Successful cross-functional teams need the luxury of confidence and trust

Just separate the participants into groups and let them sit for a while in their own juices. Then mix together over the flame of continued competition. And there you have it: Cross-group hatred at rolling boil. – R. Cialdini

Today, the cross-functional team and entrepreneurial organization are one of the stock solutions to solve complex problems.

  • But how do you set up such teams?
  • Is it enough to define the teams, define the topics and then let everybody run wild?
  • How do smaller teams interact with larger groups?
  • Is self-organization sufficient to handle the process?

The genesis of the team identity

I have yet to come across a genuinely self-organized organization. At least in big companies, there is still some top-down decision structure.
Teams are set up and staffed by a person who frequently is not even part of the team.

But once the team members are there, they pick up the ball and play. As a result, team identity usually starts a life of its own.

Teams do not act in a vacuum. They usually need to interact with our teams.
They quickly become competitive and less productive in achieving an overarching goal.

Complaints about other teams are the result:

Team tiger is just not working with us!

The environment fosters team competition.

Identification with a team name goes along with the increased commitment to the team. However, groups with a character can automatically lead to low-level competition amongst teams.

What makes the difference is the environment. If the environment enforces competitive behavior, team identity acts as a multiplier. The competitive character provides a selection criterion for the top-down entity and enables competition.

Today, the two most competitive environments are school and work.

In school, cross-class competition is done in science contests, treasure hunts, or sports events. At work, measuring team performance metrics is a source of constant unrest.

Children are usually more open than adults. The disgust of the other school will be phrased quite clearly: “You know class 7b are crazy”.

These conflicts are usually only visible at work in a lack of cooperation, blaming, and disapproving remarks: “You know, team lions are always sabotaging our efforts by caring about their own goals.”

Provide a cooperative environment

The first thing is to avoid measuring metrics across teams and compare and sanctionize. Do not even get into the situation. But what to do if the case has already deteriorated?

Enter group therapy! Group therapy bears many names. Bring groups together in a pleasant atmosphere and allow people to familiarize themselves with each other.

You will hope for a miracle to occur. Alas, the problem continues. No external force will move team members’ disposition in such a setting.

The second frequent mistake: “Please work together and figure it out.” At best, there will be some superficial results, and everybody will be happy that they can work alone afterward.

The problem to overcome must threaten the entire organization. Cross-team collaboration is the only solution that has a chance to work. The cooperation allows experiencing a rival as a reasonable fellow and friend. It is difficult to uphold hostility if a triumph is shared.

In contrast, in group therapy, no real triumph is shared. The victory will be experienced as a false triumph. While therapy might improve the attitudes toward each other, it will not allow lasting success.

Avoid getting into the unhealthy team competition

  • Do not force people who do not get along well together.
  • Instead, define the problems in such a way that the skills of everybody are required to solve the issue.
  • The real problem comes with people with no skills in the team.