Working with Those People
Is there anything more challenging than pulling a cohesive team together from different parts of the organization? While some team-building and metrics alignment work can help, I’ve observed something deeper going on, and there is something useful to be learned here.
I’ve surmised that a core career belief influences how most people act in an organization, and this creates quite a barrier. Most operations professionals believe that anything can be repeated with the right process. Their point of view is, “See that pen? I can make another one just like it if we identify and follow the right process!” Marketing and sales types are grounded in the belief we can make a deal. In other words, every situation is unique, and there is value to be created if we just can get together and agree. Technical people — be they engineers, scientists or even finance and legal folks — see the world as a problem to be solved. Frame the problem right, plug in the right input, and a logical solution can be found. The world can be ordered; we just need logic. The collective view of human resources leaders? Their core belief is “we can help.”
When leaders of different beliefs get together, sometimes things work and sometimes we have chaos. We often organize learning events that reinforce the silos rather than break down these barriers. It’s more comfortable and natural to stick with one’s own and complain about “those other people” who get in the way, because birds of a feather learn together and reinforce common beliefs and bias. If they would only learn more about each other — and even learn together — the whole company might work better.
Three Ways to Mix It Up
Training can break down internal barriers in a number of ways. The very nature of education often can provide a more open atmosphere to explore differences and reach new levels of understanding. I’ve seen three primary ways to modify learning programs to build stronger cross-functional bridges.
Mixing groups. Whenever possible, I like to blend unalike groups together. A while back, I was faced with integrating two corporate cultures after a merger. I used a new leadership development program for the top 500 executives as a mixing intervention. Each class was a more radical blend of career fields and company heritages. It worked great, and many leaders remarked that spending time together forged new relationships over the material and provided a common language for the new executive group.
Mixing resources. One way to break down boundaries in training is to broaden the resources used to provide learning. For example, I’ve often brought in speakers from different parts of the company to enrich a single-function learning event. Using a sales executive as faculty for an engineering course doubles the learning, as teacher and participant gain insight together. Also, general orientation material from one function, say a Marketing 101 e-learning module, could be integrated into a finance program.
Mixing the focus. Action learning projects have been popular and powerful learning tools for many years because one can structure cross-boundary learning into the curriculum. A comprehensive business simulation is another great method for promoting cross-functional learning. One of my favorite simulations pulls leaders from all over the corporation into cross-functional teams to manage a startup company. Each leader must play a functional role different from his or her current one. Leaders gain great insight on how someone else sees the world, as well as seeing how all functions contribute to the whole organization.
One of the most significant contributions we can make to an organization is to remove barriers. Every program and learning event can either further reinforce boundaries that naturally exist or chip away at the walls inside an enterprise. Energy spent reinforcing the functional silos and mindsets wastes talent and time. Building stronger bridges inside a company leverages internal talent to better serve external customers. It all starts with re-examining the core belief of your role as bridge-builder to your organization.
© Kevin D. Wilde