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Support cross-functional teamwork, and watch your business thrive

Support cross-functional teamwork, and watch your business  thrive

April 2014

Many small business employees are accustomed to wearing a range of different professional hats at work. While surely trying at times, this cross-collaboration is a reality that can inspire and connect colleagues. Sales people are asked to be included in research and development meetings to bolster products and services, finance staff can offer insights to operations, and IT personnel can work alongside marketing pros to unearth relevant data to drive decision-making.
 
This collaborative approach often yields compelling results, yet it’s a culture that can swiftly evaporate as a small business matures. Often, growth sparks a compartmentalized approach that limits cross-functional synergies and workers’ understanding of other business areas.
 
For growth-minded businesses able to cultivate and consistently support cross-functional teams, the rewards are many—including better organizational alignment, more well-rounded products and services, and happier customers.
 
Here are six steps your business can take to help the cross-functional, collaborative approach thrive as you grow:
 
Step 1: Resist the silos
As an organization grows more complex and adds new personnel, siloed business units are easy to conceptualize—and they look beautiful on an org chart. Understand, however, that multi-skilled employees working across the business to create innovative solutions and improve results contributed to that growth in the first place. Commit yourself to continually investing in that collaborative culture.
 
Step 2: Formalize interaction, collaboration and learning
Create formal programs that encourage cross-functional interaction. You might launch defined “discovery days” that team staff in one area of the business with those in another, or craft learning programs that teach workers throughout the organization the responsibilities, lingo and objectives of a specific business area. Such opportunities breed a more connected workforce.
 
Step 3: Seek and find
Actively hunt for unique skills among the workforce. Ask around and assemble staff members who are passionate about their work, but also knowledgeable about particular services, products or markets. Leverage those individuals’ skills, experience and perspectives while directing their collaboration with others.
 
Step 4: Consider the physical environment
Quite often, physical distance creates intellectual and emotional distance. Think about the physical spaces your staff members inhabit all day. Are there collaborative workspaces they can utilize? Do certain team members work from home and only communicate with co-workers via email? As best as possible, eliminate the physical barriers that stymie direct contact and create physical environments that foster human connections.
 
Step 5: Celebrate success
When cross-functional collaboration results in a home run—or maybe even a bloop single— publicly recognize that achievement and share how individuals contributed to the success. The “silo syndrome” typically fades as team members gain recognition for their role in successful endeavors.
 
Step 6: Maintain perspective
In lean times, it might seem a frivolous luxury to have an accountant brainstorming a promotional rollout with sales and marketing staff—after all, that effort takes the accountant away from the books. But step back, gain perspective and stay committed to cross-functional interaction. Multi-skilled employees aware of organizational challenges and objectives and then working with others to solve problems help fuel innovation and performance.
 
By supporting a collaborative culture rooted in cross-functional teams now, your business will be better prepared for the road ahead. With a collaborative workforce, a small business will generate solutions internally, produce fresh approaches to obstacles and power organizational success with improved market-ready products and services.
 
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