Cross functionality is a cornerstone of the design thinking process. By building cross functional teams, companies are able to use diversity of thought to generate innovative thinking. Solutions to tough problems often come from groups of diverse thinkers. Design thinking is more than the latest fad in the tech world. Companies of all shapes and sizes are realizing the strength that comes from cross functional collaboration.
1) An early pioneer of cross functional teams, the insurance company Northwestern Mutual started to build such groups in the 1950s when it brought together teams from its financial, actuarial, and investment departments to study how computers would change the business world. Consequently, the company created one of the first information systems departments. This helped give the company an edge as computers began to pervade every industry. Given its early success with cross functional collaboration, today cross functional teams are “in almost every facet of its organization.”
Just goes to show how cross functional teams can deliver unimaginable value.
2) Petter Supply Company is an industrial wholesaler founded in Paducah, Kentucky. The company is a full-service office supply, office furniture, and imaging distributor. The CEO Robert Petter and President John Sircy introduced cross functional teams to identify new opportunities for the company. Different teams worked on different goals. One team focused on improving communications, another on distribution center performance, and another on quality topics, to give a few examples.
The teams delivered results which elevated the company’s performance.
3) The car manufacturer Toyota has also utilized cross functional teams to enhance its manufacturing process. However, as Durward Sobek reports in Harvard Business Review, it has tailored the use of cross functional groups “to ensure that each project has the flexibility it needs and still benefits from what other projects have learned. The result is a deftly managed process that rivals the company’s famous production system, lean manufacturing, in effectiveness.” This is especially important for a large corporation that has many different divisions and projects at any given time.
The company appreciates the value of “instructive supervision within functions” so that supervisors and managers are closely involved in the engineering design process. Supervisors help “build deep functional expertise in its new hires—expertise that then facilitates coordination across functions.”
Companies can deploy cross functional teams in differents ways to generate results. Cross functional collaboration is one aspect of design thinking. Organizations have been reaping the benefit of these teams for decades. Companies can generate a lot of value by leveraging cross functional teams within their business.
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