How to Add Value With Cross-Functional Teams

By Michelle Nickolaisen

It seems natural for engineers to work mostly with other engineers, designers with other designers, marketers with other marketers, and so on. How else would you organize teams?

This is one of those management philosophies that looks good on its face, but doesn’t necessarily hold up to scrutiny. Having designers only working with other designers (and engineers with other engineers, and so on) can create miscommunications, team friction, and a lack of transparency — the bane of productive managers everywhere.

On the other hand, cross-functional teams — teams that pull together people from different disciplines and background — can help break people out of their silos, ensure everyone is aligned towards a common goal, and create stronger, more innovative products as a result.

Let’s see what that looks like in practice and how you can make it work at your business, whether you’re a startup founder or working at an established business:

The Myth of the Lone Inventor

Everywhere you look in our culture — especially in startup culture — the myth of the lone inventor/creator persists. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and the list goes on.

We think about these people as multi-talented one-man-bands with a mastery of all necessary skills.

Unfortunately, this idea doesn’t match the reality: all of these people worked with teams of assistants and fellow inventors to develop their ideas and bring them to fruition. Even those creatives who could be characterized as loners were still inspired by their fellow inventors, as well as the culture and trends of the day.

“We all like to imagine that the lone inventor exists outside the cultural and institutional forces that facilitate innovation. If people would simply try harder, pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, get better ideas, they could change the world. But history, like innovation itself, is messy.”

— Tech journalist Matt Novak in his 2013 SXSW talk

In short: innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

The Biggest Breakthroughs Come from Teams

So, if innovation doesn’t come from one lone genius, and instead comes from teamwork, what does that look like in practice? And how can cross-functional teams be particularly helpful?

One of the biggest proponents of cross-functional teams is IDEO, a product design firm in California that worked on the Apple Mouse, among other projects.

When we spoke to Ian Lotinsky, CTO of LearnZillion, he said they were one of his major inspirations in changing his team structure, after he read The Art of Innovation, which discusses the importance of cross-functional teams with a diversity of perspectives and opinions. One of his biggest takeaways from the book?

“Innovation tends to happen in the context of a team, and having a diverse set of experiences and perspectives in the mix is going to lead more insights and better solutions.” — Ian Lotinsky, CTO at LearnZillion

Of course, IDEO isn’t the only company that’s noticed this. The Robert Half Management consulting firm surveyed over 2,200 CFOs and found that Go to the full article.

Source:: Business 2 Community

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