January 4, 2022

10 Quick Tips To Improve Cross-Functionality Within Your Scrum Team

All quick tips are included in the Scrum Team Survey. With this free product, Scrum teams can diagnose themselves with an extensive, scientifically validated survey and receive detailed results and evidence-based feedback upon completion. Give it a try, and receive quick tips for each of the 30 topics the survey contains!

One of the themes Scrum teams can measure with our Scrum Team Survey is team autonomy. High autonomy is at the root of successful Scrum teams. It means that teams are free from rigid and strict external rules, policies, and constraints. And also that they are free from internal skill-based constraints in how members can work together on tasks. The more freedom your team has to shape its work, the more capable they will be to improve their process, remove impediments and deliver more value.

Recently, we hosted a workshop for our Patreon community. Its purpose was to use all our personal experiences and creativity, to identify quick tips around team autonomy, and its components self-management, and cross-functionality. It resulted in many great ideas, insights, and actionable quick tips. In a series of blog posts, we share the outcome of the workshop with you. This article is focused on quick tips to improve cross-functionality within your Scrum team.

So, what are quick tips?

You can compare quick tips with 15% Solutions. This is a Liberating Structure intended to trigger big change by starting small. A 15% Solution is any first step that you can take without approval or resources from others and that is entirely within your discretion to act. It is something that you can start right now if you want to. It might not be the ultimate solution, but it’s definitely a good first step in the right direction.

Within the Scrum Team Survey, we call these 15% Solutions “Quick Tips”. The purpose of quick tips is to spark small and incremental change in your Scrum team. Small steps in the right direction to remove impediments, improve collaboration, manage risk, and deliver value sooner. A good quick tip is short & concise, actionable & specific, bold & courageous, easy to use & try.

You can compare quick tips with the Liberating Structure ‘15% Solutions’. A good quick tip is short & concise, actionable & specific, bold & courageous, easy to use & try.

What we mean with cross-functionality

Cross-functionality is often misunderstood as the idea that everybody in the team should be able to perform any kind of task. But this doesn’t acknowledge the learning that goes into specialized skill sets. In research, cross-functionality is generally defined as the degree to which the members in a team know how to combine their different skills in the most effective way. Research shows that this kind of cross-functionality greatly contributes to the potential productivity of a team and their general ability to actually work together as a team.

So, an important question a Scrum team should ask themselves is: to what extent do the people in our team know how to work together on items, rather than on their own? As cross-functionality increases, it becomes progressively easier to actually work together as a team. It’s also easier to deal with bottlenecks. As such, cross-functionality is one of the strongest predictors of successful teams.

“Cross-functionality is generally defined as the degree to which the members in a team know how to combine their different skills in the most effective way.”

My personal experience with cross-functionality

For years, I’ve been a Scrum Master for Scrum teams focused on software development. Within these teams, everyone understood the importance of cross-functionality. This wasn’t something I had to explain. Its importance became automatically clear when someone left for vacation, called in sick, or decided to switch jobs. When specific skills weren’t shared broadly within our team, we immediately got into trouble.

Despite the shared understanding of the importance of cross-functionality, we always struggled to improve it. We were often experiencing so much pressure to “get stuff done”, that we didn’t take time to learn new skills from each other. In one team, the number of scarcely available skills resulted in so many problems we made it our #1 priority to resolve them. Most of our Sprints didn’t result in anything valuable because we were continuously blocked by dependencies on others. Also, instead of working as a team, we were more a collection of individuals sitting in the same space. This didn’t do team morale any good.

The quick tip we identified was simple and powerful simultaneously. We organized a skills workshop and agreed that all activities should be covered by at least 3 team members. If this wasn’t possible, we reserved time in the upcoming Sprint to pair up and learn from each other to close the gap. By doing so, we slowly improved the cross-functionality of our team, the number of dependencies decreased and the Sprints started to result in Done increments more often. Often, we weren’t even aware of each other’s skills. Everyone was known for one or two specialties, but with the skills workshop, we discovered many ‘secret’ and surprising skills! Things the entire team could benefit from! Sharing these skills and helping each other improve them, proved to be not only valuable but also gave team morale a boost!

Quick tips to improve cross-functionality

So, now that you know what cross-functionality means and how it can benefit your Scrum team, what are quick tips to start improving? This is where you can benefit from the experience, knowledge, and ideas of our community. Together we identified the following 9 quick tips. Give them a try and let us know the results!

  • Quick tip #1: During the Sprint Retrospective, identify 1 scarcely available skill that at least 3 team members will improve in the next Sprint.
  • Quick tip #2: Organize a skills workshop in the next Sprint, in which a team member who is skilled at a particular task demonstrates how they perform it and help others do it as well.
  • Quick tip #3: For the next Sprint, agree to limit your work-in-progress to no more than a third of the number of members in your team and work together on those items as creatively as possible.
  • Quick tip #4: At the start of your next Sprint, everyone in the team forms pairs, where one member is proficient at a skill and the other, is still learning. These pairs work together throughout the Sprint.
  • Quick tip #5: In the next Sprint, agree that everyone completes at least one task they’ve never done before. Share experiences afterward.
  • Quick tip #6: In the next Sprint, two team members shadow someone outside of their team whose skills they’d like to learn about.
  • Quick tip #7: Schedule a 1-hour Conversation Cafe and share personal surprising and hidden skills other team members probably don’t know you possess
  • Quick tip #8: Next Sprint, involve the least experienced developer in each code review. Afterward, ask the developer what (s)he learned.
  • Quick tip #9: During the next Sprint, pick 1 task that is outside of the team's area of knowledge and complete it in the same Sprint. Debrief it together.
  • Quick tip #10: Ask everyone to identify 2 personal learning goals about their own specialization, which they think are also useful for the entire team. Invite everyone to share their goals.

Organize a skills workshop in the next Sprint, in which a team member who is skilled at a particular task demonstrates how they perform it and help others do it as well.

Closing

In this blog post, we shared 10 quick tips to help your Scrum team improve its cross-functionality. These quick tips might not be the ultimate solution, but they will help you spark small and incremental change in your Scrum team. If cross-functionality is something you want to improve with your team, consider trying one of our quick tips. We’re also eager to learn from your experiences, so if you have other ideas: feel free to share them. Let’s learn and grow, together!