We speak to many people who are working to foster a continuous improvement mindset within their organization. One of the biggest challenges that they report is improving cross functional collaboration, which is an essential element of a culture of improvement. Let’s look at a few of the barriers to cross functional collaboration and some ways to overcome them.
Barrier 1 – Conflicting Goals and Priorities
Department managers and employees are usually measured against goals and objectives that are specific to their function and role. This makes sense, but can lead to suboptimizing, where each team prioritizes activities that will further successful completion of their own local goals, leaving little room for projects or improvements that will benefit other teams or the organization as a whole.
Solution: Organizations that are serious about improvement must make room in the reward structure for collaborative activities. This may mean rewarding success on cross functional projects separately, or allowing for time and energy devoted to such efforts within the framework of the departmental goals. Sometimes, this means allowing one department to go over budget for labor when that reduces overall labor expense for the entire value stream. Additionally, employees should have a clear understanding of how their work on collaborative assignments will be recognized, and be certain that such efforts won’t hinder their achievement of departmental objectives.
Barrier 2 – Lack of Communication
In many companies, departments operate as silos, with little communication between them. In fact, teams can develop their own language with words and phrases that have meaning only to them. Effective collaboration requires communication, so organizations that don’t actively support it struggle to act as a cohesive team.
Solution: The first step is to establish a common language around the entire organization’s improvement efforts. Adopting a business management methodology like Six Sigma or Lean can help because these approaches come with a shared vocabulary, but the same can be achieved without them.
Barrier 3 – Mistrust
The, “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself,” attitude is the Kryptonite of cross-functional collaboration. Mistrust and competition between departments can arise because of incentives, past failures, defensive attitudes, and a lack of transparency.
Solution: Trust is earned through keeping promises and delivering quality results. If mistrust is a barrier to collaboration in your organization, it makes sense to start with a few small opportunities for teams to work together to get a quick wins. Seeing results can help develop trust. Establishing SLAs (Service Level Agreements) between departments can also be an effective method of building confidence.
Barrier 4 – Divergent Technologies
It is not uncommon for different departments to have different technologies that drive their everyday work. Sales reps, for example, may rely on the CRM to track activities, while the development team uses an entirely different ticketing system. While it makes sense for each department to use the best-of-breed automation for their core function, this can hinder cross functional improvement activities.
Solution: Companies that embrace continuous improvement should implement technology designed specifically for that purpose. It should be standardized across the company and easily accessible by every employee. In addition to supporting today’s improvement efforts, a standardized system has the added advantage of serving as a repository for the organization's tribal knowledge, an asset that will pay dividends long into the future.
Cross-functional collaboration should be celebrated and supported by processes, recognition, and technology. When this is the case, improvement becomes more fluid and results are improved. Give these solutions a try and discover the potential benefits for your organization.