Building A Cross-Functional Leadership Team

A team of cross-functional leaders unites beyond their functions’ interests

CONTEXT

An organization in the midst of high growth asked for leadership team coaching that could encourage cross-functional leaders to come together and act as one aligned national leadership team.

The organization had been led by a charismatic, well-respected leader with strong one-on-one relationships who made centralized decisions mostly from a sales perspective. Given the organization’s growth, the leader saw he needed a team cross-functional collaborators to support him in managing the business.

The new leadership team consisted of seven leaders, some long-tenured and others new to the organization—a cross-functional group by design. These individual leaders managed their respective functions (Sales, HR, Finance, R&D, Marketing, Legal, etc) but had never before come together as their own team.

APPROACH

In keeping with Bruce Tuckman’s research on teams, we designed and delivered a series of leadership team coaching retreats, held quarterly for the first year, aimed at accelerating this team’s transitions through its own development.

Starting with our first meeting, we discussed the importance of the “forming” stage of team development – that is, acknowledging the beginning of a team’s journey together. During that first retreat, aimed at building trust and connection amongst members, we facilitated a series of conversations which enabled the group to get to know one another better—personally and professionally.

In consecutive meetings thereafter, we designed team retreats with relevant themes in mind, including:

  • Understanding our respective roles/responsibilities – overlap, gaps, and potential misunderstandings; defining our “rules of engagement” for being a team – focusing on critical elements such as “emotional safety” and taking radical responsibility for ourselves
  • Learning more about our respective departments; what other departments need to understand to help us be most effective; coming together as one team – appreciating the concept of one’s “first team”
  • Resolving conflict – how to discuss difficult topics in the group,
    and 1-1, so as to maintain healthy relationships across the team
  • 360 feedback process: Learning about our own strengths/deficits and sharing highlights and intentions for change with colleagues

Between team sessions we maintained contact with the team leader and team members to understand the state of the team and to design meetings with relevant agendas aimed at supporting team evolution.

When needed, we facilitated mediated conversations with members of the leadership team who were experiencing some form of difficulty with one another; these meetings were aimed at clearing the air, building trust, and setting intentions.

RESULTS

By the end of its first year, the group reported a high rate of satisfaction and collaboration as a cross-functional team; the leader, who had previously managed all executive decisions on his own, reported his own sense of relief for benefiting from greater support overall.

Meanwhile, the strategic plan had been executed with greater success than anticipated, and staff at lower levels of the organization reported a degree of cross-functional collaboration that was new, and welcomed.

Clearly many factors informed this team’s success, starting with its well-respected leader and team members willing to take responsibility for their actions. Another key factor was the leaders’ growing readiness to look for what’s best for the organization vs. what best for “their” function.

The client reported that our consultative leadership team coaching approach, designed to accelerate and support team evolution, was highly valuable in helping the group be deliberate about functioning as a cross-functional, cooperative, and healthy team able to meet its goals and enjoy the process of working together.