Cross-functional teams are a common theme throughout every organisation building tech products. Cross-functional teams are core to how many organise themselves, or an aspiration for how many want to organise better.
It’s easy to pursue concepts like this because of their pervasiveness and general acceptance—but it’s also important to step back and understand them from first principles. One of the best ways to achieve this is to review the research.
The method used to find relevant, leading research was finding papers with the term “cross-functional team” on Google Scholar, and taking those that had received around 150 citations from the first ten pages.
There may be some papers that received at or near this number of citations that weren’t included, and there is one included that is below 150 citations. There was a small amount of discretion for papers near the threshold based on their fit with new product development.
The following table provides a snapshot of the chosen research. This is followed by a brief summary of each paper, or key, high-level excerpt(s) from the discussion.
It’s interesting to note the diversity of major findings within these reputable, widely-cited research papers. The purpose of presenting their key takeaways in the manner below is to give you a snapshot of the many factors that have been shown to contribute to the innovation, cohesion, and overall success of cross-functional teams, and to provide you with a repository of further reading.
1: Cross-Functional Product Development Teams, Creativity, and the Innovativeness of New Consumer Products
This study looks at 141 cross-functional product development teams and finds that innovativeness is positively related to: the strength of superordinate identity in the team, encouragement to take risk, customers’ influence, and active monitoring of the project by senior management. Beyond a moderate level, social cohesion among team members has a negative effect on innovativeness. The effect of superordinate identity on innovativeness is strengthened by encouragement to take risks and weakened by social cohesion. Functional diversity has no effect on innovativeness.
2: Project Team Communication and Cross-Functional Cooperation in New Program Development
“A total of 262 team members were surveyed from 72 hospital project teams. The results demonstrated that high cooperation teams differed from low cooperation teams both in terms of their increased use of informal methods for communication, as well as their reasons for communicating. Finally, cross-functional cooperation was found to be a strong predictor of certain project outcomes.”
3: From chimneys to cross-functional teams: Developing and validating a diagnostic model
This article provides a framework for studying cross-functional teams that has been validated through quantitative analysis of data from 565 members of cross-functional teams.
4: Investigation of Factors Contributing to the Success of Cross-Functional Teams
This study first reviews the vast literature on cross-functional new product development teams to uncover the array of factors that have previously been demonstrated or hypothesised to relate to cross-functional team success, when measured at the project level. The study then analyzes the responses of 112 new product development professionals to determine which factors are more frequently mentioned as leading to project success.
The study suggests that the factors that lead to success can be divided into three categories:
- setting the stage for product development success
- specific team behaviours, and;
- team leadership
5: Book: Cross-functional teams
This book covers everything on cross-functional teams, from the competitive advantages of cross-functional teams, to establishing them, to managing them.
6: Cross-Functional Integration and New Product Success: An Empirical Investigation of the Findings
Cross-functional integration, the way different functions work together, is “often considered important in a successful new product development program.”
This article reviews 25 prior studies and assesses the impact cross-functional integration has on success. The strength of the findings in the prior studies is suggested to be unclear and that “care should be taken when designing and interpreting the results of such studies”.
7: Transcending Knowledge Differences in Cross-Functional Teams
“Knowledge differences impede the work of cross-functional teams by making knowledge integration difficult, especially when the teams are faced with novelty.”
“… we found that the teams were able to cogenerate a solution without needing to identify, elaborate, and confront differences and dependencies between the specialty areas.”
The study suggests that teams need to transcend rather than traverse knowledge differences.
8: Leadership and trust facilitating cross-functional team success
“This paper examines the challenges faced by CFTs and why these challenges facilitate the need for the development of a team climate for trust. Trust is discussed as a team-level construct, an aspect of the “micro-climate” that occurs within a team. Leadership actions particularly important to cross-functional teams and the development of trust are offered as influential in creating a team climate for trust in cross-functional teams.”
9: The Riddle of Heterarchy: Power Transitions in Cross-Functional Teams
This study looks at power dynamics in 45 teams and finds that interpersonal power shifts based on the dynamic situational demands on the team and team member capabilities.
10: Critical success factors for cross-functional teamwork in new product development
“There is little evidence-based guidance for practitioners on how to achieve effective cross-functional teamwork. In order to address this gap, the literature on cross-functional teamwork was analysed to identify critical success factors. Using a heuristic team effectiveness model, these were categorised into six groups: task design, group composition, organisational context, internal processes, external processes and group psychosocial traits.”
“Key success factors include strategic alignment between functions, a climate supportive of teamwork and team-based accountability. The findings are integrated into a diagnostic model which is intended to be of practical benefit to people designing, leading and facilitating cross-functional new product development teams.”
11: Functional Background Identity, Diversity, and Individual Performance in Cross-Functional Teams
This study’s examination of demography, personal, and social identity related to functional background offers insights about individuals’ performance in cross-functional teams.
12: Perspective: Cross-functional teams: Good concept, poor implementation!
“Based on interviews in dozens of U.S. firms, John Henke, Richard Krachenberg, and Thomas Lyons suggest that most firms are not using teams as effectively and efficiently as they could and should be. In an attempt to overcome this shortcoming, the article discusses the system’s characteristics and organisational implications of the multifunctional product development team, including the benefits linked to the use of teams; the current state of team design, and where improvements can be made; and team-people issues, including communications, decision-making processes, and leadership styles. Specific suggestions on what must be done to improve team effectiveness are also discussed. Finally and most importantly, the article discusses what firms are doing, often inadvertently, to discourage the future use of teams and how these activities can be overcome to maintain the continued viability of teams over the long run.”
The challenge with this study is that the findings might be dated as they are from 1993.
13: Effects of Team Gender and Racial Composition on Perceptions of Team Performance in Cross-Functional Teams
“The studies published suggest that teams with even slight variability on gender and race will be less positively evaluated. These suggestions are tested in a field setting, using 31 teams in a medium-sized state regulatory agency that were rated by team members and outside raters. Results showed that members of cross-functional project teams that vary with respect to gender or racial composition rate their team as less effective than members of homogeneous (all-male or all-White) teams”
14: Examining a curvilinear relationship between communication frequency and team performance in cross-functional project teams
This study examines how the performance of a cross-functional team depends on the skillful and innovative combination of information and expertise from all team members. Communication is the medium through which team members share the information required for successful amalgamation.
The research suggests that both high and low levels of team communication can impede performance, therefore leading to a curvilinear relationship between team performance and team communication. The communication of 60 cross-functional project teams were analysed for the study.
15: Superordinate identity in cross-functional product development teams: Its antecedents and effect on new product performance
This research examines the role of team-based superordinate identity in influencing new product performance.
“The findings, based on a sample of 118 teams, reveal that superordinate identity indeed enhances the performance of the new product developed by a team.”
“… a special team structure (i.e., high autonomy and outcome interdependence) improves both superordinate identity and new product performance. If interdepartmental connectedness in the firm is high, there is a reduced need for high autonomy in the team.”
16: Corporate Entrepreneurship and Cross-Functional Fertilisation: Activation, Process and Disintegration of a New Product Design Team
“… cross-functional teams have become popular in the design and development of new products, but there has been little research on the specific characteristics and processes of such teams over time. This research longitudinally studied a cross-functional new product design team using multiple methods. The results suggested that organisational context, specifically top management team support and organisational politics, has more significant influence on team success than internal team characteristics.”
17: Cross-functional team effectiveness: An examination of internal team environment, shared leadership, and cohesion influences
“… the primary purpose of this investigation is to examine internal factors of the team (namely internal team environment, shared leadership, and cohesion) and the influence of each factor on CFT effectiveness.”
“Results from the study indicate internal team environment influences effectiveness through shared leadership and cohesion as found in other forms of teams. However, unique to CFTs, internal team environment is not directly related to effectiveness, and shared leadership does not directly influence cohesion. The findings suggest that in CFTs, internal team environment indirectly influences effectiveness.”
18: Knowledge sharing in cross-functional teams: a coopetitive model
“This study aims to present a model that can be used for predicting effective knowledge sharing behaviors in cross-functional project teams”
“Three dimensions of cross-functional cooperation (cooperative task orientation, cooperative communication, and cooperative interpersonal relationships) were proved to directly drive effective knowledge sharing behaviors.”
19: Information Technology, Organizational Structure, and New Product Development—The Mediating Effect of Cross-Functional Team Interaction
“The main purpose of this study is to examine the relationships among information technology, organizational structure, cross-functional team interaction, and the performance of new product development.”
The findings suggest that:
- the degree of investment and training on information technology is positively related to cross-functional team interaction;
- that when the organizational structure is more decentralized and less formalized, cross-functional team interaction is more favorable;
- and that cross-functional team interaction is positively related the performance of new product development.
20: Cross-Functional Project Teams in Functionally Aligned Organizations
This article identifies characteristics of successful cross-functional project teams as they relate to functionally aligned organisations.
CEO & Founder
Scott has been involved in the launch and growth of 61+ products and has published over 120 articles and videos that have been viewed over 120,000 times. Terem’s product development and strategy arm, builds and takes clients tech products to market, while the joint venture arm focuses on building tech spinouts in partnership with market leaders.