Cross-Functional Changes are Hard, Right?

Posted by Paula Alsher on Tue, Aug 05, 2014 @ 04:01 PM

Most clients we deal with in our change management consulting have several common challenges.  Certainly there is the Sponsorship challenge.  Second to that, and very much related, is the challenge of implementing cross-functional changes.  At the heart of these cross-functional changes is the expressed (or unexpressed) desire to have the organization operate more collaboratively. Cross Functional Changes

It's easy to see that a collaborative culture would be highly beneficial.  More innovation. Greater sharing of best practices.  Increased efficiency.  Yes, it makes perfect sense when you are removed from the emotion, turf-guarding, and risk-aversion that are so common in our siloed organizations.  

Many complex changes in organizations today involve enterprise-wide change, where we are seeking to break down organizational silos and achieve some level of standardization.  These cross-functional changes require new behaviors.  Change is hard enough when it is within the existing vertical power structures.  But when you are looking to implement cross-functionally you must have Sponsors who line up and operate cohesively.

But the change isn't managed cross-functionally.  Instead it is managed as if it is occurring within the same old silo structures that we see in the current state.  How the change is managed should reflect the desired future state you are seeking!


Process Follows Reinforcement

The other problem is that so many organizations try to implement a cross-functional structure, but have not identified what a cross-functional, collaborative organization really looks like behaviorally.  In other words, if you walked into your organization in three years, and it was transformed into a collaborative organization, what would that look like?

Defining what you are seeking behaviorally is critical.  Remember, process follows reinforcement! Therefore, we will need to identify what we mean when we say our organization is operating cross-functionally, or collaboratively, in order to have our Sponsors demonstrate commitment through what they say, what they model, and what they reinforce.

In addition, if you can't clearly define what you are looking for when you ask people "to be more collaborative" or to "operate more cross-functionally," then you can't expect people to magically figure out what you really mean.

For this reason, in our change management consulting we have taken the time to be very precise about what we are looking for when we are asking for cross-functional behavior.


Examples of Cross-Functional Behaviors 

Here are some examples of defined cross-functional behaviors.  Note that these are just examples, and not an all-inclusive list.  You may have different, or at least a modified list for your organization:

1.  Seeks to understand and operate in the Frame of Reference of others
    • Presents ideas, plans, or activities in the perspective of others
    • Demonstrates active listening
    • Validates mutual understanding and agreement

2.  Openly shares local interests/risks/problems to achieve improvement
    • Builds concensus (i.e., it's not my first choice, but I will support it and live with it.")
    • Builds on the ideas of others
    • Exchanges information that leads to mutual understanding and benefit

Too often, we throw around words like "collaboration" or operating "cross-functionally" without truly defining what that would look like behaviorally.  Then we expect people to just do it.  

As Change Agents, we need to be very clear about what we seek to see, and helping our Sponsors to do the same.  We are far more likely to get what we are looking for when we take the time to do this.Download the Paradox of Enterprise-wide Changes Whitepaper

Topics: Culture, Enterprise-wide Change