Cross Functional Teams Critical to Problem Solving

By | June 28, 2011

In a recent discussion with a number of folks at a client company, the point was raised that one of their main issues was that problem resolution by one function or department often resulted in a new issue arising in another department. In today’s environment, value is placed on taking responsibility for rapid resolution of problems, however, caution must be taken to assure that the root cause of the issue is resolved, and that the issue is not merely a “can kicked down the road”, just moving the pain from one function to another.

Every process, regardless of how simple, has at least three components, and likely three functions involved. There are inputs, work tasks and outputs. In reality, most processes are much more complex, with multiple steps, with the involvement at each progressive function increasing. To truly resolve problems as quickly as possible, it is critical that a cross functional group representing all of the stakeholders from inputs, work, and outputs be included. Successful problem resolution, through defining the root cause and eliminating it, must begin by defining the end to end process in which the issues have arisen. The input, the work itself, and the output handed off to the next process must be examined. In order to do this accurately, and to gain the greatest benefit from this effort, subject matter experts and owners of each functional area should be involved.

In many cases, the step where an issue has been identified is not where the cause is; it might be upstream in the process. For example, a quality issue identified in digital print might not originate in the printing function itself; it might be upstream in the composition function, or even further upstream in the specifications for purchasing the paper. Use of the cross functional team approach in problem solving will assure that the knowledge necessary to identify the root cause is included in the investigation and that communication of the issues to all impacted functions during analysis and implementation of the corrective action is accurate and complete. Without use of a cross functional approach to problem solving, it is easy to make assumptions based on an individual area without considering the impact on the prior step or next step in a process. While putting together a cross functional team might initially be perceived as slower, and certainly involves more effort and cooperation, ultimately it is the most accurate and efficient method to the permanent elimination of a problem. The scope of the team’s assignment and timeline should also be established up front to accelerate resolution. Whatever quality system approach is used to identify a problem: Six Sigma, ISO, etc., the problem resolution will be more successful by incorporating a cross functional approach to problem resolution.

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