Matrix Management / Virtual Teams

Making collaboration across functions a reality

A recent McKinsey article “Making collaboration across functions a reality” gave some good examples of successful and unsuccessful cross functional working.

As value creation increasingly happens horizontally across the traditional vertical silos of functions and geography, cross functional working is becoming the norm.

A recent Gallup survey found that 84% of the people they surveyed spent at least some of their time working on multiple teams. These teams typically extend outside the individuals’ function.

The case for cross functional working is compelling; it allows us to take an end-to-end view of a business process rather just focusing on our own narrow silo. An obvious example is moving to thinking about an integrated supply chain from supplier through to finished product and customer delivery rather than focusing on the discrete elements within it such as manufacturing alone.

However, many organizations encourage cross functional working without changing the many systems that align people’s interests and activities with the legacy vertical functions or geographies. If you ask people to collaborate horizontally but then measure and reward them vertically, don’t be surprised if your initiatives fail.

Aligning your systems to your strategy and structure is an important part of embedding a major change initiative like this. The typical people systems that need aligning include goalsetting, metrics, incentives, recognition and career development. These are powerful levers that in most organizations point strongly towards the function. Only when they are realigned to reflect the power balance you want between the vertical and horizontal will we be able to sustain the behaviour changes we want.

As a very simple indicator, ask yourself how easy it is to make a cross functional move within your organization? I came from an environment where I was lucky enough to work in human resources, manufacturing and strategic planning in multiple business units and countries within the same group (over 20 years ago) I am amazed how few organizations encourage cross functional moves.

If you want to create managers able to take an end-to-end view of the operations of the business rotation is one of the best development activities that you can invest in.

The McKinsey article recommends:

• resetting targets – so you measure the end to end impact of the change or activity
• focusing on process – developing standardized processes that cut horizontally across the organization
• rewiring expectations – enabling business units to dismantle legacy ways of working and setting goals that no individual business unit of function could achieve on their own. An important element of this was also transparency of information in a comparable format across the organization to facilitate comparison, cooperation and integration.

As multiple, virtual, cross functional team working becomes the norm we need to make sure that our development strategies as well as our people processes enable people to succeed in this more complex environment.

Our own data shows that managerial and professional people are typically part of an average of four teams. Few of these teams are co-located these days.

Does your collaboration and management curriculum support people to work in this way?

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