Cross-functional collaboration starts with visible SupportingLines

rawpixel-683571-unsplashIn my post “Helping leaders see supporting lines, not reporting lines” I wrote about how great leaders support employees and help them grow, personally and professionally. They care less about who reports to who, and more about who needs to support each other. Another critical aspect of SupportingLines is how leaders help teams align and collaborate.  This helps the organization achieve more of its goals and creates a modern company where ‘command and control’ yields to ‘collaborate and coach’. That is the culture we are trying to create at Mobify.

There are two types of SupportingLines

  1. Leaders see direct supports, not direct reports.
  2. Support requirements between teams are visible, understood and agreed.

It is well researched that when people grow and teams achieve more goals employee engagement increases. The last blog post talked about helping people grow. This post covers how leaders can help cross-functional teams collaborate with SupportingLines.

What exactly does cross-functional mean?

The term cross-functional is a common element of our organizational lexicon. It usually conjures up images of teams struggling to execute projects that cross departmental lines. Leaders often struggle to move things forward when they perceive other departments to be in the way.

Truth is, the organizational chart has little to do with our most important work. We need to rise above this mindset. Organizational goals necessarily involve multiple teams. If there was no org chart we would have functional teams working together toward a goal – there would be nothing to ‘cross’.

I am not saying we get rid of the org chart. We just need to understand its limitations. The first org chart ever created helped a railway get information to teams closest to the operation, supporting decision-making and avoiding head-on collisions. It established SupportingLines for the organization’s most important work.

SupportingLines help functional teams do important work

Most organizations set goals. But beautifully crafted goals that have no clear path to being achieved just lead to disappointment and disengagement. Goals need to be complete. They need an overall objective, key indicators that the objective was achieved and clearly defined SupportingLines.

There are many different ways to set goals and SupportingLines is agnostic. We can help you clarify support requirements for any goals, regardless of the goal-setting method you use: Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), Balance Scorecard, SMART or something else. The key is what happens after you establish the goal.

Setting a goal in and of itself does little more than give you a target. A commonly cited reason for missing goals is that another team didn’t do what we needed them to do. With any of these goal setting models, the challenge is always getting diverse teams to support each other. This is even more complex with big, organization-wide goals.

What happens when SupportingLines are not clear?

In order for people to support you, they first need to know that you are depending on them. In John Doerr’s recent book “Measure What Matters”, he gave an example of the cross-functional challenge in OKR planning. When leaders held a joint planning session after a corporate acquisition, it became clear that people from the acquirer were ‘depending’ on the acquired company to achieve ambitious goals for lead generation and brand awareness.

The problem is that the acquired company’s teams were not aware of these dependencies and their goals did not provide the other teams with the support they sought. Once these discrepancies were caught, it still took 18 months to align all of the OKRs! If these support requirements were visible, understood and agreed, these teams could have aligned much more quickly.

Support requirements must be visible, understood and agreed.

Visible. In order for teams to collaborate, it is critical that each team lets other teams know what help they need.  

Understood. Interdependent teams then need to go one step further. Instead of just telling people what is needed, it is important to set context. In cross-functional collaboration, all teams need to understand the overarching goal and why it’s important. Teams also need to be clear on how they contribute to the attainment of the goal.

Agreed. To be sure that your have the established critical support you need for your goal it is important to get the other parties to agree, in writing, to a specific scope of work and a timeline. Without this being in writing there is risk that the support fades as soon as the conversation ends.

Ensuring that SupportingLines are visible, understood and agreed helps you achieve more goals. People will also find more meaning in their work and the process of establishing SupportingLines opens opportunities for professional development.

The SupportingLines Institute can help you achieve more cross-functional success

By helping people grow and helping teams collaborate, your employees will be more engaged and you will achieve more goals. The SupportingLines Institute offers a complete, modern operating system. We inspire leaders and empower teams so that millions of people become engaged in their work. There are three core elements to our leadership model:

  • Help people grow
  • Help leaders coach
  • Help teams collaborate

If this resonates with you Join the Movement at to learn more.

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