Cross Functional Collaboration


A decade ago the corporation was defined by the classic organizational chart – a top down hierarchy where people operated in their functional silos. Today’s analysis illuminated a network of teams criss-crossing the organization.

The transition from hierarchy to matrix was well underway, with almost two out of three executives (63%) participating on 2 or more teams, working groups or committees.  So, it appeared that cross-functional collaboration was in full swing.

It wasn’t all good news however.  As the data was about to reveal, becoming a network of cross functional teams involved some considerable pain and frustration.  

  • Internal Collaboration
  • Other

How executives spend their time

“Welcome to the matrix  …nobody said it would be easy!” quipped the Head of Strategic Projects. An insider joke, it was her insightful interpretation of the data on collaboration and alignment.

The transformation to the organization of the future, much talked about by consultants and conference speakers, was well underway.

The shift from vertical hierarchy to horizontal (cross functional) matrix promised greater speed, innovation and agility.  But, it was to come at a surprisingly high price.

Collaboration Overload

Executives were spending up to 71% of their time on internal collaboration.  But with in-boxes full of cc’d emails and diaries full of internal meetings, managers had started complaining that it was getting in the way of doing their jobs.

The real problem was that almost half of all internal collaboration was seen as “adding little or no value”.

Much of the collaboration was talked of as a waste, a source of frustration and a drain on performance:

  • Adds Value
  • Not Add Value

The data revealed the new complexity of getting things done, with losses of up to 36% across a range of organizational design parameters incl. right people in the right roles, plan do review cycles, diversity in teams, appropriate use of teams & effective use of resources.

Clearly, the collaboration was not being organized well enough. As one over-worked manager lamented: “Life was easier when you worked on one team, had one boss and one clear set of priorities”.

With zeal the CFO did a rough calculations of the cost of poor collaboration – as shown below:

There was a speedy clampdown on the number of meetings, with meeting sponsors being asked to justify their meetings and quotas being set – max. 5 people for no more than 50 minutes.  There was a similar focus on reducing internal reporting, IM and email.

Combined with a range of other initiatives, the effect was dramatic and sustained.  Data showed a reported 20% increase in effectiveness, together with a 15% time saving.  But the real payback is in the form of agility, flexibility & innovation.  The data tracked an increase of up to 25% in all these variables.

‘The saving is several hours each week for each person… that is time and energy that can be directed to working on key strategic priorities.

Head of Strategic Projects