As a business begins to grow beyond stage 1 where it was mostly driven by the founder / CEO and maybe one other right hand person who helped get all the things done that the CEO wanted, you’ll likely begin to hire more team. What actually happens when you hire and begin to onboard can make all the difference about creating long term success in your business. Often, the best results are team driven!
In top down authority models of leadership, people may think of themselves as leaders and managers who are responsible for taking what the top level executives want done and making their team get it done. It is an outdated model of doing what you’re told. But when you build a cross-functional leadership team, you are setting your business up to achieve the best outcomes. A strong cross-functional leadership team collaborates and contributes their best thinking to drive results.
Essentially, a cross-functional leadership team takes the strategic plan created by the CEO and / or executive team to develop the roadmap that drives the execution of functions. This is the heart of what your business needs as it continues to grow and expand into its next level. When everyone within your organization is committed to bringing their best thinking and ideas not only to their functional area, but to other areas, then it isn’t just one person (the CEO) or an executive team giving orders. A strong cross functional team is the engine that helps drive the best results.
You want your team to share their best thinking. They have information that the CEO and executive team may not have. For example, one of your best places for market research may come from your customer service team. They are the ones who interact with clients on a regular basis and are getting constant feedback on what clients really want in real time. To stay completely within their own functional area in this case would be a missed opportunity that could have saved you time and money.
When I help teams create and build their cross-functional leadership team, we focus on understanding that there’s so much more available to the business when this team is in place. It can often feel as if taking the time to slow down to build this foundation will make everything go too slow and halt growth altogether. The truth is that it isn’t sustainable for one person to do all the thinking and delegating as you grow and expand your business. You’ll spend more time fixing things and putting out fires and if you’re the CEO, you’ll likely experience some level of burnout as a result. You can’t do all the things—your business has needs and it has constraints. If everything is solely dependent on you, your growth will have a visible end point.
An effective cross-functional team needs to be built intentionally with a lot of safety. To bring to life a high-performing cross-functional team you need to create a safe container. It starts with a mindset shift from top down authority and control, to embracing a new mindset that your team members’ collective thinking is one of the most valuable assets of your organization. With this as your anchor, you can begin laying the groundwork to create a psychologically safe environment. Psychological safety is THE key ingredient of successful teams. Why? Because when a team feels safe from blame, judgment, and criticism, they feel free to raise issues early and share their creative ideas before they are perfected instead of hiding them.
One of the best ways to start creating this safe container for your cross-functional team is to invite them to share their ideas. Listen more. Ask curious questions. You can do this by asking, “Can you tell me more about that?” The gift of listening and asking more questions is that you get everyone’s thinking rather than just your own. And with the complexity and fast pace of business today, more thinking power is paramount to your success.
Once you demonstrate that this is a true collaborative environment where all thinking is welcome, the next phase of the cross-functional team’s development begins. It takes all participants in the team to keep the environment safe. All must practice listening, curiosity, willingness to be brave and share, and a commitment to bring out the best in one another. Each person is equally responsible for the overall outcomes and success and that takes listening in and drawing out other perspectives.
And it is not always easy to think as a team, but it is worth the work to develop your collaborative think tank. In today's economic climate with so many unknowns, you need a psychologically safe environment now more than ever. Unexpected big external changes keep happening and the businesses that survive and thrive will be the ones that harness the power of their team.
Let us know how we can help you build and strengthen your cross-functional team.
This is leadership!