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Encouraging cross-functional ways of working in customer facing teams

Culture & mindset development 11th August 2023

The desire to enable cross-functional working in pharma isn’t new. Yet our whitepaper highlights that it is particularly elusive in customer facing teams. 

Why? It can be down to a number of variables. But traditional budget processes, business score cards, structures, resource allocation, functional objectives and team priorities or targets can all play a part in discouraging it.

Unsurprisingly the successful adoption of cross-functional working starts with leadership. 

But as a leader where do you start? How can you initiate cross-functional working and cascade it down the organisation to become the ‘norm’?  This article looks to get you started on just that…

Senior leaders

A deficiency in impactful cross-functional working is rarely caused by people not wanting to work together. It just isn’t clear enough that there is value in doing it (any organisational reporting lines will naturally ‘guide’ people to work in a particular way), or there isn’t visibility of where or how it should be done as a normal way of working.

As a senior leader one way to help overcome this is when you set your strategic pillars. Look to obviously signpost and provide examples of where there is a need for habitual collaboration and cross-functional working in order to fulfil the strategic pillars.

By offering this clear line of sight, reporting lines will recognise the strategic imperative to work in this way – resulting in them formulating strategic plans that ‘bake in’ cross-functional working.


When formulating strategic plans (informed by the strategic pillars) rather than devising it in isolation, leaders should look to role-model cross-functional working by collaborating with other teams to formulate it together.

On its completion look for organisational ‘mechanisms’ to sustain and encourage cross-functional working at a team level. A really simple approach is at ‘all hands’ meetings or calls encourage or invite people to talk about particular projects to:

  • Increase visibility and understanding of what’s being worked on and where cross functional perspectives create better outcomes
  • Provide people with an opportunity to see where their expertise could be valuable/share where they’ve experienced something similar
  • Give people an opportunity to ask for and offer support

Top tip: If you want to understand more about why role modelling is so effective, this Ted Talk is a worthwhile watch: Small iconic actions


Given the strategic direction that has been set at a leadership level, managers can encourage cross-functional working on a day-to-day level by asking simple questions in 1:1’s:

  • What are you working on at the moment?
  • What’s blocking you?
  • How could the cross-functional team support you?
  • How can I support you?

This reinforces the strategic direction that has been set and reemphasises the importance of cross-functional working day-to-day.


When working at a team level, nudges are a recommended action (short and sharp) that are designed to help teams achieve quick wins and move them towards a longer-term goal e.g. effective cross functional working.

A nudge can be most helpful when we are trying to master new skills and habits. Small steps are the best way to do this and creating the simplest of reminders (or nudges) can be surprisingly powerful to help achieve it.

So a simple nudge to encourage cross functional working? 

This week team members should look to book in 30 minutes with someone outside of their natural team but who works in a team they interact with regularly. This time should be used to share their top 3 priorities for the next 3 weeks and discuss:

  • What needs to be done to achieve the priorities and the intended outcomes
  • Whether any of the priorities are conflicting
  • Are there any priorities that they could team up on?
  • Are they reliant on each other to deliver on any of these commitments? If so, is that realistic?

By showing openness to sharing and adapting ideas based on input from outside the team, it boosts morale, builds trust and makes it more likely that others in a team will do the same.

Case studies related to cross-functional working

Adopting a customer-centric way of working

A case study on how we helped Novartis encourage teams in high-potential markets to adopt a more customer-centric way of working.


Delivering excellence to customers

A case study on how we helped Sanofi shift mind-sets and ways of working to a more customer-centric approach.

All case studies

Learn more about our work in enabling cross-functional working