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3M's Cross-Functional Teams

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When James McNerney left General Electric to become chairman and CEO of 3M in 2001, he soon made a major discovery: 3M’s legendary success using its vaunted labs and scientists to turn out commercial hits had bogged down. His immediate actions were to refocus 3M’s research and development efforts on technologies that would result in commercially successful products and getting 3M scientists to communicate earlier in the new-product sequence with its marketing and manufacturing people to focus 3M’s lab work better.

One key to success in new-product development is 3M’s use of cross-functional teams, a small number of people from different departments in an organization who are mutually accountable to a common set of performance goals. Today in 3M, these teams are especially important so that individuals from R&D, marketing, sales, and manufacturing can simultaneously work together to focus on new product and market opportunities. In the past, 3M and other firms often utilized these department people in sequence—possibly resulting in R&D designing new products that the manufacturing department couldn’t produce economically and that the marketing department couldn’t sell.

Important today in 3M’s cross-functional teams is Six Sigma, a means to “delight the customer” by achieving quality through a highly disciplined process to focus on developing and delivering near-perfect products and services. “Near perfect” here means being 99.9997 percent perfect or allowing 3.4 defects per million products produced or transactions processed—getting as close as possible to zero defects. Six Sigma’s success lies in determining what variables impact the results, measuring them, and making decisions based on data, not gut feelings.12 In 2004, 3M had a cross-functional Six Sigma team charged with finding ways to streamline and standardize ways for conducting its marketing research. Worldwide that year 3M had 130 Six Sigma projects underway with major customers.

Companies can learn from 3M to use project structures such as cross-functional teams and use Total Quality Management (TQM) processes such as Six Sigma to help their production and operating environments.

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YouSigma. (2008). "3M's Cross-Functional Teams." From

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