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The Diligent team
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How to achieve effective cross-alignment for your organization in three steps

July 11, 2018
0 min read
People from different departments in an organization working together

Cross-alignment, also termed cross-functional collaboration, is what happens when people from different teams or functions in an organization join forces to work on a common goal or project. It's a method that business is increasingly talking about in order to strengthen their objectives of fostering a united vision, compelling messaging and effective communication within and outside of an organization that can, if implemented properly, help build a sustainable basis for future growth.

However, fostering the kind of collaboration between departments and teams used to different standards and priorities is more difficult than establishing a new software framework and pronouncing their objectives to be aligned. In this post, we focus on three essential objectives that can establish the patterns for teamwork across departments that can be sustained as a permanent part of effective business practice.

1) Overcoming Silos

Cross-functional alignment need not have to center around a major project or long-term business goal, although this is where explicit trans-operational assignment and management are needed for success. More fundamentally, it can concern adjusting day-to-day responsibilities (for example, customer relations on social media) or one-off projects (like designing a new software feature). The only thing that defines alignment is that it brings together people from different worlds, e.g., marketing, sales, engineering, and HR, to work on some objective.

The immediate problem most attempts to alignment run into is that everyone, no matter what their department, is trained in corporate culture that cleanly separates different functions into different teams' what some call 'silos.' Breaking people out of these silos is the first step of any successful attempt at alignment, no matter how large or small its objective.

Alignment between different departments fails for all kinds of reasons. Teams have different goals or responsibilities. When people from different teams are brought together, they may not know each other's priorities. They may not understand the responsibilities, or sometimes even the language, of other teams. They may not be ready or willing to adapt, compromise or adjust the ways they work in order to suit collaboration. These are all effects of having different silos.

Of course, you can't be expected to create a new corporate culture from scratch for any project, no matter how crucial. However, there are a number of methods that can be used to bridge the gaps between different teams in order to facilitate collaboration. Make sure goals are aligned and shared with everyone. Upcoming work in each department should be common knowledge. Facilitate learning opportunities, like 'blind dates' in which coworkers from different departments show each other their work or 'show and tell' sessions where different teams come together to present their accomplishments.

2) The Portfolio Governance Team

In an article published in Harvard Business Review, Stanford University management science professor Benham Tabrizi examines which kinds of cross-functional alignment works and which doesn't. He found that nearly three-quarters of cross-functional teams under study were basically dysfunctional. They often failed, he writes, because the organization lacks a systematic approach: 'teams are hurt by unclear governance, by lack of accountability, by goals that lack specificity, and by organizations' failure to prioritize the success of cross-functional projects.'

In contrast, successful alignments were found to be run by dedicated leaders in the organization whose roles were themselves cross-functional. One way of kick-starting the process of developing this kind of leadership is to establish what Tabrizi calls a Portfolio Governance Team (PGT), where leaders consider and make decisions together on a portfolio of many different projects that cross-functions. Working together in this way establishes a camaraderie, which can serve as an example for the cross-functional teams under the PGT's review.

3) Constant Communication

One effect of the operational silos is the breakdown of interdepartmental communication at a fundamental level. When a team's department, achievements and functions become the most important thing, often they lose perspective on the larger mission of the organization and hence their understanding of objectives can slip away.

In attempting to overcome this, many large firms are moving toward models that overcome the internal/external communications binary. For example, General Electric VP and CCO Deirdre Latour has commented on GE's 'go direct' system that 'build[s] a direct communications program using data, that allows us to speak to all people as well as communicate with those who care most about GE.'

For example, a poor customer interface may be a symptom of poor internal communications. Departments that don't share their visions and objectives with each other will find that they have a hard time coming together on a vision and objectives to present to customers. Conversely, when companies unite teams to work together using some of the methods we've discussed, the result can be much stronger marketing and hence greater growth.


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