Communication Challenges of Cross-Functional Project Team

Cross-functional teams have the potential to be phenomenally effective when it comes to executing complex projects. To harness all that power, the various groups must be able to come together under a unified project management approach and focus their efforts toward reaching a common goal. One factor that’s crucial to a cross-functional project team’s ability to achieve the necessary cohesion and reach success is a strong communication strategy.

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As these sub-teams move through the project’s lifecycle, a number of communication challenges often crop up that can be traced back to the lack of an overarching structure helping to guide the overall team’s efforts. Functional areas tend to continue operating with existing workflows and they discover they have no historical experience in partnering with other groups. This leads to a lack of robust or accurate intra-team communication. Before your organization launches a cross-functional project team, see if there are common communication issues lurking in the shadows that should be addressed.

Problems often begin when cross-functional teams comprised of different areas and disciplines rely on established communication flows that are bound by silos. Messages up and down the sub-team’s hierarchy usually remain effective, but information that needs to move beyond these walled-off channels may not travel from one operational group to another, or data may be curated too aggressively prior to leaving the department. The problem is compounded if the various stakeholder teams don’t understand where their responsibilities end and other sub-teams take up the reins.

It isn’t unusual to discover that important information isn’t shared across the entire team as fully or as regularly as it should be. This happens not because stakeholders are trying to keep critical data to themselves, but because they either don’t realize that someone else may need the information they hold or because they don’t know who should receive the information they have. It’s also possible that a sub-team isn’t aware they’re responsible for disseminating specific pieces of information. Because data security is a high priority for many organizations, stakeholders might also be confused about who is authorized to receive confidential project data.

Distributed data is often not closely managed enough to correct errors or provide useful updates. Without a clear path for the flow of information, sub-teams find it’s difficult to keep track of where their data has traveled and how they can go about keeping it current. In addition, if communications aren’t centrally managed or if stakeholders don’t feel the channels are working the way they should, they might begin to forward messages as they see fit. Obsolete information could end up almost anywhere, as could sensitive data that really shouldn’t be released until more scrutiny has been applied to the distribution list. Without a minimum of one designated contact person in each sub-team, this issue creates ongoing challenges as some groups are left to rely on inaccurate or outdated information.

Problems also routinely crop up where technology limitations or corporate policies are in place but not well understood. For example, it may not be possible to send files from one department to another if both aren’t using the same document management system. There could also be restrictions on receiving or sending attachments or web links due to regulatory requirements or because of internal security policies. These problems can be overcome, but only if a structured framework for data sharing has been designed in conjunction with IT and data management experts to ensure that firewall rules, compliance mandates, and other issues have been appropriately addressed. This enables the different sub-teams to leverage compatible file transfer protocols regardless of which functional area they call home.

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