Cross-functional teams, also known as cross-functional pods, bring together employees from different departments or areas of a company to collaborate on a project and work toward a common goal — and these teams can provide major benefits to an organization.
“At their best, cross-functional teams can create a superior experience for the customer, harnessing all the expertise from different functions to deliver the best solution,” said Paula Cizek, Chief Research Officer at organizational change consultancy NOBL.“And these teams can develop bigger, more complementary ideas, as team members build on each others’ work.”
But creating alignment between different teams can be a challenge. How do you get everyone on the same page, promote collaboration, and ensure that all employees and teams are steadily progressing toward their shared goals? Keep reading for four expert tips on how to effectively manage goals on cross-functional teams.
4 Steps for Managing Goals on Cross-Functional Teams
1. Establish clear expectations with individual managers.
By definition, cross-functional pods bring together employees from different teams within an organization. But pulling someone into a cross-functional team doesn’t negate their responsibilities to their existing team — and if you don’t get sign-off from their manager or supervisor, it could cause issues down the road.
“Often, working on a cross-functional team and helping [that team] achieve its goals are not considered important — or not considered at all — by direct supervisors,” said Diane Gayeski, PhD, Professor of Strategic Communication at the Roy H. Park School of Communications at Ithaca College and principal of strategy and communications consulting firm Gayeski Analytics. “Therefore, team members are not provided the time or support to help the cross-functional team.”
That’s why, in order to effectively manage goals for cross-functional teams, the first step needs to be talking to individual managers, and making sure that they are on board and support their direct reports joining the cross-functional team. “The most critical element is getting the buy-in of the direct supervisor for each team member,” Gayeski said.
As you’re assembling your cross-functional team, schedule time to speak with each team member’s manager. Fill them in on the details of the cross-functional team: what projects you’re planning to work on, your goals for those projects, and how hitting these goals will positively impact both that manager’s team and the organization as a whole. You’ll also want to be clear about the details of how the employee will work with the cross-functional team, and how they’ll balance that workload with their existing responsibilities.
“Without clear priorities or reporting structure, teams quickly become overworked and pulled in multiple directions,” cautioned Cizek. Some important points to clarify and address upfront, she said: “If an individual reports in to two teams, what work takes precedence? When a deadline approaches, should they prioritize the work of the team or the function?”
Being clear on — and clearly communicating — these details from the get-go can help avoid potential issues or misunderstandings down the road. So make sure to “discuss how their employee will allocate time and resources, and if it will impact any of their performance goals or expectations,” Gayeski advised.
Getting buy-in from individual managers will ensure that they’re in agreement with the work, time, and effort their team member will need to contribute to the cross-functional pod, which will in turn make it easier to manage — and achieve — the pod’s goals.
2. Define roles and responsibilities.
It’s important to set clear expectations with individual managers as you’re assembling your cross-functional team. But once that team is assembled, it’s just as — if not more — important to set expectations for the members within the team. And that starts with clearly defining roles and responsibilities.
“Cross-functional teams often struggle when it’s unclear who is responsible for what as they work toward their goals,” Cizek said. “That’s why individuals on the team should discuss both their own tasks, as well as what they need from others.”
You’ll also want to define the hierarchy within the team; in other words, who has the ultimate decision-making power on how, when, and in what ways to move forward. This is especially critical for cross-functional teams where you’re bringing together different people from different departments — which can often lead to differences of opinion.
“Make sure that you also address decision-making rights,” said Cizek. “Often, cross-functional teams get slowed down because they feel everyone must agree to every decision, or individuals feel left out if they’re not invited to every meeting. Deciding, in advance, who gets to make what [decisions] speeds up the work.”
Clearly defining roles, responsibilities, and leadership within the team will ensure that everyone knows exactly what they’re supposed to be doing. This empowers team members to more effectively work toward their goals, and will make it easier to manage their progression toward those goals.
3. Set goals — and create the structure to effectively manage them.
If members of a cross-functional team don’t know what their goals are, you won’t be able to effectively manage or support them in reaching those goals. That’s why, once everyone in the cross-functional pod knows what they’re working on, it’s essential to also define what they’re working toward.
Talk your cross-functional team through their goals and how those goals are going to be managed and measured. Begin by focusing on the big picture and end result. “When establishing metrics or signals of progress, teams should focus on desired outcomes (the thing that will be different, like increased market share), rather than outputs (the deliverables themselves, such as a new social campaign),” advised Cizek.
“Unfortunately, if leaders or teams are rewarded for output — rather than collaborative behavior or outcomes — they won’t prioritize the cross-functional team’s goals,” Cizek continued. But when you focus on the bigger picture, you can help your cross-functional team better understand the impact of what they’re doing, which can help them become more invested in the process.
Once your team understands the desired outcomes, the next step is ironing out the details of how you’re going to get there; that means using a performance management tool to ensure those goals are defined, tracked, and completed.
“Too often, a new approach or team goal is pursued without the infrastructure necessary to implement, monitor, and assess [progress],” said Shané P. Teran, PsyD, organizational development psychologist and founder of SP Consulting Group, an executive coaching and organizational development consultancy. According to Teran, without the right tools in place to monitor progress, cross-functional team members may struggle to stay on top of who is responsible for what — and that lack of accountability can hinder progress.
Without an infrastructure for monitoring goals, initiatives are also more likely to fall through the cracks, creating a “pretty full ‘parking lot’ of things that haven’t been fully accomplished,” she cautioned.
The right performance management tool clearly defines what goals your cross-functional team is working on and how each team member is responsible for helping to reach these goals. It also allows managers to measure the team’s progress as they work toward their goals. If you’re overseeing a cross-functional team, having a framework for managing and tracking goals is essential.
4. Use data to drive your strategy and inform feedback.
Having the right framework in place will give you invaluable data on how your team is progressing toward their goals. And, as a manager, the best thing you can do to effectively manage goals for a cross-functional team is to monitor your team’s progress and then use that data to drive your strategy.
For example, say you use Lattice’s Goals platform to set clear objectives for your cross-functional team. But a month into the project, you review the data and realize that deadlines aren’t being met. You might use that information to schedule one-on-ones to connect with team members and identify the problem, or to reallocate resources or employees to ensure that key objectives are being hit in a timely manner.
Goal data can also help you evaluate performance, both for the cross-functional team as a whole and each individual member. This can enable you to personalize your feedback, ensuring that it’s helpful and relevant and supports your team members in a way that’s going to motivate them to achieve their goals.
“People desire a connection to their work to fuel engagement and motivation, especially throughout stretch projects,” said Teran. “Feedback helps everyone know where they stand and that their work and ongoing commitment to the ultimate goal matters.”
Managing goals for any employee can be a challenge. But it can be especially challenging when you’re bringing together individuals and departments that aren’t accustomed to working together. When you take the time to get everyone aligned, though — and create a framework that allows you to effectively monitor and manage team goals — you can empower your cross-functional pod to succeed.
Need the right infrastructure to manage goals for your cross-functional team? With Lattice’s Goals tool, managers can create a framework that empowers cross-functional teams to succeed by setting clear objectives, monitoring goal progress, and supporting employees and teams in hitting their goals with features like status updates, performance check-ins, and 1:1’s. Lattice Goals also seamlessly integrates into a variety of project management and chat platforms to ensure that cross-functional teams and their managers have all the information and support they need, when they need it.