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The 5As of Cross-Functional Collaboration In Problem Solving

Firstly, leading a team within one’s own function could already be a challenge in itself (of course we called it opportunity!) as there will be a mixture of genders, age, ethnic background and location.

That is just the physical aspect of things.

There are still the emotional side of things, agendas – personal and departmental, views and perspectives, relationship between members, and the list goes sensitively on.

What more leading a cross-functional team where KPIs, agendas, and even objectives can be different – yes, in the same company.

Throughout my experience leading cross-functional teams – Management, Marketing, Sales, Operations, Human Resources, Engineering, Support, Services, Public Relations etc – in Asia Pacific and across the globe, I have quantified it down to the following 5 As.

  • Awareness
  • Assessment
  • Alignment
  • Agreement
  • Advancement

It starts with AWARENESS of the challenge we have on hand. It is easy to say but some companies may not be aware of the challenges they have or choose to ignore them like an ostrich with its head in the sand and hope that it will go away.

Many said leaders are there to find answers to problems. So leading a charge not just to understand the challenges of the business but also finding the best solution to solve and advance it Blue Ocean style is the true mark of a formidable leader, more so in a cross-functional environment.

AWARENESS is also about communicating the challenges in a unified language that everyone understands.

We all have heard stories – some funny, many not – that misunderstandings occurred when this is not done. In the tech word, TLAs – two or three letter acronyms – are often the language of communication. Unfortunately, functions within even the same company may use the same acronym to mean different things. Case in point I experienced was using the acronym HPC where the Sales function saw it as Hundred Percent Club for awesome achievers and Marketing thought it was High Performance Computing! The meeting started and thanks to the sportiness of the ram, we laughed and adjourned as the wrong people were in the room.

After the problem is identified and the common language established, we will have to ASSESS the issue on hand to figure out the WHY – why it happened, why are we concerned, why is it a priority – before what most firms do, jump into solution-ing mode immediately before defining clearly what the challenge is. ASSESSMENT of the situation will define the statement of challenge, and set a foundation for collaborative discussion towards a solution.

Would you go to a doctor who, without even taking your temperature or put a stethoscope on you, prescribe medicine you should take?

With ASSESSMENT, we can establish a common goal and defined scope, ready for solving the problem, together.

ASSESSMENT give us the drumbeat in a dragon boat race to peddle to – many people, one goal, one tempo.

With an objective established, we can now move ahead to allow each of the constituents ALIGN their departmental objectives to this common objective. Do not mistake ALIGNMENT with AGREEMENT – which is a common mistake – as ALIGNMENT will show you how each department will play to it versus to contribute to it. It looks great on slides for presentation where one puts a tick in the alignment box but this does not necessarily mean that the actions are in agreement with one another to deliver the desired collaborative impact in outcomes.

However, it is also not saying that we should skip ALIGNMENT and jump straight to AGREEMENT as we need to provide each department the flexibility, and respect, to socialise within their individual departments, and to develop that ALIGNMENT alà the flavour of each department – to prevent a forced feeding syndrome and thus disrespectful which may go against the objective of collaboration.

AGREEMENT is a phase where every constituents AGREE to a set of joint KPIs and OUTCOMES.

This is when one changes hat, from a departmental one to a company one. It is not against their own departmental goals as they have participated, contributed to the development of these company KPIs in the previous phases.

The AGREEMENT on the KPIs and OUTCOMES will be the foundation for the development of solutions to solve the challenge identified in AWARENESS and ASSESSMENT phases.

We are now ready for the ADVANCEMENT phase.

ADVANCEMENT will require a clear set of actions that is targeted at solving the issue on hand, with clear timeline and leaders to lead sub-groups with sanctioned measurements and also the all important communication channels – weekly meetings, sub-group meetings, collaborative portals and documents, agreed format of communication and documentation of all meetings etc – the whole nine yards of good project management.

The above phases, I find, will facilitate the development of a impactful and collaborative solution for a clearly defined challenge, allowing cross-functional teams to focus on one target without sacrificing their own interest.

Happy collaborating in solving your company challenges.

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