This post is part of an upcoming e-book which will be released in 2015.
“How significant are barriers between teams within your company?”
– Question #6 from the Startup Quality Survey
While cross-functional teams are associated with trendy buzzwords such as agile, lean, and scrum, the concept has its roots in the pioneering work of Taiichi Ohno and Eiji Toyoda called the Toyota Production System (TPS). TPS is known for kaizen, which is conceptually very similar to the Shewhart cycle, Deming cycle, or PDCA. The system was designed to eliminate overburden (muri), inconsistency (mura), and waste (muda).
This is point 9 of Deming’s 14 points and it can be seen in several principals of TPS. The idea is formalized in section 3 principal 11 for instance, where Toyota’s cross functional teams help suppliers discover and fix problems. Principal 12 encourages mangers to “take full advantage of the wisdom and experiences of others” and principal 13 emphasizes different perspectives in decision making through consensus.
While businesses in every industry struggle with barriers between teams, especially during growth spurts, teams of technical professionals tend to feel the strain more than any other. A creative agency may be able to crank out beautiful designs and make sales to clients, but the web developers are left with the burden of delivering on those promises. Marketing leads and product managers at a tech startup may woo potential customers with demos, but the engineer has to drop whatever she was working on in order to work on their presentation.
A cross-functional team has the ability to take an issue from start to finish. The person who makes the sale works together with graphic designers and web developers to deliver on a product. When a client finds a bug, the entire team is aware of it and collectively prioritizes its importance. If you have ever started your own business, then you know what it is like being responsible for everything from marketing emails to accounting. A cross-functional team helps your business capture that entrepreneurial creative energy and scale to meet growing demand.