Cross Functional Teams

Financial management, like most disciplines is becoming driven by projects as opposed to routine day-to-day work. Projects help facilitate needed change and represent the real value-creation activities of the organization. At the heart of projects is the Cross Functional Team (CFT). The CFT is a small group of people, committed to reaching project goals, which in turn brings about improvement within the organization. Understanding what makes a good CFT is important to successful project management and ultimately to the creation of value.

What makes a good CFT? Here are some key elements:

•  Everyone within the CFT must be dedicated to improving the company's performance.

•  CFT's should measure their own performance and set deadlines for getting things done.

•  CFT's should have the ability to move around the organization and cross through organizational hierarchies.

•  CFT's should have strong support and resources from senior management, including training, staffing, funding, autonomy, and time.

Choosing the right projects and the right people for the CFT is extremely important. The closer the "fit" a project has with the use of CFT's, the more likely the project will be successful. Projects that lend themselves to CFT's include:

  1. 1) Project requires the involvement of several departments.
  2. 2) Project impacts or influences outside customers or end-users.
  3. 3) Project deals with a major strategic issue.
  4. 4) Project requires considerable time and resources.
  5. 5) Project deals with a complex area where errors and mistakes are common.

As a general rule, CFT's should be considered when you have a project that:

•  Represents a major challenge

•  There is a sense of urgency

•  Project has major implications within the organization.

•  Project has high risk and mistakes are likely to occur.

When choosing members for the CFT, three important factors to consider are:

•  Technical Expertise - Education, knowledge, experience, etc.

•  Problem Solving Abilities - The ability to identify problems and develop solutions.

•  Interpersonal Skills - The ability to communicate, temperament, personal skills, etc.

If possible, it is best to let team members join on a voluntary basis. Additionally, allow team members to choose their own assignments and name the project. This can help ensure high productivity. And don't forget to include diversity and balance within the CFT. You need to cover a broad range of skills and talents within the CFT.

The scope and size of the project will determine the size of the CFT. In cases where the project is highly complex, the CFT may form sub-teams or task forces consisting of five to eight members. If the CFT is too large, interaction and consensus is difficult. If the CFT is too small, there is a lack of creativity with a very narrow focus.

Several roles are required for making CFT's work. These roles include:

  1. 1) Sponsor or Champion : A person should serve as a bridge between senior management and the CFT so as to obtain and maintain upper-level support. Sponsors or champions are not full-time members of the CFT, they act as a liason for getting the resources the CFT needs.
  2. 2) Team Leader : The overall manager of the CFT is the Team Leader. Team Leaders coordinate activities, encourage participation, maintain cohesiveness, and direct the CFT.
  3. 3) Team Facilitator(s) : Team Facilitators act like coaches within the CFT, helping prepare for CFT activities, meetings, and keeping everyone focused on project objectives. Team Facilitators have good communication and teaching skills.
  4. 4) Team Secretary : Someone will need to summarize the decisions and actions of the CFT. The Secretary keeps minutes of meetings and distributes minutes to all team members. This helps reinforce what needs to be done.
  5. 5) Team Members : Members must carryout the activities and task as indicated by the Team Leader. Team members should take their assignments seriously. Team members tend to be high achievers and they should be expected to serve for the entire life of the project.

CFT's have a much better chance of success when the goals of the project are clear and concise. The expected outcomes of the project should be specific and measurable; such as a 15% improvement in production output. Make sure upper-level management communicates the following to the CFT:

    • 1) What are the deliverables from this project?
    • 2) Why was this project chosen?
    • 3) What type of support will upper-level management provide?
    • 4) What restrictions, limitations or other special issues will affect the project?

A final point concerns how the CFT works through the project. In his book, Project 50 , Tom Peters points out that the biggest mistake within a project is to move too quickly to implementation. Failure to plan and design the project will result in failed implementation. So once you have the right CFT in place, make sure you spend time planning, testing, and designing the project.

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