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Steering cross-functional teams towards success with project management skills

A rowing team in action

In the 1950s, when computers were still seen as complex calculators, Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance conducted a study on the impact computers would have on businesses in the future. Interestingly, the company's CEO set up an unusual team for the study - comprising employees from multiple departments, each of whom saw great potential for computers in insurance. They concluded that the computer was an ideal tool for data processing, so the company began using computers for sales and financial reporting, markets research analysis, securities portfolio analysis, and other vital processes.

Northwestern Mutual's early embrace of computers gave the company a competitive edge over the rest of the players in the industry. By harnessing the power of cross-functional collaboration, Northwestern Mutual shifted the industry and achieved towering success in the years to come. While it was a financial company's pioneership, many companies today rely on cross-functional teams for organizational success.

Cross-functional teams improve innovation, speed up production, and solve complex problems. In the setup, specialists who come from different teams work towards a common goal, offer their expertise and disband once the project is done. As unique and complex as the structure of a cross-functional team, is the challenge of managing one. Even expert project managers have to go all out to understand each specialist's skill set so they can bring out the best in their team. In this article, we'll outline a few ways managers can improve the performance and outcomes of cross-functional teams.

People run projects

 Team members ultimately influence a project's success. For this reason, it's good practice to start each cross-functional endeavor by evaluating the ideal qualities needed for your dream team. While it's important to assemble top talent from every department, we also recommend considering each potential team member's interpersonal skills.  With cross-functional projects, collaboration skills like clear communication and respect for others outweigh performance-related achievements. 

Who does what and how

 Ambiguity in roles is inevitable when specialists are taken off their native departments and stationed in a freshly formed group. To remedy this, we recommend drafting a clear layout of the group structure unless you want to find one fine day that the research lead has been reporting to the art director for weeks. As you determine group expectations, make sure they don't conflict with the contending priorities of the cross-functional project.

 Wise managers frequently check in with their team members to help them understand what's expected of them, as well as whom they should work with and how. This allows managers to track accountability and support specialists simultaneously.

Goals should only get clearer

 People from different departments tend to assume goals or define their own metrics for a project- which is the last thing a manager might want. Remember that project objectives can't be handed out throughout the project, but have to be served once and hot. Hence, as soon as the team is set up, arrange a kick-off meeting. Lay down the goals, metrics, and priorities for all to see. Declare in advance what is expected on the day of judgment.

 For example, if an editorial lead and acquisition strategist are working together on a marketing campaign, both should understand what is more important for that project: brand awareness or lead generation. Only when the finish line looks the same to all, do people run on the right track.

Call it a cliché, but communication is key

 If you handle a functional team, it's likely that you know your teammates' work style like the back of your hand. The gesture is still expected of you even as the team widens and takes up different departments. While it is no easy task, managers should try to interact with every team member and find out how they approach their workflow. Be prepared to encounter different collaboration styles and make efforts to consider multiple perspectives. 

 If you are working across time zones, we recommend recording and logging all team conversations so that everyone stays in the loop. You can host quick and regular meetings to share progress, discuss ideas, or seek support. Since it can be easy to get side-tracked during large team meetings, we suggest setting clear intentions for each one and keeping the sessions brief.

Subtract for a positive outcome

 Since cross-functional teams often consist of specialists with varying availability, you may deal with delays throughout the process. By creating flexible and efficient workflows, you can keep projects on track and ensure that team members complete tasks within the specified deadlines. Given the already complex nature of cross-functional teams, managers should curb their enthusiasm to add any 'extras' to it, instead should work to eliminate unwanted processes, cancel needless meetings, and freeze redundant collaborations.

Capture, track, and win

 In addition to these techniques, managers can also use project management tools to handle multi-disciplinary projects. Once you envision the big picture, capture the project details (goals, team, hierarchy, workflow, deadlines) in Zoho Projects and get going. Its tailored features enable cross-functional teams to collaborate more effectively. When your team is guided by a carefully-crafted framework and delivers as desired, you know you are headed for the win. Get started on your next cross-functional project with Zoho Projects.





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