Help! Is It Possible to Improve Teamwork in a Cross-Team Environment? How Do I Do it?

The above question is one that is frequently asked by customers and clients who are experiencing a variety of team challenges that exist across the enterprise. The increasing complexity of organizational structures (or lack thereof) can often lead to several unique issues as cross-functional teams look to cooperate and create meaningful long-term performance while trying to discover efficiencies and build better alignment in the organization. Those looking to leverage their teams’ capabilities seek out new, creative, and different ways to provide the support needed for these teams.

It is an increasingly common scenario in many organizations where people are segmented into two or more team structures that must work together or collaborate (formally and informally). This type of situation is driven by work occurring across time zones, cultures, and customer segments. If you are encountering this type of scenario and are looking to drive cross-enterprise teamwork, there is a productive way to bring teams together and help them reset and work through their challenges. Most organizations are seeking to create functional responsibility and accountability while attempting to create synergy across geographic regions or across business units and functions. Ultimately these organizations are trying to deliver more value and create better margins. While some might refer to this effort as a matrixed organization (where leadership, accountability, and authority occur both laterally as well as vertically), we often see it occurring in traditional business structures where organizations are simply attempting to leverage teams and break down siloed structures.

What Does the Cross Function/Region Team Look Like?

The following description and tables provide a better understanding of this common challenge and what it might look like in an organization.

Functional Teams – These are official teams within organizations where people report to their functional leaders (Sales, Marketing, IT, Service, etc.) but also need to collaborate across functions to achieve a higher level of competitiveness and productivity.

Cross-Functional Teams – This type of team is created when individuals from their respective functions are assigned to create another team. For example, a regional team tasked with developing a greater focus on meeting the diverse needs of customers. A formal leader may or may not exist in these cross- function (or regional) teams. Many of these teams are self-regulating and operate with specific working agreements. While we will keep it simple for our example here, these team structures can have many sub-structures or branches.

The following diagram provides a visual understanding of how functional roles are used in a cross- functional environment.

chart of functional team flow

While the purpose of cross-functional teams is to create adaptability and flexibility, it can also lead to confusion and conflicted thinking around reporting, accountability, prioritization of work responsibilities, and commitment levels. Many team members often question how they can still focus on and get all of their work done when serving on and supporting two or more other teams.

The Solution to Improved Teamwork

The journey towards finding a solution begins by seeking to understand where the opportunities and challenges exist on these teams and in this shared structure. It is about understanding and addressing the critical few items that will make a big impact. To do this, you must bring the functions and teams together (in person or virtually) to create alignment around goals, outcomes, objectives, priorities, and structures. This process requires some pre-planning and concerted effort to schedule and arrange a meeting, but it pays huge dividends to have both functional and regional teams working and operating together around common language.

These meeting should be designed to address two elements.

The Macro Level – This level is about creating a unifying vision and purpose for the cross-teaming structure.
The Micro Level – This level is about creating alignment across the two or more teams. This is achieved by helping people understand how they fit in their joint teams and why their roles matter. This should be a facilitated working session that includes the following areas of focus.

  1. Effectively managing regional team members’ time to focus on the right practices and how team members can drive the vision. This will guide the functional leaders as they lead, guide, and support their people in their regional role and capacity.
  2. Creating a better structure around the Regional team. These teams are often left to work out roles, responsibilities, processes, and systems naturally. This approach is effective if the team has the right tools, resources, and a mentor or guide to show them how to do it.
  3. Helping functional leaders understand the expectations and important roles that their team members fill in each of the regions.
  4. Creating a culture of support rather than one where people blame, point fingers, and withhold or hoard resources.

When facilitated correctly, this working session should lead to

  • Clear directions and expectations for the regional teams around goals, KPI’s, and other metrics.
  • Greater understanding of team dynamics.
  • Clear expectations on how functions and functional leaders should support regional teams and what those supporting activities are (or are not).
  • Commitments from both the functions and regions to enhance team performance and business results.
  • Higher levels of employee engagement.
  • Better retention of talent
  • Reduction of conflicts and tensions.
  • A better customer experience.
  • Increased effectiveness and lower costs.

Synchronize Your Team

As organizations continue to see increased need for people and teams to work together across time zones, cultures, and customer segments, leaders must look to provide these often-underserved cross-functional teams the opportunity to build their teaming capability. Taking a step back and evaluating cross-enterprise team alignment is a critical opportunity that will improve working processes, build better enterprise-wide collaboration, and develop higher levels of customer intimacy.

Are you experiencing challenges with your cross functional teams? Contact our team of experts to learn how we can help.

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About the Author
Chris Stowell
Christopher Stowell is currently serving as CMOE’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing where he works with multi-national organization to develop their people. His special interests lie in coaching teamwork, strategy, e-learning, and assessment design, and delivery. Chris has a special talent in helping companies assess their organizational effectiveness and identifying key issues and opportunities in order to advance their performance and achieve long term results. Additionally, he has extensive experience in designing, coordinating, and facilitating customized adventure based experiential training events for high performance teams.

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