Cross functional Team Lead

A= Functional Leader
                                                                                  B = Cross functional Leader
                                                                C : Staff member

Increasingly larger organizations are adopting a matrix management approach to provide flexibility and efficient use of resources. This is not as complex as it sounds. Staff members sit in functional teams where all team members sit in functional teams where all team members share a common expertise. They are then allocated to project teams to work on specific projects or assignments alongside other staff members who are drawn from different functional teams.

Strategically, this approach makes a great deal of sense but on the ground level it causes leadership challenges for both the functional  team leader and the cross functional or project team leader. The challenges faced by both of these leaders directly impact on the staff members within their span of control in terms of performance management, personal development and motivation.

The focus is to provide some guidance as to know leader can successfully face these challenges.

The Eternal Triangle

The Figure shown above shows the three way relationship that is created when staff operate in cross functional teams.

1. Functional Leadership:
The functional leader has a remote relationship with the staff member. They are primarily responsible for maintaining  and developing the expertise within functional team. This is likely to entail knowledge sharing, learning and development activities, coaching and maintaining and up-to-date competency matrix. Additionally, the functional leader is normally responsible for conducting appraisal interviews with their functional team members which as saw, includes a mix between performance and development discussions, both past and projected.

2. Cross Functional Leadership :
The Cross functional leader has a day-to-day relationship with the staff member. They are responsible for putting the team together based mainly on existing capability and then delivering the performance objectives of their project or assignment. The cross functional leader has little interest or incentive in developing staff as this falls outside their focus or delivering against shorter term performance metrics.

3. The staff Members :
The staff members in the eternal triangle has a relationship with both their functional leader and their cross functional leader. They interact with their functional leader for ongoing development issues and periodical appraisal discussions, where as they interact with their cross functional leader for day to day performance issues. An added complication here is that the staff member might have just a single cross functional leader if they are working on a major project or several cross functional leader if they are working on a series of smaller projects or discrete assignments.

The Challenges :
It is clear that there are some obvious conflicts and challenges created by cross functional working. The first is that there is often little or no communication between the functional leader and the cross functional leader. The second is that there might be several cross functional leader involved simultaneously which creates obvious conflicts on the time allocation of the individual staff members. The third and perhaps most hazardous challenge is the conflicts between role of functional leader and cross functional leader.  An added complication in these relationship is that the functional leadership role is not always a full-time one. The functional leader might also be assigned to work on projects leaving them with limited time to liaise with the cross functional leaders, communicate with their own functional team members and to develop or coach them.

The Solution :
There are no easy answers to the challenges presented by cross functional working but there are some best practice principle and processes that can be imployed to make this type of working both efficient and effective.

Roles and responsibilities:

If cross functional working is to be effective, the roles are responsibilities of all parties must be clearly defined. More to the point, these definitions need to include expectation that over come some of the challenges. 
Cross functional leaders should have a clear responsibility to report on performance to the functional leader and provide evidence to support this feedback. It is a most important whether they should also be encouraged to allow time for staff development activities, including exposure to tasks that will stretch invididuals and allow them to improve their capability. Ideally, each project or assignment will allow some scope for this.