Why cross-functional teams can be dysfunctional

6 min readJul 14, 2021


Business success is directly linked to a team of professionals and a leader. In these times, when the pandemic has changed the usual paradigm of business, one should not worry about how to create favorable opportunities, but how not to miss them.

A cross-functional team consists of employees of the same hierarchical level, invited from different departments to solve specific tasks. The peculiarity of this work organization is that members of cross-functional teams manage risks more creatively.

When the digital transformation required businesses to work closely with IT specialists and professionals from other fields, the popularity of this organizational model began to grow rapidly.

The diverse skills of the members of cross-functional teams make it possible to analyze tasks from several angles. It seems that this method of work organization is ideal, but cross-functional cooperation is more complicated than it seems at first sight.

Company executives often believe that if they reorganize their businesses, introduce digital tools, and organize employees into cross-functional teams, the problems will be solved. But what about the virtual barriers within the group itself? Cross-functional collaboration are the arteries of digital transformation, but most executives don’t realize how clogged these arteries are.

“The problem is that most cross-functional teams turn out to be dysfunctional,” says Behnam Tabrizi, a professor at Stanford University and an expert on business process transformation. “You attract people from different backgrounds, with different subcultures, with different incentive systems, and perhaps even with different goals,” Tabrizi says. Those differences won’t disappear just because people ended up in the same group.

In a detailed study of cross-functional collaboration, Tabrizi found that of the 95 teams he worked with, 25 were dysfunctional. In other words, 75% of cross-functional teams failed because they did not meet three of the five criteria:

  1. Compliance with budgetary regulations;
  2. Compliance with the work schedule;
  3. Compliance with approved standards;
  4. Meeting the needs of consumers;
  5. Compliance of personal interests with the set business goals.

Effective solutions

The project must have an experienced leader

In a large business, a group of managers, which may include vice presidents, senior managers, and directors, are responsible for managing cross-functional teams.

For example, if the management team includes the vice presidents of design, design, and marketing, then the cross-functional team may include managers and directors from those departments. But there must be a middle manager who oversees the team’s performance on a daily basis.

Objectives must be defined

Members of cross-functional teams need to understand “Where we’re going, how we’re going, and when we’re going to get there.” That’s why a set of measurable, time-bound goals is critical. “If the goals are vague or there are more than three, consider there are none,” so says Jim Collins, author of the bestseller From Good to Great.

The project needs to be adjusted

It is necessary to control the list of tasks, regularly crossing out obsolete, irrelevant ones. The rapidly changing market forces companies to rethink business strategies, and this applies to cross-functional teams as well.

Enthusiasm must be maintained

Being enthusiastic does not mean putting work first, but all employees must be motivated to work according to the approved plan. Everyone should understand the value of personal contribution to the team’s realization of ideas.

According to a 50-year Gallup Institute study, engaged team members deliver higher profits, regardless of industry or company size. If team members are frustrated with the work (or don’t see the value), engagement is out of the question. They simply lose interest in the work.

It is necessary to motivate, involve

When members of cross-functional teams have the impression that the company is a collection of disparate groups, then trust, mutual respect and motivation disappear.

Google recently published a report that analyzed changes in team effectiveness during the Covid-19 pandemic. It was found that successful teams are those in which there is an outward show of respect, trust, and team spirit.

The experience of Selvery is interesting in this respect. Denis Golubtsov, CBDO of Selvery, is sure that in any case everyone in the team must do their own thing.

Selvery is an IT startup, we make SaaS products for product owners, marketing and sales departments. For a year and a half now we have been developing an online builder to automate the process of creating and showing personalized sales presentations.

Selvery is a digital assistant that helps the salesperson speak to the customer in their language. It identifies the type of customer and generates a personal presentation for them, filled with a value proposition relevant to the customer. It then tells the seller what to say and how to say it in order to get the deal done in the end. Product owners, marketers, and sales executives work alongside salespeople in the service. Product owners and marketers are able to update product information dozens of times faster than they do now in, for example, PowerPoint, and this information is instantly available in sales presentations to salespeople. Executives get to work with sales statistics. One service brings together everyone who influences the sales of a product, service or idea.

“At the start of the project we did not have a business analyst, so I did this work. This affected the quality of task setting for developers. What I formulated too high-level, had to be thought through by designers, back- and front-developers. When a business analyst came along, the whole team worked faster, because the problem statements became more detailed. We also used to work without autotests. Today, thanks to the autotest specialist, we save weeks of work,” Golubtsov says.

On Selvery team, everyone does their own thing. In other words, everyone on the team has a role. If you are a front-end developer, you specialize only in what you do and don’t do anything else. The strength of a team lies in the specialization of its members. The more deeply an employee understands their business, the more valuable and important they are to the whole team. The value of developers on the market is very high. And the more expensive a resource is, the more important it is to use it for its intended purpose. Every minute of a developer’s work is expensive, which means it would be wasteful to force them to do any other work.

“The key to success is to ensure that each area of development has a sufficient number of the right specialists. It is also very important to create an environment in which the entire team can work cohesively. Absence of conflict, normal human relations, the opportunity to speak out and be heard, and the opportunity to do your job is the ideal atmosphere for a startup,” Dennis Golubtsov says.

Teamwork has become extremely important. Over the past decades, the time spent on team projects has increased by more than 50%. This organizational model has become a trigger for increased work efficiency, employee satisfaction, and an important component of success in implementing innovative ideas.




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