What makes a successful cross-functional team?

A rocket achieving success with cross functional teams

They promised much but, too often, delivered little. Cross-functional teams seemed to be the answer to complex projects, cutting through bureaucratic tape, promoting collaboration, and putting an end to separate departments chasing their own goals, often to the detriment of other functions within the same organisation.

Unfortunately, they haven’t always lived up to the hype. Some studies put their failure rate as high as 75%. But, as we’ve often said, a little bit of data can be a dangerous thing. What’s behind this lack of success? Most often, poor execution. It takes more than simply putting people in a room together and expecting them to work towards a common goal.

4 Key Elements of a Successful CrossFunctional Team


An oft-quoted study published in Harvard Business Review back in 2015 gives many companies looking to implement a cross-functional team pause for thought. This study found that 75% of CFTs fail.  It’s a significant majority and, at first glance, worrying. When we dig deeper, however, we find that the problem doesn’t lie with the nature of CFTs, but with poor execution and management.

A little nugget of pop wisdom states that a team of champions doesn’t necessarily make a champion team. To wrangle all that expertise, a CFT needs strong leaders. What that looks like changes from firm to firm.

In an SME, the leader may be somebody from procurement or a high-level executive, somebody whose regular day-to-day tasks involve interacting and negotiating with many people. Not only does this leader need to provide direction, align goals and delegate wisely, they also need to be accountable.

Sometimes, the project a CFT was put together for turns out to be a dead end, often due to market fluctuations. Too often, these zombie projects are left to wander on, long after it’s clear it isn’t working, soaking up millions of dollars. The leader needs to be strong enough to approach the higher-ups and speak the truth. This type of personality is rare and invaluable.

In larger companies, CFTs swell to the point that an individual leader becomes inadequate. In these cases, teams of leaders are required, which may involve individuals from each of the departments involved, whose job is to then report to an overarching team that is responsible for end-to-end governance.

Whichever way you structure your CFT, there must be strong leadership and direction.

Turning Up

Here’s another piece of pop wisdom for you: 80% of success is showing up. A common thread among CFTs that fail is poor attendance at meetings. Each department or function of a cross-functional team has to be aware of the priorities and obstacles of their counterparts. Regular meetings are the best way to achieve this.

However, when several departments are involved in one project, it can be difficult to coordinate timetables and have department leaders available at the same time on a regular basis. To overcome this, it’s important all leaders of their particular function designate a second-in-command to attend on their behalf when they’re not available.

Meetings can seem tedious and time-wasting but, when it comes to CFTs, they are vital for keeping all departments abreast of the issues and aware of the challenges faced by each function.

Modern analytics

With so many departments involved, it’s important that you have in place dashboards that are shared cross-functionally and display real-time metrics. The last thing a CFT needs is hundreds of emails and phone calls pinging back and forth between departments, slowing meaningful progress, as everybody seeks vital data from everybody else.

Having this data on hand for everybody, in an easily-digestible format can transform how a CFT functions. Modern analytics and dashboards are an absolute must for any organisation with a procurement function.


We’ve spoken before about the unpredictability of the modern world. COVID-19 has only highlighted the risks posed to our supply chains every day. Whether it’s a global pandemic or climate change events (think tsunamis, bushfires, etc), our procurement function needs to become more agile.

A cross-functional team needs to have responsive priorities that can be shifted or changed altogether based on current market conditions and customer demands. No successful project has a strategy that stays unchanged throughout its life. If you aren’t recalibrating, you aren’t responding to the world around you, which always leads to failure.

Breed success

If you want the benefits that CFTs can bring, you have to develop strong leaders. At Academy of Procurement, our vast, cutting-edge eLearning platform has been designed to get the most out of your workforce. Get in touch today and have a chat about our capability building and project management modules.