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Mature companies usually have many departments, each with its own narrow list of job responsibilities. However, this rule does not apply to project teams, whose members often have similar skills. This staffing approach can reduce overall productivity and slow project delivery. This is what cross-functional teams were invented for. We will describe below how they differ from the standard teams that provide software product development services, what principles of functioning underlie them, what are the main benefits of cross-functional teams for business, and what are examples of cross-functional teams.

What is a Cross-Functional Team?

So what is a cross-functional team? In a nutshell, it’s a group of specialists with different functional expertise but work towards a common goal. This approach allows these teams to function autonomously without the need to interact with other departments in the company, as well as provides each member with better inclusion in the work process. For some companies, the choice of such a team structure is critical, as it allows them to minimize costs by eliminating the need to form autonomous departments.

How Does a Cross-Functional Team Differ from a Functional One?

In functional teams, the team members all perform tasks specific to the function of the department. This is the traditional team-building structure that’s still practiced in many companies—both those who find it difficult to globally reconsider their established business practices and those where cross-functionality is ineffective (we will discuss such cases below). However, in many cases, cross-functionality is responsible for the better execution of a project and helps speed up its time to market.

Cross-Functional Teams

Key Roles

Let’s consider the main roles of a cross-functional team. You can also learn more about how to build a software development team here.

Product Manager

The product manager in a cross-functional team is responsible for the development of the project from start to finish. This specialist forms a project roadmap and breaks it down into subtasks, delegating them to team members. Also, the product manager controls the work processes and acts as the link between the team and the product owner. Please note that, at the same time, cross-functionality implies the absence of product managers in their traditional image: they are no longer “supervisors” who specify what to do and who should do it without taking feedback—rather, they are the ones who are responsible for collecting and accepting the opinions of the rest of the team.

Business Analyst

This expert determines the scope of work and coordinates the project development process in a cross-functional team keeping in mind the business goals that the stakeholders have identified.

Marketing Specialist

In a cross-functional team, this person builds and aligns the marketing strategy with the technical and other aspects of product implementation for which the rest of the team is responsible.

UX/UI Designer

Designers create the visual part of the product and choose the best ways for users to interact with it. Usually, in a cross-functional team, their work begins with prototyping, which, after agreement with representatives of the target audience, stakeholders, and other team members, is transformed into the development of a full-fledged product design.

Software Engineer

Software engineers are engaged in the implementation of the technical part of the project—choosing a technology stack that corresponds to the project’s goals, developing architecture for the product, and writing program code.

QA Engineer

These specialists work closely with product managers to determine the criteria for the quality of the created solution. They are also responsible for writing and implementing test cases to check the product against the specifications. If a discrepancy is found, they return the product to the developers for revision and then, after making corrections, test it again. This continues until the project fully meets its technical specifications.

Main Principles of a Cross-Functional Team

Now it’s time to define the main principles a cross-functional team must follow.

Cross-Functional Teams

Common Objectives

The correct formation of a cross-functional team is always preceded by the formulation of a comprehensive goal of working on a project, which should cover both the technological and business vision of the stakeholders. Therefore, each of the members of such a team works for the benefit of a common global goal and not on a list of their narrowly focused tasks, as is the case with traditional teams.

Comprehensive Feedback

Cross-functional teams always listen to the opinions of all their members, adapting their further course of work on the project to the feedback received. This is the hallmark of such teams, as they work towards the same goals and are fully motivated to succeed in the project development.

Diverse Perspectives

A cross-functional team is a team that brings together employees with different areas of expertise, backgrounds, and viewpoints. This, in turn, broadens the horizons of each of the members, increases their involvement in the work process, and helps them find non-trivial but effective solutions to standard problems. That’s why, when hiring employees for such a team, you must pay special attention to checking their versatility. 

Flexibility and Trust

Functioning like a puzzle, team members easily express their opinions and ideas about the project and quickly adapt to new requirements, choosing the most viable project implementation model. We also note that the cross-functional approach requires more trust between employees, as it implies mutual assistance and the exchange of expertise between team members when necessary.

Data-Driven Decision Making

Each of the team members has an idea of why, how, and for whom the project is created. Therefore, they always have enough data to make informed decisions that affect the final solution.

Pros of Cross-Functional Teams

What are the main advantages of cross-functional teams for business? Let’s find out.

Cross-Functional Teams

Talent Diversity

Among the key benefits of cross-functional teams is talent diversity. Combining specialists with different skills into a single team provides full coverage of all aspects of project implementation and eliminates downtime caused by the need to turn to other departments of the company or, moreover, to third-party experts. 

Greater Business Agility

This type of team is ideal for projects with unclear or changing requirements, as it doesn’t need the involvement of new specialists in case the course of the project has been adjusted.

Better Innovation & Creativity

The cross-functionality of teams implies strong leadership qualities of each of their members, which allows them to express their ideas with the expectation that they will be heard and taken into account by the entire team. Thus, any of the specialists can influence the course of the project, bringing innovations and new approaches to its implementation.

Enhanced Collaboration & Communication

End-to-end interaction between team members ensures that they fully understand the work processes and thus positively affects the results of the work of each of them. Also, cross-functional teams naturally create a single collaborative culture that provides shared decision making, regular team building, and adoption of a shared language which bridges the gap between siloed teams.

Better Employee Engagement

Members of a cross-functional team feel more involved in the project than in the case of the traditional team formation model. This has a positive effect on their motivation and dedication to the work process.

Shared Responsibilities 

The last one in our list of advantages of cross-functional teams is the shared responsibilities of each of the members. In particular, this implies the provision of mutual assistance to each other when necessary. Thus, even narrowly-focused tasks assigned to individual members are performed better and faster.

Cons of Cross-Functional Teams

Note that a cross-functional structure cannot be accepted as a universal solution for any type of business since there are exceptions everywhere. Therefore, for the sake of the objectivity of our review, let’s also consider the disadvantages of this team-building model.


This type of team requires specialists with multiple soft and hard skills. Usually, it’s challenging to build cross-functional teams, cover all the required skills and competencies, make people function as a single unit, and organize their peaceful and productive interaction. Some specialists, having vast experience in their field, don’t want to take into account the opinion of their colleagues, which also imposes certain difficulties in workflows. Sometimes, the whole process of forming the best-fitting team may take months.

Time-Consuming Onboarding

Often, the acquisition of new skills, transferring them from one team member to another, as well as onboarding needed for work on a new project are time-consuming. This means that even after forming such a team, it may take you about a month or more to finally start working on a project.

More Careful Management

One of the biggest challenges to building a high-effective cross-functional team is the different roles and responsibilities of its members. The team may be at different levels in their job positions and make varying contributions to the project. All these aspects may lead to confusion, frustration, or even conflicts. The elimination of these issues, in turn, will require time and more careful management on your part.

Principles of Building Cross-Functional Teams

If you understand that this team staffing model is close to your project, you should learn about the basic principles of its formation.

Cross-Functional Teams

Set a Global Goal

As we mentioned earlier, cross-functional teams live and are motivated by a single global goal, so before hiring new members to your team, you’ll need to formulate a comprehensive project description and, based on it, assign them large-scale tasks that they must perform in the course of their work.

Define Key Roles

The above list of key cross-functional team members is the minimum viable solution. Depending on the scale and complexity of your project, you may need additional specialists.

Establish Smooth Communication

Since some team members may not be familiar with each other at all prior to the project, you will need to smooth out the communication barriers between them so that they can effectively work towards a common goal. Team building activities will help you with this, as well as formulating tasks for joint implementation.

Introduce Cross-Department Practices for Process Optimization

To optimize workflows within your cross-functional team, you can use some practices typical of the Agile and Lean methodologies. In particular, we’re talking about Kanban boards, as well as the Scrum approach, which both allow you to implement the project in small sequential sprints.

Choose Common Tech Stack

And finally, you’ll need to think over the technology stack of your project: it must at least partially cover the expertise of each of your team members. Thanks to this, they’ll be able to easily delve into each other’s tasks and understand where the project follows.

Real Examples

To be convinced of the practical benefits of implementing cross-functional teams, we suggest that you familiarize yourself with real-life examples. Below you will find out which leading players in the digital industry have made the most of the cross-functionality of their employees.

Cross-Functional Teams


Let’s start our list of examples of cross-functional teams with Apple. We all know this company that infected the whole world with iPhone mania. This happened not at all by chance but thanks to a scrupulous approach to organizing work processes within this company by its leader, Steve Jobs. Indeed, there are many talented and smart people all over the world, and only a few have come to success at this level. So what was one of the decisive factors of this success?

In fact, Steve Jobs has repeatedly shared in his interviews a special approach to staffing his teams. In particular, he decided to move away from the traditional leadership model and provided an opportunity for each of his employees to voice their ideas and wishes regarding the products they create without fear of being ridiculed or unheard. As a result, over time, this practice turned into regular brainstorming sessions, which brought Apple benefits in the form of multi-billion dollar profits that consistently grow even to this day.

As for cross-functionality, this type of team staffing has been around since the first iPhone. The brightest minds from relevant industries were involved in projects to work hard and create revolutionary products that were ahead of their counterparts.

By bringing these top experts together into a single cross-functional team, Apple has succeeded in giving them a sense of collective responsibility for what they do. The advantages of such an approach are known to all of us today.


Nokia, known throughout the world for its indestructible mobile phones, was not successful in the 2000s by chance. By adopting cross-functionality, Nokia management brought together top experts from different departments, which in turn led to the emergence of qualitatively better ideas and approaches to the implementation of the company’s products.

In particular, this example of a cross-functional team initially made it a practice to recruit experts with leadership qualities who already had experience in working with cross-functional teams based on the Agile methodology.

At the same time, in their ideology, failures were perceived as advantages and were the basis for further growth. This, in turn, contributed to the invention of products that every second person began to use several years later.


Cisco, as a leading network equipment vendor, has also been able to make the most of cross-functionality. In particular, since 2001, the company has segmented its employees into small teams, whose responsibilities are to develop long-term strategies for the future development of the company’s solutions. At the same time, opinions and ideas could be generated not only by top managers but also by ordinary employees, which ensured the maximum involvement in the company’s development of all those who work in it.

As a result, this cross-functional team example has multiplied the company’s revenues and allowed it to take a stable competitive position among other emerging network device suppliers.


And finally, it would not be out of place to recall the unique approach to cross-functionality invented by Jeff Bezos, the owner of the multi-billion dollar Amazon company. This is called the Two-Pizza Team and consists of forming teams within the company that could be fed with just two pizzas. This introduces certain restrictions on the size of such teams—usually, it doesn’t exceed 5-7 people.

This cross-functional team example contributes to the decentralization of decisions that are made by specialists who work in it, as well as reducing the number of costs associated with the coordination of work processes by all departments of the company. Thanks to these advantages, work on projects moves faster, and members of such teams are less involved in all sorts of formalities.

At the same time, the responsibility for the results obtained during the work of such small teams lies entirely on the shoulders of each of their members. This determines the higher quality of the created solutions and stimulates the search for new non-standard approaches to their implementation. It also eliminates the need to involve company employees in several projects at once, which can reduce their productivity and provoke rapid burnout.

Together with the DevOps philosophy, cross-functionality has helped this example of cross-functional team significantly increase the company’s revenue since the 2010s and maintain market leadership not only in its main line of business and the marketplace, but also in its child activities related to the provision of cloud services and solutions based on artificial intelligence.

How to Know if You Need a Cross-Functional Team

Cross-functional teams are viable for any type of business, but they are most effective in software development. Along with this, you should take into account that you must take appropriate measures to ensure a horizontal hierarchy between roles in the team, provide convenient tools for teamwork, and also encourage your team members to accept other people’s ideas. Only in this way will this approach be effective for your business.

As for the types of companies that it suits best, here it’s probably better to start with a small business. Indeed, such companies usually need all employees to be multi-skilled to some extent. That is, this approach is often the only viable one to ensure the continued existence of the business.

As for large and medium-sized organizations, some of them are still cautious about cross-functionality. For instance, despite the success of other well-known cross-functional teams examples, companies like Netflix and Google are only just beginning to embrace this method of team collaboration, leaving most of their workflows traditional.

Let’s look at some scenarios in which cross-functional teams might be useful:

  • You work on large-scale enterprise software. Such projects usually require close interaction between general-purpose developers and internal specialists of the company for which the specific software is being created. Therefore, ensuring cross-functionality in such teams helps to obtain high-quality results of the work, taking into account the individual characteristics of work processes within the company.
  • Your project has unclear requirements. When you don’t have a clear vision of what the final solution should be (who its target audience is, how to properly present your product to your target audience, how to ensure its competitiveness, how to position your product in the market, etc.), cross-functional teams will apply their skills for the common goal and thereby increase the chances of the success of the project.
  • You have some budgeting issues. Such constraints are especially typical for startups. In this case, a cross-functional team will give you extra agility and cost optimization. Also, you can learn about software development costs when outsourcing and key contributing factors here.

Therefore, if you have the right approach to the formation and establishment of work processes within your cross-functional team, it will only bring benefits to you: your employees will work together on a common goal and provide professional assistance to each other, sharing their unique skills and vision. Moreover, this approach is an integral part of Agile and Lean methodologies, so if you decide to choose one of them, you’ll need to form a cross-functional team as well.

As for projects in which this type of team formation can be harmful, it’s worth mentioning projects for which each of the team roles must have its own limited range of tasks that doesn’t overlap with the tasks of other specialists. That’s why, by implementing the cross-functional team structure, you can spend a lot of time expanding the expertise of each of your team members, which is completely unnecessary.

Final Thoughts

The formation of cross-functional teams helps businesses increase productivity, ensure better employee management, streamline work processes, and boost innovation, as well as improve customer satisfaction. As a result, compared to the traditional staffing structure, the results of the work performed by cross-functional teams become comprehensive and more quickly achievable. If you need to boost your business with top teams, feel free to contact us. We know how to enhance your project with top specialists to help your company grow and increase its revenue.

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