From Me to We: How cross-functional teams change the game

Think about your favourite band. What makes them your favourite? It could be how each member brings their own groove. But, more importantly, it’s the way they click together. It is that shared energy that makes the music soar.

Similarly, that’s also how cross-functional teams create the power of a vibrant company culture. When motivated employees from various departments join forces, they ignite creativity, boost results, and ultimately enhance the customer experience – much like a band crafting a hit song.

Spotify: Building innovation through structure

More than just a music streaming revolution, Spotify pioneered an innovative way of working: the squads-and-tribes model. This symphony of innovation and agility champions a culture built on three pillars: autonomy, communication, and quality.  

The model in action:

Guilds, Tribes, Chapters & Squads... and SCRUM. What?!
(Image source: Scaling Agile @ Spotify with Tribes, Squads, Chapters & Guilds by Henrik Kniberg & Anders Ivarsson, Oct 2012)
  • Squads: Small, cross-functional teams of 6-12 individuals focusing on distinct feature areas.
  • Tribes: Larger units of 40-150 people, comprising multiple squads working on related features, overseen by a tribe leader.
  • Collaboration and Cohesion: The squads-and-tribes model encourages collaboration across squads, enabling Spotify to remain nimble and creatively agile.
  • Chapters: Specialists across squads are aligned to ensure best practices and consistency.
  • Guilds: Communities driven by shared interests across tribes promote continuous learning and innovation.

The key is balance. Spotify empowers Squads with the freedom to experiment, fostering a “controlled chaos” culture. The company also promotes a “Player-Coach” model where Chapter leads act as both mentors and active participants, fostering mentorship while staying connected to the day-to-day challenges.

Transparency completes the picture. By ensuring each team member knows their goals and overall vision, Spotify helps them navigate their journey without micromanagement, building trust and innovation.

DBS: Transforming customer journeys

Employing a “Managing through Journeys” approach to organizational structure, DBS transitions from traditional siloed departments to more horizontal, multifunctional teams. Over 60 key customer journeys receive focused attention from senior leaders.

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(Image source: DBS Investor Day 2023: New ways of working)

Central to their model is “Performance Cells,” in which DBS organizes its cross-functional teams horizontally and is built around shared performance indicators. Co-led by business and IT leaders, DBS combine product expertise with data science, compliance, and marketing to ensure a balanced approach. Simultaneously, performance management at DBS takes a holistic view encompassing customer, business, and employee outcomes.

Moreover, DBS leverages advanced tools such as “control towers” for real-time data, timely interventions and continuous improvement. Their emphasis on continuous listening through customer feedback sessions, aided by AI and machine learning, helps them understand client needs better and adapt swiftly.  

Samsung SDS: Agile practices driving social impact

As Samsung’s IT and communication arm, it is essential that Samsung SDS runs a highly agile core team to spearhead cross-functional implementation, building teams with product managers, designers, developers, and testers. For 3-4 months, team members are paired with colleagues from different departments to accelerate knowledge transfer.

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(Image: Customizable picture cards on the Angel Talk app. Source: Samsung SDS)

Their focus on developing Minimum Viable Products (MVPs) spans various projects, including impactful social initiatives like the Angel Talk app. Designed to help children with ‘Angelman’ syndrome communicate, the app is a product of empathy sessions between affected families and healthcare professionals. This allows them to express their needs through a simple interface, significantly enhancing their ability to communicate with caregivers.

Another unique element of Samsung SDS’s approach is the “culture bubble,” a self-contained sub-group with cultural values and practices designed to drive innovation. Here are its key characteristics:  

  • Sandbox environment: This bubble functions as a “sandbox” where experimentation with new ideas and methodologies is encouraged, free from traditional structures.
  • Knowledge sharing: Learnings from the culture bubble permeate the entire organization through workshops, mentorship programs, and documented best practices.
  • Transparency & openness: Core values of transparency and openness ensure everyone benefits from the collective knowledge generated within the culture bubble.
  • Leadership support: Samsung SDS leadership actively champions this approach, aligning teams with the company’s vision of continuous improvement and customer-centricity.

Empowering innovation: Key learnings for your organization

  1. Build trust and ownership: Empower teams with the freedom to innovate while holding them accountable for their outcomes. This fosters creativity and ensures teams remain engaged and motivated.
  1. Spark collaboration and knowledge sharing: Create structures that facilitate sharing best practices and expertise across different teams and departments. Communities of interest, like Spotify’s Guilds or Samsung SDS’s culture bubble, can drive continuous improvement and innovation.
  1. Allow teams to experiment and make mistakes: Encourage a culture where teams feel safe to take risks and experiment. Regular retrospectives at Spotify or brainstorming sessions by DBS encourage other organizations to learn and evolve from every endeavour.
  1. Align on shared goals and objectives: Ensure all teams understand and align with the broader company goals and objectives. This alignment can be achieved through clear communication, as DBS does with its performance cells and customer journey maps.
  1. Leverage real-time data and feedback: Use advanced tools and real-time data to make informed decisions and timely interventions. Like those employed by DBS, continuous feedback loops help organizations stay responsive to customer needs.

Trust, knowledge-sharing, and the freedom to experiment in cross-functional teams are essential for unparalleled innovation and exceptional customer experiences.