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Cross functional work is one of those concepts that sounds easy to implement in theory, but in practice, you may have varying results. As most other processes within the organization, it all depends on how your organization works and whether you know how to implement it efficiently. Accountability is crucial for the proper implementation of cross functional work and keeping the business running smoothly, even though it might not seem that way right off the bat.

One of the frequent problems encountered has to do with context and boundaries of cross-functional work. This is all about who sets the framework for cross functional relations and where the boundaries lie. If you don’t complete this part correctly, there will likely be disagreements between individuals in different areas carrying out the work, regardless of the size of the organization.

In the worst case, these disagreements become silos. People begin to feel that it is simply easier to do the work themselves than to depend on someone else for support.

But what kinds of problems may arise from this, and how can you prevent them?

Different Understanding of the Work between Departments

It all starts with accountability. The most common problem with setting the context and boundaries of cross-functional work is that various departments end up with a different understanding of the work that they’re accountable for, which can create conflict.

For example, let us say that a person in the finance department has a quarterly report that is dependent on the operations department to gather information. It’s crucial for the finance department that they do this work on time as the Owner or CEO depends on the information. On the other hand, the operations department might not perceive this as priority work, but as Finance’s work and that they are doing Finance a favour when they do it. Conflict soon ensues! But the issue doesn’t lie with the individuals. It lies with how the task has been delegated down the organization.

 The Right Way to Do It

In continuing with this example, we can identify what has to happen to ensure that the conflict does not arise. By identifying the problems in the first delegation of this task (Finance creating a report), we can correct the issue.

So what happens when that report is first delegated to be developed by the finance department? Typically, the head of the organization would talk to the head of finance and assign them with the task to develop the new report. They would speak to the CFO about the details of the report and what it needs to look like. Finance can then figure out the information they need from the operations department to populate the report.

In the typical situation, when does Operations find out that they will need to provide this information to Finance? It usually happens when they when they get the email from Finance asking them to send specific information by the end of the week.

This is the root of the problem. Finance was delegated accountability for creating the report. The head of the organization will typically fail to inform Operations of the need for this report, and the requirements of Operations to provide information to Finance.

From the perspective of Operations, this is not real work. It is something ‘dreamed up’ by Finance. And as a result, it will not get the attention it should bereceiving.

This is what creates the role conflict – the inefficient delegation of work where accountability is properly set for all involved parties.

 How to Set Context and Boundaries Effectively

Setting the context and boundaries of cross-functional work has to come from the Effective Point of Accountability for that work. In our example, that would be the CEO, who would delegate the accountability for the report down to the CFO and COO. As they get informed about the report and whose responsibility it is, the work can efficiently delegate throughout the organization.

Key Takeaway: The Effective Point of Accountability rests with the position that can make decisions and direct work, and it’s especially important to get it right for cross-functional work by setting its context and boundaries effectively.