Business professionals are often told to break down silos. It is echoed in boardrooms, meetings and town halls. Employees and executives at large and small companies will say, “If only we were not so siloed, our company would be performing better and our projects more successful.”
But what if we’re focused on the wrong thing?
According to Greg Satell, author and innovation advisor, silos are not the issue, it is whether silos are connected effectively. That is where cross-functional collaboration comes in. How do you take the hyper-focused and specialized skill sets of these silos and network them to benefit each other and the business overall?
Enabling Cross-Functional Collaboration Through Organizational Structure
It helps to already have close ties between two functions. My corporate communications function at Resideo does this by rolling up to human resources. While my team focuses on what we do best, we routinely interface with, and get unique insight from, the HR teams who support the business. Organizational structure is not the only way to spur cross-functional opportunities. There may be specific situations where cross-functional collaboration moves from being a nice-to-have into a critical necessity. The COVID-19 pandemic has been one such situation.
Cross-Functional Governance Teams
As I mentioned in my IABC Member Spotlight, I participate in a weekly COVID-19 task force which is made of representatives from across the organization, such as legal, health, safety, environment & security (HSES), IT and communications. This dedicated cross-functional team makes connecting easier and allows us to mobilize faster, to adapt to the rapidly changing COVID-19 environment.
For example, we can discuss a new mask policy on a call, workshop it in a smaller subgroup, and then present it back to the task force in a timely manner for final approval. My organization finds great success with this approach, and according to a Harvard Business Review study, there is a correlation between the success of business projects and having oversight by a cross-functional team.
Collaboration and Executive Sponsors
Even if a project does not have a cross-functional governance team, it can still be successful with the cooperation of different functions and a high-level executive champion. That was the case with Resideo’s “Employees of Action” campaign.
Resideo recognized the need to give back during this time of crisis and, at the same time, encourage our employees to get vaccinated. My team brainstormed, designed and executed a program with the goal of donating $100,000 to Direct Relief, a nonprofit organization on the front lines of COVID-19 response, by the end of 2021.
Originally, the only way to participate was for employees to share their reasons for getting vaccinated on social media. Resideo would then donate $25 to Direct Relief for each participant in the campaign. Our colleagues in HR proposed expanding this eligibility to include those who self-disclose their vaccine status to the company via an online internal tool. This critical pivot came from the close connection our team had with HR and resulted in more employee participation.
In addition to HR, we engaged other functions to ensure the success of the program. We utilized COVID-19 task force meetings to give program updates to the broader team and solicit feedback. Participation was encouraged and highlighted in staff meetings and at top-level events, such as global town halls. This took coordinating with the CEO and functional leaders throughout the company.
As Resideo is a global company, we also had to engage with legal to define the parameters for participation and ensure we complied with applicable laws and regulations around the world. We needed the sign off from finance and the support of procurement to make the donation. We reached our goal earlier this year and have made the $100,000 donation.
What ultimately had the largest impact on making the program successful was my boss, Resideo’s chief human resources officer, being incredibly supportive of the initiative. Having an executive champion is critical to getting big ideas off the ground. He was the first participant in the campaign.
Better Outcomes Through Collaboration
Cross-functional collaboration can lead to not only project success, like with the “Employees of Action” campaign, but better outcomes as a communications professional. According to IABC’s inaugural Research & Insights report, communicators “learn the depth and breadth of the organization, develop key allies and obtain strategic and tactical lenses on operations” when they engage with other functions. I have certainly learned a lot about how Resideo operates and witnessed firsthand the power of cross-functional collaboration.
Silos are not made to be broken, but they do need to be networked. That is where cross-functional collaboration comes in. However it happens, whether through specific projects that necessitate it or organizational structure that facilitates it, cross-functional collaboration remains a critical determinant in business success.
Oliver Clark is a senior communications manager for Resideo.