A “cross-functional project” is a synonym for “nightmare project” in any corporate. One has to remain on guard from so-called cross-functional team members. And be very cautious and politically bolted in communications. The term ‘team‘ is a misnomer there.

A team is not a group of people who work together. A team is a group of people who trust each other. – Simon Sinek

Cross-functional teams are the fundamental weak link for all development methods (lean, agile, kanban, waterfall, etc.). Its inefficiency deprives these methods of realizing their full execution benefits. The credibility of the development method itself goes down. Despite the root problem was in the team dynamics.

Typical Cross-functional teams: “Complete your assigned tasks.”

These teams are present in all projects involving different departments. The representatives from different departments work together. They play their defined part in a larger project and do not need to worry about other counterparts tasks. The final outcome is not everyone’s responsibility.

Characteristics of typical Cross-Functional Teams:

Accountable for only doing their part and not towards the final outcome. Members can get away unscathed if they prove it was not their fault.

Little trust. Documentation of evidence to pass blame when needed. Members prefer Email > Chat > Phone > F2F as mode of communication. Writing diplomatically correct and onus passing emails becomes a respected art.

Negativity, friction, politics and escalation across departments is rampant among team members. Members escalate frequently to their department bosses. Little effort is done for resolving issues among themselves.

Victim mode is rampant. Members show their helplessness, owing to external circumstances. External circumstances can be different people, team, department, company or event. And that is the justification for their previous and oncoming failures.

Changes for course correction meets heavy resistance even when it is the right thing to do. Members optimize for the ease and benefit of themselves and their departments. The larger interest of the whole organization takes a back seat.

Disengaged and drained workforce. Political caution and keeping safeguards become the necessary survival skill. This takes far more toll on the body than the actual work done. Productivity decreases and enthusiasm dissipates.

Slow paced and non-iterative development. The aggressive fast action never thrives in a non-trusting environment.

Solver Teams: “Sail and sink together. Get-Shit-Done!!”

Solver teams (concept link) is a self-sufficient set of people who are tasked to ‘solve’ a defined problem. Together they are accountable for the outcome.

Solver-teams is a mindset (not structural) evolution over typical cross-functional teams. As an analogy, just as ‘humans’ are a mindset (not structural) evolution over primate called ‘monkeys’.

It is called ‘solver’ team, as the intent is to solve a problem, not just build features. Often a problem can be solved just by using docs, spreadsheets or even pen-paper itself. The success metric is same for all team members. This motivates members to help each other and avoid failing together.

Characteristics of Solver Teams

Focused alignment and accountability towards goal. The success of the project is a success for all members and so is the failure. By analogy, if the boat sinks it doesn’t matter hole was on which side. Everyone should have proactively helped each to avoid sinking or suffer together. There are only two states ‘Done’ or ‘Not-Done’.

Trust and synergy among members. Members always ready to help each other for achieving the common goal. A deeper understanding of end to end flows. Greater empathy for each other’s work complexities.

Proactive course correction. Members ready to change plan, even when it needs rework, as long as it helps in achieving the goal. Any disinterest or incompetence must be highlighted asap F2F with their seniors. So that corrective action can be taken well ahead in time.

Very high speed of execution. Members follow F2F > Phone > Chat > Email. Quick decisions are taken without bureaucracy and email chains.

Members escalate together. Members involve their seniors to make decisions, in case they cannot agree on something among themselves.

Strong sense of ownership. Members are party to transparent decision making across departments. This builds strong ownership of decisions taken.

Passionate members. Get-Shit-Done’ attitude is rampant to make their decisions successful.

Move Fast, Fail Fast, Iterate 

This is only possible when there is a trusting and synergistic environment. That’s why startups having <20 employees have the fierce agility. Later the same company loses steam owing to internal friction and factions.

Solver teams in action

Concept was conceived in the early hyper-growth phase of OYO, in which the company grew from ~5 to 200 cities, ~50 to 6000 hotels, ~100 to ~3000 employees. Now it is powering the violent execution at Knowlarity, as it gets set to conquer the cloud communications space.

How to become Solver Teams

Article and video explaining the concept:


* Harvard Business review article on cross-functional teams failures — 75% of Cross-Functional Teams Are Dysfunctional.

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