Cross functional team is not enough

Luis GonçalvesAgile, Scrum4 Comments


Cross functional team

In my previous blog post, I explained how cross-functional teams are not enough to create high performing organisations. Cross-functional teams are mandatory, but not a guarantee of, success. I explained that several organizations have cross-functional teams built around a matrix organization. The blog post explains quite well how this matrix setup can hurt companies quite badly.

In this blog post I will explain how to assemble cross-functional teams that have everything needed to allow high performance. Before I describe my approach, I want to warn you, this is quite a radical approach to traditional management. I know this cannot be implemented in most companies (or at least, those typical managers), but I truly believe in Peter Senge’s words:

“It´s not enough to change the structures if the mindset behind does not change“

I think this is one of most companies’ biggest problems: they keep trying to solve old problems with old ways of working. If you truly want to make a difference, you truly must change the way you think—to that end, I choose to present something more radical than the norm.

We want to create teams that:

  • Are small, directly communicating with each other
  • Where everyone takes responsibility for their own work
  • Make decisions fast
  • Celebrate small successes
  • Are not political
  • Have end to end responsibility
  • Are focused on real, important things
  • Can release their products several times a day if necessary
  • Budget independent
  • Have all the necessary people to make the product live

If you think about all these characteristics, this is exactly what a Startup is. So, why not create small Startups within our companies? Before you say this idea is ridiculous, consider the fact that there are several companies all over the world already testing this concept.

So, how can we assemble this kind of setup? To achieve this kind of setup we should create cross-functional teams that are fully independent. Everyone reports to the same person (the Startup CEO) and this small team has all the necessary people and necessary skills to make the product live. Below you can find a picture illustrating this setup


Pros and Cons of this approach

Since I presented the positive aspects above, I will now focus on the negative points of this approach:

There is no space for middle management – If companies chose to implement this approach, middle managers will not have a role. Of course, they can do any other job that is necessary to release the product, but typically this will not be a manager role—it will be a specialist role, which means that middle managers must adapt to new jobs.

Communication with other Start Ups – The ideal setup will be able to create fully independent products without requiring much communication with the rest of the organisation, but we still want to share best practices within the rest of the company. Here people must be careful to not get isolated from the other parts of the organisation. Typically a well-established Community of Practices will tackle this problem.

A lot of courage is needed – To implement this kind of approach, top management must have a lot of courage. This is a completely radical approach, and it requires a lot of courage to try something so new like this. Even if management is able to implement this, the company must have a great culture of learning from its mistakes, as this will be the only way to achieve success using this approach.

I believe if we have the courage and the vision to start building companies in this way, we will be able to create products faster and more successfully than ever..

In the next blog post I will explain an intermediate approach that your company can apply if you cannot be so radical..

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4 Comments on “Cross functional team is not enough”

  1. Steven Hillaert

    This would be a great way to work but I don’t think the last 2 points (Budget independent and Have all the necessary people to make the product live) are feasible. What you can deliver as a product depends on the abilities of the team and budget/time. Just like a startup with limited budget/people/time has to compromise on their product. A startup still has the “luxury” to look for budget from different sources, a startup in a company always depends on the budget that’s available from the company.

  2. Ricardo Fiel


    Nice one and a topic I’ve been giving a lot of attention to. We’ve both reached the same model: a startup inside the matrix. It does make perfect sense. I’m with you on this one.


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