Thinking Cross-Functionally

Bob Schultek
Author of
The Gauntlet

When considering how to improve their business performance, leaders typically discover that doing so requires an assessment of policies and activities outside their direct authority, the inputs and outputs which enable the functional work that is their responsibility. The most productive and enduring improvement initiatives are those that solve persistent business problems impacting multiple, connected functional departments.

Soliciting their peers to join them in the diagnostic and remedial journeys of these collaborative, cross-functional improvement efforts requires that their beneficial outcomes be clarified for the business, for themselves, and for their teams.

Cross-functional improvement projects seek to remove constraints that are inhibiting the productivity and progress of their linked, cross-departmental activities so these may be accelerated and made more agile. Every process has a primary constraint, so removing or diminishing that obstacle is the quickest and most effective path to improved results; it can usually be found where work-in-process is backlogged. Successful projects deliver these benefits for the business:

• Improved financial performance as an outcome of the new process;

• Increased capacity resulting from saved time and resources;

• Higher productivity and quicker response due to faster, smoother workflow; and

• Reduced work-in-process inventory as a result of fewer constraints.

Leaders who collaborate to deliver improved results for the business, as well as for their departments, demonstrate holistic, organizational strategic thinking which increases their leadership influence and presence. They also provide development opportunities for their team members to learn while doing meaningful work. The return for teams being asked to invest more time and effort includes increased engagement among team members and beyond, strengthened confidence and competency, exposure to more opportunities, and greater job satisfaction.

When teams cross-collaborate, their curiosity and experience encourage ideas to emerge from all corners, revealing creativity and possible innovations. More ideas on the table enable teams to choose the best way forward and commit to delivering it. Working on these projects exposes hidden team member skills and talents which can help the department, the business, and the individual.

To ensure that cross-functional initiatives are productive, leaders will need to build trust among team members who don’t usually work together, perhaps by starting their collaboration with a smaller scale project. And they themselves will need to stay engaged, over-communicating and encouraging dialogue to minimize misunderstandings or concerns between peers or their teams.

How often do you think cross-functionally?

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