Many people think that cross-functional teams are only successful in large companies. Conventional wisdom dictates that small companies are probably already operating cross-functionally out of necessity – i.e., the company is so small that people have to perform multiple tasks and work together with everyone else in the company. While this may be true in startup operations, it is certainly not true of the majority of small businesses. Most small operations have to weigh the pros and cons just like their larger counterparts when deciding whether or not to use CFTs. Those that have chosen to adopt CFTs have been largely pleased with the results. Recently, the adoption of CFTs by a company with less than 30 employees was documented by a management service company. The owner of the business original arranged his company into functional units, but found out he had an odd assortment of employees left over who did not fit into any of the existing teams. As a result, he created a permanent cross-functional team to handle special projects at the company. The results were immediate and impressive. He claimed that since adopting the cross-functional team concept:
• Employees in support roles are more concerned with profits and ways to increase sales. They now realize that the more the company succeeds, the more they benefit directly.
• People communicate more openly and are more helpful to each other. There is a far greater sense of teamwork instead of each person looking out for number one.
• Employees’ problem-solving skills have improved dramatically, and it is easier to build consensus for a given solution.
• People are more likely to speak up and point out problems. Before the CFT, people were more likely to be passive and quiet, reasoning that the problem was not their responsibility.
• People recognize that there is strength in diversity – that not everyone has to agree on an issue. They know they are being understood, but that some people may still choose to disagree with them, and that such differences are acceptable.
Staff members have also benefited from the CFT arrangement. Employees now understand the different processes that occur throughout the organization and understand the interrelationships between different functional areas. Instead of looking at their one “silo” of operations, employees now see the big picture. Indeed, according to CFT supporters, participating employees often improve their interpersonal and problem-solving skills, which make them better employees and makes them more attractive on the job market should they choose to pursue other opportunities. Finally, proponents say that employees are less likely to become bored with their own job when they are given the opportunity to learn new skills on the CFT.
Drawbacks To CFT Teams
Cross-functional teams have become an integral part of the business landscape in many industries in recent years. But observers point out that their use can have unintentional drawbacks if companies are not watchful.
For example, analysts note that CFTs can actually limit the professional growth of team members because they have a narrow focus on the area. A company was profiled and found that after two years of serving on the same team, team members were becoming bore and were learning only about the clients or the business categories handled by their team. The solution? Once or twice every year, team members were reorganized into new teams so that they could learn new skills. As a result of the new team environment, revenue-per-employee rose 70 percent, while clients reported in questionnaires that the company’s performance met or exceeded their goals 97 percent of the time. Nine-two percent of clients rated the company better than the competition when it came to service.
Some companies try to hands off projects to CFTs that are simply too large in scope and are essentially doomed to failure from the start. Such large projects lack the focus needed for CFT success, and trying to make such a project work in that environment can sour an entire organization on using CFTs for other projects. Another sure pitfall is to establish a CFT without imposing either project deadlines or interim reporting deadlines. Without a sense of urgency to complete a project , the project will almost certainly stall and fail.
Converting employees to a new compensation system when CFTs are implemented can be difficult as well. When team incentives replace merit increases, team members often complain, even though more money can be earned in the team-based system. Employees often feel that they have very little control over whether or not the country’s profits actually increase; therefore they have no control over earning a raise. Additionally, many employees balk at giving up their own merit increase for the sake of the team. They may see the team plan as a way to demand more from teams than from individuals without giving anything back in return.
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