Cross-functional initiatives are a key part of any cultural change or strategy execution. It is estimated that at least 30% of an organization’s efficiency resides in some cross-functional crevasse that remains untouchable by normal means of efficiency improvements.
Consequently, any sound improvement in performance must take account of cross-functional opportunities, and multiple processes and tools have been devised to optimize across functions.
Yet, the nature of cross-functional breakthroughs must deal with the mysterious reasons that an absence of cross-functional collaboration came into existence to begin with. Note, this distinguishes some of the cross-functional phenomena that sustain the gap in cross-functional performance.
Language: Walk down any hall housing a specialty discipline (finance for example) and listen in on a meeting in any randomly selected conference room. The first thing you might notice is that you may as well be in a different country, the language they are using is so specialized. Of course, it’s not a foreign language to those trained in finance, but it is off-putting to almost any other professional trained in a different discipline. Since language has much to do with shaping how we see the world (linguists use terms like “idioms” to signal a unique cultural interpretation of a word), the world of finance is constructed by the specialized use of finance terms and idioms. The way that language shows how the world occurs for professionals is the single largest barrier to cross-functional collaboration.
Within Silo Defamation: Imagine spending your first ten years in a workgroup where the managers and leaders know that if some other group ever got its act together, things would just be so easy. Loyalties within the company begin with what you and I learn from our leaders about other groups. Then, imagine the strain when the CEO says we must work together, and cross-functional cooperation is absolutely necessary. Leaders of a function must not only think about how to do that but also how to undo years of motivating subordinates by pointing the finger towards another group’s lack of capability.
Most executives find reversing the functional storyline painful.
Truce: At the heads of each silo, truces form. A truce is a simple non-verbal agreement among peers that “If you don’t call me on my flaws, I won’t call you on yours.” Years can pass without the leaders of strong functions conversing candidly about how each of their groups contributes to a dysfunctional organization.
These drags on performance can be fixed. For the most part, they continue to exist simply because they have become so common as to be transparent. The first step is to see them as existing and as a barrier. Unrecognized, they provide a mysterious force against any real enterprise transformation.