3 barriers to amplifying cross-functional co-operation

Early on in my career, in particular, when I was first appointed a line manager, I was always keen to minimise the involvement of other people in any projects I ran.  My naive logic went along the lines of the less people involved, the less unexpected inputs to handle; and the more likely I was to successfully deliver my goals in time and on budget.  When I look back now, I’m almost embarrassed by my parochial approach to achieving my goals.  Over time, we all learn that despite being a rather cheesy phrase, TEAM (Together Everyone Achieves More) is indeed true! So in this post, we’ll look at how cross-functional working can benefit your projects, what challenges might you face, and how to overcome them.

As we mature in the working world, we begin to understand how interconnected we are across a business.  Whether a small start-up or a behemoth conglomerate, every business has hand-offs and touch-points that draw together each corner of the business to deliver their product or service.  When we take a narrow view of our world, we build silos, controlling every aspect of our own function, but creating a disjointed and disconnected experience for customers.  Taking a step back, especially when starting a new project to see who else could and should be impacted, and engaging them in your thinking is your first step to better cross-functional working.  Common understanding and goals exponentially increase your chances of success, but what gets in the way of cross functional working? Here’s three statements that you might hear.

“They get in my way and hold me back”: A great example of where you hear this might be when you are working with a department that is looking to leverage your learnings to improve their delivery.  In a previous role, I was proud of the satisfaction scores I achieve with my customers, and when, through acquisition, I established a new peer in the German office, I felt reluctant to work with them due to the fact that their operation was less mature.  In fact, over time, I observed that with less historic baggage, they were able to innovate more quickly, and introduce a number of enhancements to my team.  Far from holding me back, the German colleagues helped me improve delivery, without having to extend my operating hours. I helped them increase their customer satisfaction by sharing my employee engagement and soft skills training.  Don’t see others as inferior or less competent than your team.  Be humble and instead see the potential opportunities of working with others.

“They don’t understand what we do and why we’re important”: For many years in my early career, I saw sales as the enemy.  They sell something, head off to their next pitch and leave those of us in customer service to get it working.  Sales didn’t “get” what we were about, we were just a cost centre that mopped up unhappy customer issues that sales created.  What a narrow view of a core set of colleagues I had!  If I had only made more effort to demonstrate an understanding of their processes and pain points, and show them a little more of what we do well, I could have worked cross-functionally to improve the flow between both functions.  Nowadays, I proactively work with my sales colleagues.  As the earliest “human” contact with potential customers – the more we get right at the start of the customer journey, the better the experience will be for customers further on down the track.  Cross-functional working creates a sense of understanding and mutual respect of competencies and skills.  It also creates a more empathetic awareness of each others’ challenges, and a willingness to collaborate on shared solutions.  Put yourself in their shoes for a moment, and you might just see a different viewpoint.

“I’m only working with them because my boss told me I had to”: In one of my earliest roles, I was still getting to grips with running a team.  The team were subject matter experts in their field, and very competent.  As a result of a re-org, I was moved under a new boss who ran a number of functions.  She instructed me to work with one of her existing teams to drive cross-skilling and reduce customer hand-offs.  I stubbornly resisted, assuming that my existing team would be overloaded, and the other team would not be able to deliver as good a job as my team.  As a result, a task that could have taken a few months took considerably longer.  Even worse, my resistant behaviour affected the team, meaning that my team were also resistant to working with the other team.  When I eventually realised the benefit and tried to push forward with the cross-functional work, my team were slow to adopt, and I had to expend unnecessary time and energy in winning them over.  The issue was created by my own shortsightedness, and I learned a valuable lesson from this – if you don’t see the benefit, take the time to talk with your boss and your cross functional peers to help you buy-in, rather than digging in your heels!

Final piece of advice – when you are working up your project plan and reflecting on it’s completeness; engaging cross-functional peers is an excellent way to really validate your approach and your outcomes.  In fact, I’ve been doing that over the past couple of weeks, working hand in hand with my colleague, Sarah to ensure that the client & the customer experience seamlessly dovetail, pooling knowledge and skills to deliver more for less and to a better standard.  If you embrace the concept of cross-functional working, like me, you’ll find delivering your project a whole lot more enjoyable!

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