Nowadays we hear more and more about cross-functional partners or cross-functional teams in our business environment. While cross-functional teams have always existed in all industries, where people with different skills and knowledge have contributed to the success of a project, there is now a real increase in the cross-functional partners. This cross-functional partner is taking over the role of a cross-functional team, and in some cases leading these teams to success.
Let’s start by looking at what a cross-functional partner really is. A cross-functional partner is a person that contributes to a project from a neutral perspective, but who has the experience and knowledge of the areas involved or affected by that project. This person may be for example an analyst who started to work in the HR department, later supporting the marketing team, then the sales organisation, then moving to IT in a data quality team, after which they took over a role within the finance team, and finally ended up as a cross-functional partner for a transformation programme where sales, marketing, IT, HR and finance departments are directly involved and affected. This person is someone who built the necessary skills not by following the classic career path from junior to senior, but as a consequence of horizontal professional growth; taking opportunities, understanding the gaps and challenges faced in each area as an insider, while working in the different functions of an organisation.
Historically, people with cross-functional skills were more likely to be found in consulting companies which aim to be more flexible and provide a wider range of skills with fewer people. However, we now see an increased amount of people with cross-functional skills in other organisations, and more often within the finance teams.
On the other hand, we may deal with a cross-functional team that has an individual representing each skill.
Cross-functional teams vs. people with cross-functional skills
By being part of transformational programs for different organisations over time, we have seen how the two cross-functional capabilities contribute to the success of a project.
Firstly, building a cross-functional team that brings together people with different skillsets has the benefit of more productive brainstorming sessions, early onboarding for future change, and being aware of any particularities of the areas that are related to the project.
The second situation is when the transformational project is led by a cross-functional partner. This situation is seen increasingly often, as cross-functional partners are becoming successful in this role. Cross-functional partners often have experience with different industries, companies, and functions. This means they are better able to communicate to their colleagues as they understand their issues, empathise with concerns, and see the benefits of new ways of working. This is of great help when it comes to change management, when putting in place a solution that should work well for everyone.