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Friday, September 18, 2020

C-Suite Advisory

Cross-Functional Work Teams: Why They Matter Now More Than Ever

Several years ago, Harvard Business Review published a piece by Benham Tabrizi titled: 75% of Cross-Functional Teams Are Dysfunctional.  I can’t say my personal experience with cross-functional work teams would contribute much to challenging that point. There are a few critical reasons for this. For example, let’s consider such a team at the C-Suite level, where you have heads of Sales, Human Resources, Finance, Marketing, Legal, etc.

  1. Too often, these company leaders come to cross-functional work team meetings as the leaders of their departments/divisions, as opposed to being company executives first, who happen to see the business/industry through a lens informed by their expertise. This bent toward departmental self-interest versus an overall company view typically sews seeds of mistrust among the team members. As a result, when questions arise over the direction to take the business, team members tend to engage one another in territorial battles over people, budgets, and priorities. Team members struggle with whether their fellow members are making recommendations based on what’s good for their area or the organization’s good. This dynamic doesn’t just happen at the c-suite level; it’s pervasive at all levels.
  2. Go to any cross-functional work team and ask the marketing person what the finance person does all day. After an uncomfortable pause, a clever marketing person might quip, “He says no to me whenever I need something.”  Because the marketing executive doesn’t know anything about the challenges the finance person is facing, the marketer fills the gap with an assumption – probably not pleasant and usually personal.  Their lack of understanding about what each other does and how they bring value is terrible for the organization and certainly does nothing to foster healthy interpersonal relationships.
  3. Too often, outside of the scheduled cross-functional work team meetings, these executives don’t spend nearly enough time together. After their meetings, they get sucked back into their siloes, where their perspective of looking at the whole enterprise gives way to departmental loyalties. The executives themselves never get to know one another on a truly human level.  If they did, they would see it in their self-interest and in the organization’s interest to put more energy into those relationships.

That said, it begs the question that if these teams don’t have the greatest track record, nor are its members inclined to maximize their relationships with one another (professionally or personally), then how do CEOs put their faith in them? Using the scenario described here, they shouldn’t. So, it has to change, and here’s why it matters so much.

In late May, I wrote a piece for CEOWORLD titled Enjoying Great Productivity? Look at the Whole Chessboard.  Noting that many CEOs are experiencing an uptick in productivity from their virtual work teams, I identified five areas worth their attention if such productivity is sustainable.  The five areas included: Burnout, Obscurity, Isolation, Insolation, and Inspiration.

When it comes to being isolated, this is an area where high performing cross-functional work teams can help employees stay connected and relevant to the broader mission of the organization.  Rather than focus exclusively on managing tasks specific to a particular group, departmental leaders can leverage their more comprehensive understanding of what’s happening in the organization and how their employees’ work contributes to the whole.

They can help fight the obscurity employees can feel as well.  It’s tough enough to feel you’re being noticed when you come to work every day.  Imagine what it feels like if you don’t believe anyone is seeing how hard you are working.  It may not seem like much over 10-12 weeks, but after six months to a year, it could grow tiresome. Employees may not feel connected to the organization and certainly not in a way where they believe they’re being recognized.

Here’s what cross-functional work teams can do to help their organization as a whole and to keep remote employees productive for the long haul.

  1. As a cross-functional work team member, adopt the mindset of the organization first, department second.  When everyone is on the same team doing what’s best for the company, everyone wins.
  2. This idea may seem counterintuitive, but the longer department leaders lead their remote work teams, the more their team should view them as representing the entire enterprise.  Don’t let your team members live and work in your departmental silo.
  3. Take time to learn more about what your fellow department leaders are facing and how you all can serve as a resource for one another.  One way to do that is to invite other department leaders into your team meetings.  It will help them get a personal perspective into what you are doing, create a larger audience for your team members, and may win support for initiatives that you are leading from other departmental leaders.
  4. Revamp your company-wide recognition programs to reward values and behaviors that are contributing to the whole.  Cross-functional team members can lead the way to make sure people working remotely are as visible as they would be if they came into the office every day.
  5. Use the time you take to get to know one another professionally and extend that by tapping into what it’s all about – our shared humanity.

As a CEO, it may be time to challenge your cross-functional leaders to raise their games for everyone’s benefit, especially during a time when your remote employees need them most – the difference between cross-functional and dysfunctional rests with each of us.  The power of we begins with you.


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Leo Bottary
Leo Bottary is the founder and managing partner of Peernovation, LLC. He is a sought-after thought leader on peer advantage, an emerging discipline dedicated to strategically engaging peers to realize your business and life goals. A popular author, educator, keynote speaker and workshop facilitator, he advises both individuals and organizations and co-hosts the What Anyone Can Do podcast. Leo's first book, which he coauthored with former Vistage CEO Leon Shapiro, is titled The Power of Peers: How the Company You Keep Drives Leadership Growth & Success. His new book, What Anyone Can Do: How Surrounding Yourself with the Right People Will Drive Change, Opportunity, and Personal Growth, was released in September 2018. Leo is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine.