Every organization struggles with it. The battles and breakdowns that occur in the spaces between the boxes on the org chart. So, how do you bridge the cross-functional chasm?
Aside from matrix organizations – which more often than not are a nightmare – here are four ways:
1) Process Leaders
Have a manager with responsibility (and commensurate authority) for a process that cuts across functions. For example, a number of companies now have a VP of the Customer Experience. The idea is that whether the customer is interacting with sales, accounting, customer service or whoever, they receive the same standard of service. Such as a 24-hour callback, or an energetic “How can I be of help?” orientation.
2) Cross-Functional Teams
Got an issue that implicates different functions? Create a cross-functional team of people who are close to the issue. If customer-complaints are a problem then bring together people from sales, ops, and customer service to deal with it. Make sure to create a team charter that outlines the objective of the team, and the team roles. And make sure there is an executive sponsor who can provide the needed support.
3) Incentive Handcuffs
If two functions have to cooperate to produce a desired result – yes, I’m looking at you sales and manufacturing – then tie part of managers’ incentives to what they collectively achieve. Make it in their common interest to collaborate. It doesn’t help anyone if sales thinks that manufacturing can’t get the product out the door, or if manufacturing thinks that sales is overcommitting to the customer.
4) The Parachute Program
This one’s my favorite. Take a person from one department and “parachute” them into another department for half a day. Have them shadow someone who is in a complementary function or role. Arrange for an appropriate “welcome”, and make clear to both parties the objective of the visit (e.g., Sue to help Joe understand the customer-related challenges she deals with throughout the day; Joe to be an avid observer and to ask questions). The unintended benefit is that not only do the parties develop an understanding, but they also build rapport. What really cements it is to have the parachuting person then give a 5-minute presentation to his/her department about what they learned. What do they always say? “I had no idea!”
Don’t ignore the cross-functional chasm. And don’t assume that bridges will magically appear. You have to build them. The benefits await.
Make it happen.