Since starting your own business, you have acquired much insight into management and prudent, effective growth. By way of your own decision making, as well as executing advice from consultants and staff members alike, you have overseen your company’s successful transition from a single person sole proprietorship to a small but expansion-minded company, which includes several junior partners. However, success brings with it new challenges, and one of which you are sure to face as your team grows, is the question of when to integrate different departments on specific projects.
When to use Cross-Functional Teams – As discussed in an editorial article on the business strategy forum, mindtools.com, integrated teams, also referred to as cross-functional teams, can be very useful when a project simultaneously requires different types of expertise. For example, if you find that your graphic arts firm’s salespeople are contacting the same current and perspective clients, a CRM software is definitely a valuable investment. However, you need to ensure that you buy the correct program while paying as little as possible. In such a situation, it may be prudent for you to coordinate an integrated team of professionals, each of whom represent sales, procurement and IT respectively, in order to smoothly implement the best software.
Your Role in Ensuring Cross-functional Success – As the manager of the cross-functional team, your responsibility is to ensure efficiency via clearly communicating each individual’s responsibilities and priorities (does this project take precedence over ongoing obligations and deadlines?). If your account manager cannot reschedule a teleconference with an A-Level client, and thus must miss the weekly meeting with other team members, you must ensure he or she receives the meeting’s detailed minutes so that the account manager quickly and easily catches with the rest of the team. In her article for Chron.com, business writer Hannah Wickford advises you to act as a facilitator and consultant; that is, to offer yourself as a reference for assistance as well as a manager. She states that assuming a more top-down management posture with your team breeds fear and defensiveness among different team members instead of an egalitarian outlook, which is needed for successful cross-functional projects.
When not to use Cross-Functional Teams – As with any strategy, there are disadvantages to using cross-functional teams, and times in which they should not be used.
In his article for Chron.com, business organization adviser, Kermit Burley, advises against using cross-functional teams for business development-related projects. A major problem according to Burley, is that team members’ egos also hinder success of cross-functional teams. If you encourage too many different perspectives from different business focusses, you will likely experience conflict between different departments. For example, a marketing manager may assert how well creative and interactive outreach has increased interest in the past. Meanwhile your Director of Sales responds with the need for direct customer service and personal selling. Your Comptroller reminds everyone that financial responsibility is vital and if any department exceeds its predetermined budget, business development outreach may result in monetary loss. All three managers voice important concerns, but by offering equal voice for all, you invite a bureaucracy that wastes time in the short-term and causes business loss in the long-term.
As stated, a small business, particularly one in which a single person acts as sole proprietor, in a sense uses cross-functional strategies with each project, as the independent businessperson manages all responsibilities, from accounting, to marketing, to IT, to custodial services. However, as your business grows, and you hire professionals whose expertise is solely within one such focus, decisions regarding who to involve in a given project become more complex and challenging.
Ian Erickson is the writer for Aepiphanni, a Business Consultancy that provides Management Consulting, Managed, and Implementation Services to business leaders and entrepreneurs seeking to improve or expand operations. Ian Erickson has been advising managers and clients in a wide spectrum of industries on the most effective strategy for years. Ian discusses situations facing small businesses and how to turn challenges into opportunities.
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Ian Erickson, MBA is a business professional, with several years of experience in applied research and insight.