Cross-Functional Teams


"Cross-Functional Teams” is a book by Glenn M. Parker written about the organizational structures in the corporate world today.  With the acceptance of project management practices corporate structures need to be consistently evaluated.  In this book, Glenn Parker takes a close look at how formerly vertical organizations come together in a team oriented environment.  These teams are vital for flattening organizations and speeding execution while eliminating group think.

This is a book that is very informative and has been used in academia for some time.  Glenn M. Parker is a consultant who has helped create high-performance teams at Merck & Company, Johnson & Johnson, Bristol-Myers Squibb, 3M, AT&T, NYNEX, Allied Signal, Sun Microsystems, and the EPA.  One particular class environment where this book has been used is a class called Project Leadership, Management, and Communications that leads to a certificate from The George Washington University School of Business.  This class is widely accepted by the Fortune 1000 and is one of the cornerstones in a seven class program leading to a Master Certificate in Project Management. 

While traditional organizations are vertical, this book looks at the modern organizational structures used by the top project management companies in the world.  Cross-functional teams are ultimately required for project success because of the varied skill sets that are needed on project teams.  While vertical departments still exist like Operations, Engineering, Quality Control and the like, the cross-functional team is an empowered team with representation from all departments.

This presents several problems to overcome.   Inter-departmental politics are a problem within departments on a normal basis, but on cross-functional teams it is even more of an issue.  Likewise, the team may have never worked together before and will need to establish relationships quickly before the project is affected.  Additionally, for those teams that have not worked together before they may not have a common process or language.  All of these problems are further complicated because quite often the project manager doesn’t have vertical line authority of the cross-functional team members. 

Conflict is usually a problem on cross-functional teams.   In fact, conflict is to be expected and desired.  Through healthy conflict the team can produce a better product or process by avoiding group think.  However, management must be prepared for this conflict and supportive of it in order to benefit from the cross-functional team structure.  If management is of the mindset that all conflict is negative and intervenes then the team will never truly aspire to the performance that is expected of them. 

Complicating things further are geographically dispersed teams.   As projects demand more sophisticated resources from around the world teams become larger and more complex.  While technology helps bring teams closer and allow them to work together it still doesn’t eliminate all problems.  All the problems associated with collocated cross-functional teams are factors on international teams, but additional care must be taken with global teams to get the team together as often as possible so that relationships can be built and the team can evolve to the performance levels necessary for success. 

Other measures that can be taken include using tools that build personal relationships versus less personal methods of communication.   For example, while time zone differences may make things more difficult, phones should be used instead of email when possible.  Videoconferencing is also a very good option to email.  If travel is an option, then the team should be sure to get together during key milestones.  Finally, celebrating success is something that should be planned and budgeted for in any project to lay the ground work for future project success if the team members should end up working together again. 

Project teams are the future of global business in order to create better products in the fastest time frames possible.   As such, project teams are the vehicle that will drive organizational changes that ultimately flatten the corporate structures of the future to speed execution for these empowered teams.  Glenn Parker takes an extremely thorough approach to investigating these corporate structures and the challenges with  them.  I highly recommend this book to any one in business whether a large or small corporation. 

To your business success.

Categories : Project Management


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