Cross-Functional Teams ask for Cross-Functional People
[Article],  Organization Design

Cross-Functional People

We must get away from the idea people are silos. Just because people are experts, they must not do it all alone. Cross-functional teams require cross-functional people, who are able to contribute critical questions beyond their core expertise. It is the key to focus and robustness.

Subject matter experts are silos – subject matter expertise needs to be shared. If experts are leaving a project, the subject stays. By then, if you are not able to close such a gap from within your organization, expertise needs to be bought from the outside.

Experts from the outside do not know anything about the culture in your organization – but they will affect it. Others will be skeptical, how new people can become heroes in their organization, while they seem not to be valued.

There is only one profound way to come around the problem: don’t make people silos by making them subject matter experts.

Expertise and Robustness

Expertise is a subject matter for an organization. Team work needs to involve subject matter expertise, but not rely on a subject matter expert. If an expert is failing, the whole team will fail. Failure is not a matter of learning anymore; it becomes a matter of success in teams. The only measure for success is their expertise. Robustness is up to them and their solutions.

But there are experts. Experts are still a big asset for an organization – if the organizations knows how to make use of them:

The best experts can do is to multiply their expertise by sharing their knowledge and train others. For all of us, the best thing that can happen to us, is to have an expert by our side, who helps us to learn faster.

Cross-Functional Experts

Cross-functional teams with end-to-end responsibility are the fast track to success. If teams have to decide on themselves, how to deliver best results to clients, they will make considerations based on their means.

Considering the multitude of concerns, which teams have to address in an end-to-end setup, it will bring them to the boundaries of their capacities.

Teams cannot grow endlessly, as there are natural limits. Teams with more than 15 members do not work collaboratively anymore; structures will be required, which would lead to sub-teams. But these teams cannot claim to be autonomous with end-to-end responsibility anymore.


The way out is to balance needs with expertise. We look for t-shaped people – people who are cross-functional on themselves.

Not 100% experts anymore, but 80% deliverers and 50% contributors. People who know enough to be able to take over parts of the delivery; who can learn from others and ask critical questions based on their fair knowledge about the subject.

In this setup attitude overrules expertise; the right attitude to support others instead of working on a hero status for oneself. But it needs guidance – from people who know how to enrich expertise; in the right way, at the right time, with the right tools.

This is the kind of expertise, which makes experts highly appreciated persons in an organization. They help others to keep focus.


As everyone is invited to learn from experts in this setup, everyone can become an expert for any kind of subject. Interests matter – and a sense for the organization. Expertise can be grown. It must not be delegated anymore. A new kind of humble heroes awakes from the former definition of subject matter experts.

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