Organizing Cross Functional Teams to Tackle Tough Problems

There were always tough problems to solve in organizations before the pandemic … and now there are more of them – and new challenges no one knew existed. As an ambitious leader, when you spot a tough problem, you can: 1) ignore it and hope it goes away or someone else deals with it, or 2) you can tackle it head-on – and achieve phenomenal results when doing so.

Of course, one person can’t take on all of the tough problems. You need to be selective. But which problem to take on?

The problem no one wants.

Look for the problems that no one else wants. If the problem exists and no one has successfully tackled it yet, that means that other people will be thrilled when you solve it. And because you are an ambitious leader – you are going to rock it! (You only have one speed – maximum success.) Since others likely have something to gain from solving the problem, it is also fairly easy to get folks in the organization to participate in a workgroup (more about managing cross-functional workgroups below).

The Problem no one wantsYou’ll likely be the only cook in the kitchen.

If no one else wants to address the problem, you likely won’t have competitors seeking to chair the workgroup. Leadership may even give you free rein to build a team to solve the problem – allowing you to select staff with the knowledge base and positive attitude to work together effectively.

You’ll become a ‘go to’ person for the more challenging problems.

When (not if) you succeed in taking on a tough problem and finding a solution. . . decision-makers notice. And behind each set of tough problems that are visible to the masses is another layer of problems that only a subset of people know about.   With some experience, leadership may begin to seek your opinion and assistance with those other challenges.

You can build on your accomplishments.

Tough Problems

If you plan to stay at your current organization, tackling tough problems keeps you relevant. And if you are planning to leave (or aren’t sure when you might)… well … solving problems no one else has been able to address helps you assemble a list of significant accomplishments to share at future interviews. Perhaps this work could be a bridge to real professional growth!

There’s a reason no one wants some problems. But there are likely very good reasons why taking some of them on would be a terrific professional move for you. If you want to be noticed, sometimes you have to go where no one else has been willing to tread.

What are cross-functional teams?

Have you noticed “Cross-functional team management skills” required on recent job postings or asked about them in interviews? I certainly have. But what does that really mean? It sounds like a clever way of saying, ‘you’ll need to manage a group of people who do not report to you.’

Cross-functional team managers

There are always at least a few people in any organization with this special talent. They have an uncanny ability to read between the lines and build on common ground. That common ground may be a teeny-tiny-tiny pinpoint to stand on at first…but it’s a start.

I’m super intrigued by these people. And I observe them intently when I find them. I’d like to think that over my 20+ years of improving organizations, I’ve picked up a few good tips from these folks – let’s call them Cross-Functional Team Managers. Here are a few things that I think are worth working on if you, like me, want to be a better Cross-Functional Team Manager.

They Pre-Game.

No, they aren’t tailgating (though I’d bet they’d throw a heck of a tailgate). Instead, they meet with people in advance to hear their comments and concerns on a topic BEFORE the committee meeting. No one wants to be surprised in a meeting with negative or uncomfortable information. So, Cross-Functional Team Managers get the information and feedback they need in advance. They don’t dictate what the meeting will be, nor do they make ‘surprise’ announcements. Rather, they seek input and expertise informing the meeting agenda and content.

They Listen.

I mean really listen. They literally pause and think – in the middle of the meeting. These folks are comfortable with silence to ‘digest’ the information in real-time.

They Have Empathy.Strategies of Cross-functional team managers

Nearly 20 years ago, I read a sidebar in Fortune magazine indicating that empathy would be one of the most needed skills in the workplace over the next decade, but most lacking. Empathy? Now, technology keeps us connected to work 24/7, which leaves little downtime and opportunity for recharging. Good Cross-Functional Team Managers care about people and see each team member as a whole person. And they express it more often than just on each staff member’s birthday.

They ask how employees are doing – both personally and professionally. And they pay attention to the answer. Also, they notice things – when a colleague has a new shirt, when an employee did a great job, if someone is consistently late to a meeting, etc. Good Cross-Functional Team Managers know who has been caring for an elderly parent or sick child; they make sure to check in on the well-being of the caregiver and patient. They know who is training for a marathon, and they ask them about their preparation. And they know who is working hard, going above and beyond, and would value professional recognition. When they notice and acknowledge these things, they encourage employees–theirs and others on their cross-functional teams–to be the best they can be.

They Build on Each Pinpoint to Get Results.

After finding that pinpoint of common ground to stand on (as described above), they run with it. They get a team of people to move forward, building consensus with intention so that the pinpoint turns into a full landing pad. This often results in something new and exciting that could not have been accomplished without collaboration across multiple teams.

Take Action — Progress over Perfection

I’ll end this article with some action steps for consideration for helping ambitious leaders put the ‘organize’ back in organizations.

Think about the Cross-Functional Team Managers you have at your organization.

Take Action - Tackling Tough Problems

  1. Share this article at your organization (e.g., co-workers, team members, supervisor, etc.).
  2. Include the article as a discussion item on your next team meeting agenda for infusion of these strategies in your team and/or organization’s current challenges.
  3. Think about the Cross-Functional Team Managers you have at your organization. What tough problem did your Cross-Functional Team Managers solve that helped your organization achieve phenomenal results?
  4. What is the next tough problem you (as an ambitious leader) can invite them to take on next?
  5. Do you have enough Cross-Functional Team Managers in your organization to achieve your ambitious goals?
    • If so – great! Are you fully utilizing and leveraging their skillsets such that your organization is achieving phenomenal results? Need a boost in this area? I can help amplify your cross-functional team managers’ strengths, minimize the distracting disadvantages, and maximize their motivating momentum.
    • Need more cross-functional team managers at your organization? I can help you identify existing team members to amplify their strengths, minimize the distracting disadvantages, and maximize their motivating momentum.
  6. Are you signed up for my newsletter — Knowledge is Powers? If not, scroll a bit more and add your email to the list. I only send amazing content when it is ready – not when the calendar says it is time.

You May Also Like