Business leaders know delivering value to customers requires all parts of an organization – sales, marketing, operations, planning, legal – to work together. Each team has a part to play, but if they work independently rather than interdependently, creating that value can be inefficient at best and put at risk in far too many cases. Lack of cross-functional collaboration is a major impediment to successful strategy execution.
In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Sull and others studied 8,000 managers in more than 250 companies. When asked to identity the greatest obstacle to executing the company’s strategy, 30% of managers cited the “failure to coordinate across units.” Managers also said, “they are three times more likely to miss performance commitments because of insufficient support from other units than because of their own teams’ failure to deliver.”
A team might have great internal alignment, highly engaged team members, and all the other typically cited internal characteristics of a high performing team, but still fail to meet their performance targets because of a lack of collaboration with other teams. Teams do not work in isolation. They work in a network of teams. If you only look at your own team’s internal dynamics, which might be excellent, the lack of collaboration across teams is still going to put your team at risk of missing its performance targets.
So, how do you increase cross-functional collaboration?
Find out what is getting in the way
A good first step is to find out what behaviors are getting in the way. This isn’t always easy, as most team assessments do not measure the interactions and dynamics between teams. They only look at internal team dynamics. If you don’t look for or measure external dynamics, you will not uncover the sources of the problem and clues about what steps to take to increase cross-team collaboration.
When clients come to us with cross-functional issues, first we explore how the lack of collaboration is impacting their business objectives. Then, we often use our Leadership Team Performance Index (the Bates LTPI™) to uncover the behaviors that are helping and hurting the team’s ability to reach their performance objectives. This allows us to uncover and measure both internal and external team dynamics, because unlike other team assessments, the LTPI™ measures both. The LTPI™ is a validated 360 survey that not only asks the team leader and team members to rate the team on observable behaviors but allows other teams and key stakeholders to rate the team.
The LTPI™ model examines three dimensions (Culture, Credibility and Collaboration) and 15 facets of team behavior. One of the 15 facets is “Awareness,” which we define as “Being attuned and attentive to others' thoughts, feelings, emotions, and viewpoints; considering other stakeholders' situations.” In Awareness, the team gets feedback from other teams and key stakeholders on how well they are taking the needs of people not on the team into account. For example, the Awareness facet allows the team to get rated on items including how often they talk to people not on the team about how the team’s actions are impacting them. The LTPI™ also asks how well the team actively tries to resolve differences with other teams. These are two particularly critical areas to explore if you are having trouble with silos.
How data sheds the light on where to focus
To understand what is getting in the way of collaboration, you need to collect relevant, valid data, on the behaviors that make a difference in teams working well together.
Take the example of a cross-functional leadership team that is not trusted around the organization to collaborate sufficiently to deliver on their critical corporate business objective.
Mary was a senior officer at a large construction company and her division had just been tasked with building a new plant for their own company. It was going to be, by far, the largest infrastructure project in the history of the company. The executive team told Mary that they had significant concerns about the ability of her team to complete the project on time and on budget.
We met with Mary who was also very concerned about the lack of trust and collaboration among her team. Team members were skeptical of their peers’ capabilities. Everyone thought that they were brighter than everyone else and had all the answers themselves, so saw no need collaborate.
Mary agreed to have the team complete the LTPI™ survey. In addition to rating themselves as a team, they asked for and received feedback from other teams and key stakeholders.
Before sharing the feedback with the team, we asked them to identify five facets in which they needed to excel if they were to complete the new plant on time and on budget After they selected these facets, they examined their actual results.
It turned out that their strengths were not the facets they deemed as most important. And, their lowest rated facets gave everyone insights into what specifically was going on that was making collaboration a challenge. The raters from both the team itself, and from outside the team, felt that team members engaged in self-serving behaviors. They were not curious about anyone else’s ideas (which is not a surprise if every member thinks they are the smartest). They did not feel they belonged. They did not feel accepted or respected by teammates. And, as a result of these feelings, the team’s ability to make good decisions was stymied.
The results were not a complete surprise to anyone, but the data put these issues on the table in a clear, well-defined, practical way and made them discussable. They could no longer afford to ignore what they all knew. They knew they had to deal with their lack of collaboration.
Acting on the insights
The next step was to figure out what to do with what they learned. As a starting point, we facilitated a 2-day working session during which they created a shared vision for the team and learned a process for collaborative decision-making and problem solving.
The shared vision created a sense that they are all on the same team – that they are interdependent. And, they can only reach their own goals by helping others on the team reach their goals. Now, they had a reason to collaborate. They knew why it was necessary.
Facilitating collaborative problem solving, where they worked on solving real, actual problems they were facing as a team, showed them how they could work together. They began to appreciate and leverage their differences instead of dismissing them. They actually began to enjoy working together!
Eight months later the new plant was completed ahead of time and under budget. Trust levels with the executive team shot up. Even collaboration the next level down from the team went up as their leaders began to behave differently. Not only did the team’s collaboration increase, but it also increased for the network of teams below them.
As Stanley McChrystal said in his best-selling book Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, “Organizations must be networked, not siloed, in order to succeed.”
While this may be easier said than done, it can be done with the right set of tools and the right carpenters.