Saturday, June 20, 2015

How to Harness Cross-functional Collaboration

The dynamic capabilities underpinned by cross-functional collaboration are key to delight customers and engage employees.

Most of the organizations at industrial era runs in the functional silos. Typical silos value domain or skill specialization. Such silos introduce lots of delays, waste, queues, bottlenecks, and loop-backs in the flow of customer value. Consider the challenge of executive awareness: Are the people doing the actual work aware of some ways in which they could improve the flow of customer value? Do they have the time, resources and support to run improvements? Does everyone have a clear understanding of their individual contribution to the flow of customer value? Does everyone feel safe to optimize away or simplify their former role, trusting that the organization will apply their skills and ingenuity elsewhere rather than eliminating them? Are the executives at the helm of the organization or in charge of silos or divisions aware of the true implications of the existing structure in terms of adverse impact on the flow of customer value? Do they have a clear grasp of all the sources of waste, delays, quality variance, etc.? What proportion of their time is devoted to sharpening the saw rather than just fighting fires or keeping the lights running? Do they understand to what extent their people are engaged in joyful work? And how to improve organizational agility by enabling cross-functional collaboration?

Cross-silo or cross-divisional collaboration is crucial to building dynamic digital capabilities: Silos are a typical pattern used in complex systems in an attempt to keep complexity under some semblance of control. It's only natural to seek some form of organizational structure to manage large numbers of people. The key question is "what values should inspire the structural patterns?” The current silos also are home to many hard-won fiefdoms. The radical focus on customer delight and joy in work threatens to disrupt these pocket empires. The fundamental challenge in transforming organizations towards valuing customer delight and joy in work over personal influence on a given silo is both cultural and political. Fortunately, leaders that manage to overcome this challenge faster will see their organizations thrive, disrupt their competition and win. Perhaps patience also needs to be one of the key things. Once the teams are self-actualizing, they start to come up with their own suggestions and ideas to evolve, which is fantastic to watch. Try to build teams around business capabilities rather than functions, which is an interesting model to create joint directorial responsibilities.

Agile philosophy, principles, and methodology, are important to empower the team and Individual contributors as well: If the move to Agile is not accompanied by a mind-shift, the chances that it would successful are very slim. Is this a fun place to work? What can you do to motivate the employees to work as a team? Give each group the same set of problems and amount of time to complete as many as possible. You can observe these events to see which people naturally aggregate into what groups and perhaps set up the teams that way. If you have a good team, they will perform these things together. When you find problems, delve into the root causes. If shortage of collaboration is a root cause for a real problem that the team can understand and can agree needs addressing, and can see that shortfall of collaboration is a root cause, then you have a good reason for improving collaboration in that respect, and a fair chance that the team will want to work to ensure the improvement succeeds, rather than falling back to their old ways at the first sign of difficulty. It becomes a really nice model when people realize that different organizations want to spend more time on different plateaus of stability - a production organization may favor most time in the specialization phase and aim for a broad plateau there; a development organization might favor having most time in the innovation phase and aim for a broad plateau there instead.

Alternative organizational structures exist. Imagine an organization in which the core competencies are explicitly visualized, people are usually associated with a particular business capability, and are charged with improving the flow of work in building it. They strive to reduce cycle time, lower waste, improve quality and consistency, etc. You will need multi-disciplinary, cross-functional teams in building each value-added capability. They need to be able to handle all the value-adding steps in the whole flow of work, start-to-finish, idea-to-cash. At the same time, there is still value in a domain or skill focus. This can inspire communities of practice that serve the natural aspiration toward skill mastery.

People can choose to participate in one or more Communities of Practice while focused on a particular value stream. One of the primary impediments to collaboration is a dissonance between upper and middle management and a similar dissonance between middle management and the "boots on the ground." It traces to both culture and communication but rarely gets the focus, methods, and practices are being more at hand, even as they do not address the core issue. Ultimately, most of these issues occur simply because there is never truly an effort toward enterprise cohesion. At the end of the unit of effort, there is the work to synthesize the results of the many stove-pipes, but this work is done with good quality knowledge on each of them. Basically, if something similar results from more than one stove-pipe, the people that worked on those get together, and discuss and agree which parts are meant to be actually the same and choose names, and which differences are true specific features. Basically, you enrich vocabulary, services and their signatures, and entity structure with the contributions from the multiple feeds.

Forward-thinking organizations across verticals intend to build a customer-centric business, shift focus from inside-out operation driven to outside-in customer oriented, with the increasing realization that the flow of customer value and joyful work matter most for sustainable business. If you don't delight the customer today, someone else will. If you don't invest in learning what will continue to delight customers tomorrow, someone else will. If you don't treat your people with enough respect and make their work joyful, someone else will. Hence, cross-functional collaboration to delight customers and engage employees are critical for digital transformation and businesses’ long-term prosperity.


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