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THINK CROSS-FUNCTIONALLY

March 7, 2011
Most of us have had the opportunity to be a new employee on a number of occasions. While every company has its own idiosyncrasies, there are basic attributes and beliefs that most of us look for when interviewing. Once employed, we then validate their existence. These include integrity, respect and recognition. Another important one is whether the company encourages and rewards cross-functional thinking. The answer says a lot about the company and our opportunity within it.

I have been the "new guy" on a number of occasions. One thing I have learned to immediately assess is whether the company thinks and executes cross functionally, or whether each area is a fiefdom unto itself oblivious to the repercussions of their decisions. Unfortunately, I have found that the latter is more prevalent than the former. This retards growth, wastes energy, time and resources, increases frustration and shortens the life of the company. A lack of appreciation for what others do and poor communication puts disparate departments at each other's throats. If we're going after throats, let's make it the competition's! This is a problem that, like all problems, presents a wonderful opportunity for the right leader.

Leaders who quickly and accurately identify this opportunity, and take action, will see improved results relatively quickly (nothing happens as fast as we want). There is better communication, there is more empathy, there is more respect, there is more focus, and this results in better decisions. The company becomes more integrated-a worthy goal for any organization. It takes work to change behavior but people will embrace this change-it is what most of us want. If, on the other hand, we are not in a position to drive change (it is too ingrained, too many chiefs, owner/CEO doesn't want it to change, etc.) then move on down the road as soon as possible.

When hiring a leader it is essential to understand their position on the importance of cross-functional thinking. Listen to their responses but also validate by talking to others who have worked with them. Hiring a leader into an integrated company who does not believe in thinking cross-functionally is terribly disruptive and generally very short-lived. This is a mistake no leader wants to make and is very preventable if the leader does their homework. If the leader wants to bring someone in to change the culture-make it more integrated-then the potential hire MUST make sure the leader is genuine in their desire for change. If they aren't this is a losing proposition for everyone involved.

There are few things more impressive than an associate who presents an opportunity that has been thought through completely. Consideration has been given not just for their particular area of responsibility but also for the others it impacts. "WOW!" is all I can say when this happens. This is a competent individual with a very bright future. A company full of these kinds of individuals, properly focused and led, knows no bounds.

Thinking cross-functionally means thinking bigger than just any one area of the company. It is a mind-set that puts the overall good of the organization before any one person or department.

Thinking Cross-Functionally dramatically improves our chances for success.