Leading Cross-Functional Project Teams


Leadership roles across different types of teams are similar in many ways, but each type of team also has unique challenges for leaders. I am dedicating this blog post to review of the limited research on what type of skills and behavior are needed for effective leadership in cross-functional teams.

A cross-functional team is a group of people with different functional expertise working toward a common goal (Krajewski & Ritzman, 2005). Typically, it includes employees from all levels of an organization. It may include people from finance, marketing, operations, and human resources departments. Members may also come from outside an organization (in particular, from suppliers, key customers, or consultants).

Despite the extensive use of cross-functional project teams during the past 30 years, research on skills required for effective leadership of cross-functional teams is still limited. Because the tasks of many cross-functional team require innovation, research on leading creative people is also relevant for understanding effective leadership in these teams. Reviews of the relevant research (Ford & Randoiph, 1992; Mumford, Scott, Gaddis, & Strange, 2002; Yukl, 2002) suggest that leaders of cross-functional project teams need technical expertise, cognitive skills, interpersonal skills, projection management skills, and political skills.

Technical expertise: The leader must be able to communicate about technical matters with team members from diverse functional backgrounds.

Cognitive skills: The leaders must be able to solve complex problems that require creativity and systems thinking, and must understand how different functions are relevant to the success of the project.

Interpersonal skills: The leader must be able to understand the needs and values of team members, to influence them, resolve conflicts, and build cohesiveness.

Project management skills: The leader must be able to plan and organize the project activities, select qualified members of the team, and handle budgeting and financial responsibilities.


Ford, R. C., & Randolph, W. A. (1992). Cross-functional structures: A review and integration of matrix organization and project management. Journal of management, 18(2), 267-294.

Krajewski, L. J. and L. P. Ritzman. 2005. Operations Management: Processes and Value Chains. Pearson Education, Upper Saddle River.

Mumford, M. D., Scott, G. M., Gaddis, B., & Strange, J. M. (2002). Leading creative people: Orchestrating expertise and relationships. The Leadership Quarterly, 13(6), 705-750.

Yukl, G. A. (2002). Leadership in organizations.



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