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Is Your Organization ‘One United Team’?

‘One united team’ – that is the refrain from so many visionary Chief Executives. They know that today’s ambitious strategies cannot be delivered by one department or function working in isolation. Nor can today’s complex business challenges be solved in silos – they require bringing people together from a diversity of backgrounds and functional specialisms. But how to make it work?

Our New Role as Leaders

As managers, we have been perfecting the hierarchical organization for a long time.  But as today’s leaders we have a new role. The hierarchical structure has reached the limits of what it is capable of. We see this in the fact that much of the important work – the truly strategic work – now happens in a network of teams that span traditional boundaries and functions. Empowering and enabling these teams to succeed is our new role as leaders.

Effective cross-functional teamwork and collaboration is essential to success in respect of new products, technologies, channels and markets. It is essential to delivering the levels of speed, agility and innovation necessary in these times of accelerating change and complexity. However, as we all know, it isn’t easy!

Why it isn’t easy!

‘One team’ is a laudable goal. It is an ideal however, one that is likely to elude many organizations. It is not easy for organizations that have been running their businesses a certain way for decades, perhaps even centuries, to suddenly switch to a new way. All this means that cross-functional collaboration is not a natural act in many organizations. Thus, it won’t happen by itself—leaders must to enable it to happen.

Traditionally each department or function did its own thing – often pulling in different directions. Today’s quest is for organizational alignment and synergy – the cultural transition in the way of working is seen as essential to achieving the levels of organizational speed and agility required in times of change and uncertainty. Thus, as an organizational competence it could be seen as the ultimate and most sustainable source of competitive advantage.

Switching from a top-down hierarchy along functional lines to a matrix or network of cross-functional teams is a revolution. As one of our consulting partners says ‘not every revolution is successful, but every revolution have casualties’.

For some executives who hold power in various departments and functions, the switch from top down to bottom up and from functional to cross-functional may be seen as a potential threat.

What does effective collaboration across functions look like?

The obstacles to effective collaboration across silos are easy to list (or in the case of the pitstop framework – they are easy to model. They include competing priorities, conflicting metrics and disconnected strategies. Add to the list; long-established ways of working, cultural factors and behavioral norms – the people involved may even speak a different language (e.g: the language of science versus the language of marketing). The only problem is that listing the obstacles is unlikely to bring you much closer to success. With that in mind let’s focus on what effective collaboration looks like and how it can be created.

What does the cross-functional product development team for a new financial product or a new drug look like?  How can compliance, scientific, commercial, manufacturing and others work together effectively as one team?

Leveraging research with 1000s of organizations, the pitstop approach answers these questions not just in words, but in pictures and numbers too. Specifically, with a model of effective teamwork and cross-functional collaboration.

Bringing Collaboration to Life

Everybody talks about the need for more effective collaboration and teamwork, but few have a definition of what it means, a model for what it should look like or a set of metrics that can measure it. That is why I believe this book is so important.

‘Collaboration’, despite its importance, is a fuzzy term. This need not be the case, however. What you will find within these covers is a new way to engage with the opportunities and challenges represented by the requirement to deliver cross-functional programs and initiatives. 

When Confidence Trails Ambition

All too often confidence in execution lags behind the ambition of strategy.  Indeed, when it comes to the success of a critical project or initiative, leaders often wonder if the cross-functional team involved can ‘pull together to pull it off’. Have you ever felt the same way?

Your Critical Strategic Initiatives

Think of a strategic initiative that is key to your organization’s success – an initiative that is both complex and ambitious.  Next, think of the cross-functional team responsible for ensuring its success.  Then ask yourself: 

Q: How confident are you that your team can ‘pull together to pull it off’?  

If answering this question excites, or even frustrates you, then this book is for you. 

A Hard-Nosed Approach

Concepts such as ‘collaboration’ and ‘teamwork’, although important, can see ‘fluffy’ and ‘soft’. However, it is important to adopt a practical and yet hard-nosed approach to the requirements of success for cross-functional teams and their strategic initiatives. That includes the use of metrics and data.

The pitstop approach is centered on 4 BIG numbers relating to the collective performance and potential of a cross-functional team1

The 4 BIG numbers (above) include metrics relating not just to performance, but to the team’s health and collaboration too. They are the KPIs for effective cross-functional collaboration – the metrics for any team charged with delivering critical projects or initiatives.

Just as your strategy, project or initiative needs numbers, so does your team. Top optimize your cross-functional team(s) requires understanding and changing these numbers. It is about the quantifiable impact of working on what is often referred to as ‘soft’, ‘unmeasurable’ or even ‘messy’.

There is a key principle known to the wisest sponsors and leaders of projects and initiatives, it is ‘work the team, not the project’. Optimizing the 4 Big numbers and, in the process, ensure the effectiveness of your cross-functional team(s) is key to the success of your important projects and initiative(s).

  1. The analysis extends to over 400 variables, but the 4 BIG numbers are highlighted as a ‘balanced scorecard’ for teamwork and collaboration. []

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