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How to kick-start and embed cross-functional ways of working

Customer-centric capabilities 04th August 2019
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Fact: cross-functional working is proven to be one of the most fruitful ways to boost organisational performance. Research suggests 53% of organisations experience a significant improvement in performance when adopting such a model (2019 Global Human Capital Trends, Deloitte). Why? Smaller teams formed across-functions offer a broader customer perspective and natural ability to see and respond to the market with speed, agility and adaptability:  

Top companies are built around systems that encourage teams and individuals to meet each other, share information transparently, and move from team to team depending on the issue to be addressed. Different networks can have different specialities, such as innovation or getting to market quickly, but the principle is the same.

The challenge however is making cross-functional working a reality: only 7% of organisations on average feel ready to execute the shift to such a model, and only 6% rate themselves as very effective at managing cross-functional teams.

– 2019 Global Human Capital Trends, Deloitte

In this article, we share 3 of the most common reasons for why organisations grapple with working cross-functionally and how you can overcome those barriers to better hear and respond to the customer and marketplace.

Pitfall 1: We are working to separate agendas

Good start-ups are great at working together on the same goals and wowing their customers. Why? Because collaboration comes naturally when your business is small. Plus you are in close proximity to your customer – making it easy to hear and respond to them.

However, as organisations expand, it’s all too easy for functions to become so ingrained in their piece of the puzzle that they begin to drift away from the big picture and how they directly support its achievement.  Conflicting, but appropriate priorities develop and are not actively managed across teams and functions.

The solution: Get clear on one set of goals

It’s critical that leaders define, talk openly and regularly reinforce company-wide goals (which should be a balance of financial and customer focused goals) across all communication channels. These goals should be a rallying cry to the business; making it clear how everyone can play a part in growing or sustaining the business, not just through products, but by building meaningful long-term customer relationships and improving internal ways of working.

Case study: What happens when your goals aren’t connected to each other, or the customer?

The business decides to measure the success of its manufacturing sites by tracking the number of goods leaving each factory on time.

It gives the onsite team a simple KPI with a high target: To dispatch 98% of goods on time.

The factory team work hard to consistently deliver their target, yet the customer services team keeps reporting high levels of customer dissatisfaction and complaints leading to higher levels of customer attrition despite the success achieved.


Further investigation reveals that although the factory is shipping goods produced on time, customers are receiving as little as 50% of the goods they are ordering because the factory is focused on maximising the output being shipped.  It would potentially require a loss of productivity to change production jobs more frequently and produce the full range of products inline with customer demand.

Getting it right

The business needs to take stock of the complete picture from a customer perspective and realign its performance metrics and ways of working to allow the factories to slow down or change their ways of working and complete full customer orders.

Pitfall 2: Our collaboration attempts are getting lost in translation

We tend to use words in the office we don’t use anywhere else:

“Let’s circle back on this” = Let’s revisit this topic at a later time

“We have decided to pivot” = We have decided to change direction

“Let’s take this offline” = Let’s discuss this in an alternative forum

“This just needs some wordsmithing” = This copy needs some revision

Source: Wavelength

With business awash with acronyms, buzzwords and jargon, it is no wonder that even internal teams end up on wildly different pages!

The solution: Make everyday language business as usual

Although in-words and phrases are often created as a helpful short-hand for you to share, they can easily become collaboration killers if left unexplained and out of context.

Make it a priority to find out about each other’s roles and perspectives. You can use these to frame collaborative conversations in an inclusive way.

Case study: How to pass the baton from marketing to sales

The marketing team are preparing for a new launch.

Wanting to engage the sales team early, they plan a workshop to highlight the key launch activities and agree on next steps.

However, as their presentation gets underway the marketers notice the sales team look disengaged and confused. Why?

The teams’ presentation is framed by the marketing perspective. It’s littered with acronyms, terms and goals the sales teams don’t use and more importantly don’t understand.

The disconnect between the teams results in a lack of energy around the launch, making it less impactful for the customer.

Getting it right:

The marketing team need to tweak the presentation towards the sales team’s perspective. Using the language of sales will not only help the team understand what’s required of them, but it will help gain their buy-in and enthusiasm, making the launch plan stronger.

Pitfall 3: Our cross-functional team is struggling to gel

Hierarchy, status and job titles can be overt in some organisations, meaning common ground can be hard to find.

When power and influence are (or are perceived to be) held in one place, or people are invited to join the team just because of their role or job title, the conversation is often stilted.

The solution: Set some structure and build a team ego

Collaboration thrives when a group from across the organisation and its levels, acting as equals are given space to put their heads together and solve challenging problems.

Putting structure into your cross-functional team gives everyone a role and a voice. Start with the basics like:

  • Assigning roles
  • Keeping things clear with an outcome based team ‘contract’
  • Working with a facilitator to iron out gaps in status

This will offer a strong foundation for effective team working moving forward – no matter what your pay grade is.

Case study: How to build a team ego

The business has identified the need to simplify the way it works across the board.

The task of spotting, tidying up and improving old systems, processes and ways of working will require everyone’s help.

A cross-functional team has been put in place to discuss the issue and come up with  ways to tackle it. The team includes individuals from the highest level of seniority to the most junior members of staff.

What happens?

The meeting is kicked off by the facilitator, who supports the team to agree a clear purpose and intended outcome or results they are seeking to create, whilst supporting the team to commit to a clear role they can actively contribute to bring this about, the session is designed to include everyone and flatten hierarchy.

As the group begin to share their different perspectives, they build a fuller picture of the challenges the business is facing.

By challenging and listening to each other the group are able to prioritise a short list of interventions to implement in the short term, which will have a positive impact on the business long term.

Why did it work?
  • The facilitator involved everyone and ensured clear roles that levelled the playing field
  • Each member of the team was carefully selected because of the unique value they brought to the table
  • The team co-created their plan and committed to supporting each other to execute it and learn from both failure and success together


Cross-functional working can be the hidden key to winning with your customer. When your goals, conversations, leaders and teams are aligned behind the big picture, you’re more likely to show up as a business that innovates, collaborates and executes effectively together.

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