What are cross functional teams?

When you think of the structure of your workplace, what comes to mind? Teams, departments, or specialties? Traditionally, workplaces are organized vertically, that is, each group is separated by specialty. The sales team in one group, the marketing team in another.

But are there any downsides to organizing the workplace like this? For some, vertical organizations can result in a stagnation of growth and repetitive work because teams are not integrated.

The solution? Cross-functional teams.

Here are the biggest takeaways for cross-functional teams:

  1. Cross-functional teams are diverse work teams that help fuel innovation.
  2. Teams need to be developed carefully and an effective group leader helps keep the team working well.
  3. Cross-functional workplaces reduce groupthink when collaborating on projects.
  4. Workplaces in the customer service sector or small business/startups benefit greatly from cross-functional team organization.


So, what are cross-functional teams? At its roots, cross-functional teams are groups of people with different expertise working together to achieve a common goal.

Cross-functional teams are one solution to stimulating innovation in the workplace.

Imagine having group tasked with determining the best ways to cut costs for a certain project. Rather than leave the task to the budget teams, a cross-functional team would be a group of individuals from different departments coming together to find a solution.

To cut costs effectively, input from different aspects of the company are needed. For this cross-functional team, there could easily be members from finance, marketing, supply-train management, and HR.


A cross-functional team is essentially a group of people with diverse work expertise… so what? What are the benefits of cross-functional teams?

Let’s think back to that high school or college psychology course you probably took. Remember the concept of groupthink?

Groupthink occurs when people strive to conform in group settings, which reduces the possibility for individuality and creativity. When you put together a group of people with the same background or who normally work in teams together, people may prefer to conform to the standard than take the path not taken.

Cross-functional teams, because of their diversity, reduce groupthink in problem-solving.

Expertise diversity also allows for more opportunities for collaboration and fuels innovation within the workplace.

Cross-functional teams are also very useful for feedback and company improvement. It is hard to effectively analyze the pros and cons of a project without the input of people working in the different departments used to make it.

Without a cross-functional approach, teams could easily overlook obvious weaknesses and inefficiencies other departments find glaringly obvious.


The most common example of a cross-functional team that you may have already encountered without knowing it is the startup or small business work environment.

Because of its size, there is no place for company separation into a vertical organization. Your marketing, sales, budget, outreach, etc, people have to work together on projects simply because they make the company.

Company meetings consist of members across all specialties and projects often take a multi-discipline approach.

If each person separated themselves in these close-knit work environments, it could limit the creative work and success of a company.


Cross-functional work occurs when you work horizontally across departments and not stick to the strict vertical organization found in traditional business settings. In this situation, you may see a team that consists of members of different departments, like marketing, finance, sales, and engineering, for example, work together on company products or goals.

Some companies are built around the cross-functional ideal, which is people of certain expertise reporting to different managers to spread their expertise throughout different groups. This is most commonly referred to as matrix management.

Cross-functional teams are incredibly important for customer service organizations. Having a centralized organization that interacts with the different departments can help make a customer-first tailored experience.

If you have ever called your health insurance company, you may be able to tell if they use a cross-functional approach or not. You may be restricted to asking certain questions with certain people and then find yourself being transferred a billion times before finally coming to some unsure conclusion. Or, you may find that your details are all centralized and the representative reaches out to different departments to get the answer all in one go.


Cross-functional teams sound like the ideal work environment, right? Increased creativity, problem-solving, the potential for innovation.

A team that is built to work in a cross-functional environment can work wonders for company innovation and reduce project time, if planned well. If not planned properly, however, cross-functional teams can be dysfunctional and unorganized, leading to stangating projects.

Members from different departments will contribute towards the common goal, but in the end, they are likely going to be biased towards the needs of their department. Members who do not have any decision-making authority can also increase project time waiting for a million approvals.

Or members may not be engaging at all, making the cross-functional team one of only a few members really working on the project. If you think back to group projects in school, what really made them successful versus stressful assignments?

A good leader and an engaged team.

So how do you create a cross-functional team with that in mind?

Here are some tips to developing an effective team:

  1. Find group members who work well in teams, specifically those who can work independently and collaboratively.
  2. Find a leader for the team and make it someone who can delegate tasks, keep the team on track, and who can moderate the discussion.
  3. Create clear, transparent, and consistent roles and expectations. Make sure everyone is on the same page.
  4. Don’t allow for conflict between departments or people to slow innovation.
  5. Don’t be afraid to bring in consultants or contractors to help.
  6. Make sure the team is consistently re-evaluating what they are doing, if they are making progress, and how weaknesses can be remedied.

The bottom line? Effective management and invested participants make for an effective team.


Cross-functional teams are a new tool for innovation in the workplace that can have very positive results on production.

If you are looking at a job that emphasizes the use of cross-functional teams or are hearing about it more in the workplace, know that this type of team organization is used to increase the diversity of expertise and creativity on projects.

Cross-functional teams are a great way to integrate a company horizontally across teams and allow for collaboration outside the typical project norm.

So if you hear about them, get excited– you probably will be able to meet a lot of new people and work on new and interesting projects together.

This article first appeared on Zippia.