Whoever has managed a cross-functional HR team knows the challenges that often arise. As companies and their leaders transition from siloed and hierarchical structures to more project and team-focused management styles, the oft-touted panacea of cross-functional teams can sometimes prove to be tricky to implement and even trickier to implement successfully.
In fact, a Harvard Business Review study found that as many as 75% of cross-functional teams fail in several important criteria including working within the budget, meeting deadlines, satisfying the client, meeting specifications and staying true to corporate goals.
Add to that the increasing replacement of human tasks with automation and high levels of employee dissatisfaction as evidenced in what has been coined The Great Resignation, and it becomes very clear that companies who have failed to think about how to effectively build their teams are paying a high price in lack of productivity and turnover.
So what are the main roadblocks to a highly functioning cross-functional HR team and how can leaders and managers make them better?
In a typical HR department, there are multiple teams working together towards common goals and objectives. As these teams work together, experiencing conflict and wasted resources easily occurs. Inefficient process flows also generate conflicts between the different teams who are put at odds between reaching goals and economizing company resources. These situations often create project stalemates.
What changes could a company make to address this and similar issues?
1) Redirect priorities – The territorial issues in cross-functional teams generates a lot of conflict. And that’s mainly because each team within a department still basically operates under the old siloed model, just with a fancy cross functioning label on it. Each team has its own distinct goals that are truly at odds with each other, therefore it’s no mystery that there’s conflict. When the department and even the company in general redirect their priorities, that’s where the magic happens.
In companies where the focus of each individual’s work is about enabling customers to have a great experience and contributing to a happy team, the focus is taken off economizing company resources or performing one particular isolated task and redirected to a more collaborative and productive concept. The end result of this redirection is where companies truly find their savings in resources and a higher rate of teams completing tasks and projects successfully.
2) Creating structure and governance that support the value shift – This is a great concept in theory but companies may struggle to put it into practice. At the end of the day, structure and governance are the glue that will make the new priorities stick. It’s very important to have high level executives supporting this change, otherwise the teams are left to invent their own rules, putting undue onus on them and generally resulting in chaos. In that same Harvard Business Review study, 76% of cross functional teams with strong governance support were successful while teams with moderate support experienced only a 19% success rate.
Companies can reinforce this value shift by consistently delivering this message in onboardings, trainings, meetings, addressing it in performance reviews and making it a factor in compensation and promotions.
3) Have clear goals for each team – Clarity of goals is essential so that teams know what their aiming for. This sounds obvious, but you would be surprised at how vaguely managers address goal-setting for cross functional teams. You don’t need to lose the clout of specificity when teams are working together. In fact, the more clear and unified the goals are and the more they speak to a collaborative value structure, the more effective the team will be at meeting them.
4) Train staff in conflict resolution – In cross functional team settings, even if you’ve masterfully implemented the first three pieces of advice, conflict will eventually arise. However, conflict in a cross functional team tends to reverberate more deeply throughout the entire department which is why it’s important to train your team in effective conflict resolution tactics and to have a point person to handle conflict when it arises.
As companies shift towards cross functional team management, redirecting priorities, having strong governance, establishing clear goals and utilizing conflict resolution tactics can help HR departments experience a more unified sense of purpose and aim their efforts with greater effectiveness.