Leadership Development

4 Tips to Overcome the Top Challenges as a Cross-Functional Leader

Managing a cross-functional team comes with unique challenges that are not typically found in a traditional team. However, with the proper training or insights and tools, these teams and projects can be highly effective and greatly benefit the business.

 

The definition of a cross-functional leader is a leader with formal cross-functional responsibilities, such as Vice Presidents, Executives, Directors, and Project Managers. These roles are complex because everyone has different functions and manages various departments within the organization. Still, each leader in this role needs to work together to create a productive work environment for their teams. The concept of cross-functional teams is rapidly increasing. However, 75% of cross-functional teams are dysfunctional. "Teams are hurt by unclear governance, by a lack of accountability, by goals that lack specificity, and by organizations' failure to prioritize the success of cross-functional projects."

 

Read our tips on how you can overcome the challenges that often come with managing cross-functional teams and projects.

 

1. Lead confidently in complexity AND the middle.

Leading in today's Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous (VUCA) environment is challenging. There are constant disruptions such as restructuring, downsizing, societal shifts, and technological changes happening all the time. The pressure can lead to leadership and team fatigue. However, leaders must have the agility to adapt to change, anticipate possible challenges, and shift their mindset to look at the bigger picture. When you lead from the middle of the organization, you need to lead confidently since you are navigating in a complex area. 

 

A way to lead confidently is by translating and sharing information across the company. Information is powerful. Without it, teams can fail, or conflict can arise.

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2. Translate the company's vision to execution between top leadership and front line. 

With VUCA environments, everything is changing. But, the one thing that typically stays the same is your company's vision. With a focus on your vision, your teams and departments have the clarity they need to succeed. So, when misalignments arise, the cross-functional leader's role is to provide the team with clarity of where they are headed and what issues need to be solved. Executives, vice presidents, and directors should not solve these issues but guide the team by removing ambiguity and providing alignment.

 

3. Collaborate in the horizontal, not only in the vertical.

When leaders are put into narrow boxes with vertical relationships, working in silos is common, your bottom line might take a hit, and leaders may not be able to contribute their greatest. Heidi Gardner, a Harvard Business School professor, found that higher margins, greater client loyalty, and the gain of a competitive edge are all benefits of horizontal collaboration. When leaders are encouraged to step out of their box and work horizontally, innovation increases because you will most likely be working with people different from you who may have different areas of expertise. Collaborating with other leaders at your level will allow for better communication.

 

4. Lead by influencing.

Authority is an easy way to get projects accomplished. Copy of Self-Leadership Blog (1)However, when you do not have authority, you need to influence so your priorities become other’s priorities. But how can you do this? Simply by creating meaningful relationships with the people next to you. It's essential to position yourself as someone they can trust and can go to when needed. The first step to influence is to focus on the relationship, not the problem you are trying to solve. Influence begins in the other person’s perspective.

 

How to effectively lead in the roundabout

Become more effective at managing the business, leading teams or projects, and influencing others with Birkman's leadership program, Rise To Lead: Cross-Functional Leadership. Cross-Functional Leadership is an immersive program designed for high-level leadership positions, such as Executives, Vice Presidents, Directors, and Project Managers. With an emphasis on the unique challenges faced by cross-functional leaders, participants are given the tools to solve these challenges and be successful in their complex roles. This high-impact program exposes them to a wide range of behaviors to increase their success. Learning to utilize different behaviors allows for clarity and influence. Those who can lead through ambiguity, translate the company's vision, collaborate across the horizontal, and share information are crucial to keeping the organization well-moving.

 

Interested in learning more about the Cross-Functional Leadership experience? Let's connect.

About the Author | Brittany Buxton

With a Bachelors in Communications and Journalism from Texas A&M University, Brittany couples her experience in customer relations and passion for making a difference as she works within the marketing department. Outside of work, you can catch Brittany en route to new cities, soccer fields, or at any coffee shop. As Scottish royalty, you might also find her abroad enjoying the Scottish countryside.