Continuing with the theme of innovation, the breakthrough process innovations that achieve order-of-magnitude improvements almost always require cross-organizational collaboration.
So it’s not surprising that this level of innovation is difficult to achieve because, while cross-organizational improvement efforts present substantial opportunities, they also pose some formidable obstacles.
Three of the most common barriers to cross-functional success, along with some ideas on how to overcome them, are:
Too many people… One of the basic facts of accomplishing cross-organizational work is that we must involve more people. This size factor alone can make the project more difficult to execute. The larger the group, the more effort is required to ensure that good working relationships develop among the team members. Scheduling meetings becomes more difficult, and individuals may take less responsibility because with a large group it is easier to assume someone else will pick up the slack.
To better-manage larger project teams, leaders must pay close attention to organizational tools and methods, such as forming a proper charter, clearly-defining roles, maintaining consistent communication with top management, scheduling meetings well-in advance and on a regular time-table, distributing meeting agendas in advance to promote awareness and preparedness, and adhering to effective meeting management protocols.
Cumbersome logistics… Cross-organizational improvement projects frequently involve multiple locations, different time zones, and different cultures. Not only can these factors pose scheduling challenges, but also bring about issues with respect to team-building and communication.
To overcome or minimize these challenges, leaders can schedule the initial meeting in person and invest in intensive team-building up front. For remote meetings, they can add interactive visual communication and employ a more interactive facilitation style; scheduling can “rotate” to accommodate different time zones as well.
Conflicting priorities… The biggest impediment to accomplishing cross-organizational improvements is the power of competing priorities, which can make it hard to form an overall consensus or gain buy-in to the overall mission and vision. The danger of shifting priorities is many times larger with cross-organizational projects as well, making it more likely that new urgent demands will arise before the project is complete, and resources become overloaded and start missing meetings and skipping action items.
To address these challenges, leaders can begin by conducting a thorough analysis that highlights the enterprise-wide benefits that are at stake. Engaging top level sponsors is also a must. While sponsor engagement is essential to the success of most change efforts, it is more critical for a cross-organizational improvement project. It is also important for all parties to respect the inevitable differences in priorities and operation models, and to avoid the appearance of being judgmental or of telling others “how they should be doing their jobs.”
Finally, nothing succeeds more than success! Achieving some quick wins, and sharing the details, is a great way to start. Successfully addressing chronic problems is especially great for keeping people engaged and ready to do more. Facilitators are also sales people for the facts, data, methods, and for getting buy-in for the team’s recommendations. But be sure to leverage every success to encourage more participation.