Planning for Success with a Cross-Functional Team

Some years ago two divisions of a large corporation had a history of animosity toward each other. This was a problem as one of them was the customer for 100 per cent of the output of the other. Meetings between the two organizations usually resulted in finger pointing and a shouting match with no progress on the problem that necessitated their meeting. Then one day, one individual suggested that they look at the data. They soon became engrossed in the data, solving the problem, and not trying to place the blame. They learned from the experience to focus on the data of the problem and not each other. From that time forward they worked together for the benefit of both divisions and their parent company.

To improve the chances for success of a cross-functional team, careful planning is key. Before the team is convened, management must define what they consider to be a successful outcome, in other words, a goal or vision for the team. Members of the team should be selected so as to bring different and needed strengths, such as finance, engineering, sales, service, production, procurement, etc. The phrase, necessary and sufficient, should be used. All critical areas need to be represented but the team should be kept as small as possible. Typically, the larger the team, the less efficient it is.

A team charter should be established to clearly define expectations, authority, roles, access to resources, and completion time. A leader should be selected who is persuasive and able to bring people together on an united effort.

The team should strive for true consensus and not meaningless compromise. Tools are available to aid in this effort. Where data is available, use tools such as Check Sheets, Pareto Analyses, Cause-and-Effect Diagrams, Histograms, Scatter Diagrams, Graphs, and Control Charts, These are defined by Hitoshi Kume, along with a proper system of applying them, in his book, Statistical Methods for Quality Improvement.

When data is not available, management tools are available such as Affinity Diagrams, Tree Diagrams, Scatter Plots, and Interrelationship Diagrams. These tools tend to extract input from all team members with equal treatment of all ideas.

At the successful conclusion of the team solution to the problem, a follow-up plan should be made to ensure the result is indeed implemented in a timely fashion. This is done with a simple listing of all recommendations with a person identified for completion of each action item, a completion date, and how the outcome will be measured.

In short, success of a cross-functional team is carefully planned and executed by a cohesive group of key individuals using their combined talents and energy focused on the ideal outcome.


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