As managers at all levels of a hierarchy struggle with an operating environment that changes far more quickly, and often unpredictably, than it once did and with a need to collaborate far more on tasks that they once would have done by themselves, good cross-functional collaboration has become an incredibly important competitive advantage.
Designing processes that help employees from all parts of a company collaborate with the right colleagues will make a company far more efficient – able to do things more quickly and at lower cost – at responding to threats and opportunities, and steering the company in the direction it needs to go.
This need to collaborate and move fast is even more important as companies embrace digitization. New initiatives often require people to take on extra roles or share responsibilities with colleagues who work in another department, and those who move too slowly risk setting off a cascade of delay that can add more than two months to large corporate projects, such as a product launch or an acquisition, according to CEB analysis.
The strategy team at a transportation company in CEB’s networks designed a practice that can be used by a wide range of companies and teams if they need to find information quickly from a dispersed network of managers, and then make fast decisions.
The team initially designed this to speed up the way they gathered competitive intelligence, but the practice is an excellent way to work out how to build cross-functional relationships and track the health of them over time. The strategy team sketched out their direct bonds with other functions, business unit heads, and employees that were important to the decision-making process.
They also distinguished between strong and weak ties by deeming strong ties those where relationships included people willing to put extra effort into the collaboration, and weak ties as those where a relationship exists, but the willingness to collaborate isn’t completely clear (see chart 1).
Chart 1: Relationship maintenance map Partial map, illustrative Source: CEB analysis
Shoring-Up the Network
With map in hand, the strategy team was able to visualize which relationships were strongest and which were weak or nonexistent, and which needed some assistance. It was easy to see where the network needed shoring up (see chart 2).
Chart 2: Key stakeholder matrix Source: CEB analysis
The team then periodically reviews the map for updates. At that time, strategists focus on projects that have corporate strategic objectives. Some of the questions they ask include:
- Are we lacking relationships with any key influencers on critical topics or initiatives?
- Has anyone left the organization?
- Has anyone switched teams/roles?
- Have we developed any new relationships?
- Are any of our “strong” ties no longer strong enough to yield deep collaboration?
Strategy can also use its maps to keep track of its own team. If a team member is leaving, (and therefore relationships may suffer), the function can work to maintain those relationships ahead of time or re-establish them as needed.