Let's say you have a big audacious project you want to knock out of the park. You assemble a dream team of your company's best designers, engineers, and marketers. You put them in a room, give them loose directions, and ask them them to innovate.

Surprisingly, this plan usually doesn't result in success.

According to a recent study of 95 teams within 25 top corporations, close to 75 percent of cross-department teams are dysfunctional. Behnam Tabrizi, a consulting professor at Stanford University's Department of Management Science and Engineering, conducted the study and writes in Harvard Business Review about why these teams don't thrive.

He says the majority of teams are dysfunctional because they fail at least three of five following benchmarks--meeting a planned budget, staying on schedule, adhering to specifications, meeting customer expectations, and maintaining alignment with the company's goals.

"Cross-functional teams often fail because the organization lacks a systemic approach," Tabrizi writes. "Teams are hurt by unclear governance, by a lack of accountability, by goals that lack specificity, and by organizations' failure to prioritize the success of cross-functional projects."

Interestingly, the small sliver of successful teams were governed by a team of cross-functional executives or a single executive champion, Tabrizi says. Projects that had strong governance support had a 76 percent success rate, the study found, while projects with moderate governance support had only a 19 percent success rate.

The takeaway, Tabrizi says, is that most cross-functional teams fail because "silos tend to perpetuate themselves." But if the team is overseen by executives from each department involved who know how to work together, their teamwork "perpetuates itself in the teams under their purview."

Published on: Jun 24, 2015