to success and how better to embody this than by creating a cross-functional team? Being inherently flexible and adaptable, they can quickly assemble and disband based on the organisation’s needs allowing employees to develop the capacity to navigate change, adapt to new situations, and acquire skills that align with evolving business demands.

  3. Collaboration and relationship building

    There is no doubt that working in cross-functional teams can increase the sense of camaraderie as workers learn to trust and rely on one another’s expertise and build strong professional relationships that extend beyond their own department. This can also have a knock-on effect on the overall workplace culture and improve employee morale by encouraging a sense of belonging and shared purpose within the company.

  4. Knowledge sharing and expertise exchange

    Creating an environment conducive to knowledge sharing and expertise exchange is the Holy Grail for many organisations. Cross-functional working allows people to learn from each other’s experiences, figure out best practices, and really deepen their specialised knowledge. This collaborative learning approach facilitates continuous improvement and ultimately drives innovation and supports an intrapreneurial culture.

  5. Productivity push

    Working in this way, tasks and projects can be completed more efficiently thanks to the combined skills, perspectives, and expertise of team members. There is less likelihood of employees duplicating duties, and having a more streamlined process with clearer decision-making means a boost to productivity levels.

  6. Future-proofing careers

    Being part of a cross-functional team can bolster an employee’s chance of promotion and will certainly provide an extra string to their professional bow. By working closely with colleagues from different departments, individuals can showcase their abilities, broaden their network, and gain visibility across the organisation. Who wouldn’t want a reputation for collaboration, teamwork and great communication skills?

  7. Data-driven decision making

Cross-functional teams can leverage data and analytics to inform decision-making processes and the more diverse the skill sets within the team are, the more comprehensive the analysis of information. Having different perspectives on a given situation results in more informed and data-driven decisions. This approach improves the quality of strategic planning, project management, and overall organisational performance.

Additional considerations for cross-functional teams

Working with people from different backgrounds, functions, and perspectives can pose some challenges, such as communication gaps, misunderstandings, and conflicts. Trust and rapport are critical elements to success. It pays to research each member and learn their strengths, interests, goals, challenges, and preferences. This will foster genuine collaboration, communication and teamwork and promotes empathy.

Provide a joined-up tech experience

Different departments may well rely on different technologies for collaboration and information management which will need to be learned by all team members. It might be worth leveraging a single platform to support team efforts and centralise their knowledge. This also offers an opportunity to improve digital skills as well.

Communicate people!

As mentioned previously, communication is the key to a successful cross-functional team. Communicate clearly and frequently using the common language so that everyone understands. This also refers to any feedback, data-sharing and updates which should be shared in a timely and transparent manner. Whatever means you use to deliver and track your comms, staying on top of this will help build that trust, alignment, and accountability.

Cross-functional teams play a crucial role in driving employee development within an organisation and today’s agile business operations provide the optimum conditions to implement this style of working. By fostering collaboration, enhancing skills, improving communication, and promoting innovation, these teams create a conducive environment for continuous learning and growth – which is the bedrock of a successful workplace. The benefits extend beyond individual employees, positively impacting the organisation through increased efficiency, productivity, and the development of a cohesive and agile workforce.