There is not much more energizing than working in a cross-functional team. A team in which great goals get achieved and your skill-set is appreciated, working with great professionals with their skill-sets and inspiring job dedication. It gives you that real team vibe, right? We love cross-functional team play; we love it when a plan comes together.
No matter if you are a developer, data scientist, marketeer, product owner, researcher, or interaction designer, you probably feel like your capability is crucial in the process, maybe even central to the businesses you work for. And your capability most definitely is. However, we believe that if you are working for a mature cross-ops organization, all capabilities should be equally valued, realizing your business's success. Everyone plays a crucial role in developing products and services, from the office cleaner and the mail boy to the CEO.
The battle of the capabilities
However, the strange thing with cross-functional teams is that often not all capabilities are valued and appreciated in the same way. Even though they contribute to the same goals and they are equally important to realize the outcomes. Improving capabilities and operations often leads to one's preference, making others less visible and appreciated. We call this the battle of the capabilities.
We often see political competition within organizations, capabilities working on improving their position and influence, gaining hierarchy, and making other capabilities work for their operations. This battling is damaging, considered that capabilities all have their role to play.
With cross-ops maturity, we believe in a flat ontology. We mean that every contributor, each action, every input to the end goal can make or break the end-results and are therefore equally important to the business to succeed. We know this is a bold claim, and we get it if you do not directly agree. But hang on for a moment because valuing everyone in the process will help you to design stronger cross-ops collaboration.
Working with design ops, research ops, dev ops, even journeys ops for some years, we learned that capabilities always take their interest to the center of how it all should work. However, the real challenge might not be to design and operationalize this individual capabilities but to synthesize all operational processes and capabilities. We call this cross-ops collaboration.
When we design cross-ops collaboration, it doesn't entail making one group more important than others. Cross-ops collaboration is about making sure that every individual group and capability is involved at the right moment to play the role that is needed. It is about orchestrating the organization as a whole and making sure every group or capability is lined-up in a helpful manner. Everyone is best positioned to contribute to the bigger picture.
Let's take intelligence and research disciplines to illustrate cross-ops collaboration—for example, marketing research, customer insights, UX research, conversion teams, or web-analysts; all are often focusing on making an impact on others' priorities. One of these teams is often best positioned. Competing on who knows best what to change, all research capabilities pour their insight reports into the organization to get heard.
However, with a cross-ops focus, it would be evident that they should all play a different role. Market analysts and customer insights, these disciplines should be very well able to problematize challenges, locating problems, and prioritizing parts of the operation for other teams to improve. While UX and design researchers, working together with the designers and design thinkers, are better fitted to facilitate and co-create improvements and new concepts from a strong customer or user-centered perspective. Conversion teams are finally best suited to learn how to grow and optimize what is already designed.
Working closely together and enabling each other to play their part would significantly impact their productivity. Seeing this from a cross-ops perspective helps us lining up these capabilities to add value in the best possible ways.
When it comes to teamwork, it means being dependent to one another, trusting colleagues and their expertise, sharing the same goals. As an individual, being part of a team or coalition defines who you are as a professional. Having an important role within a cross-functional team is crucial to the quality you deliver.
However, being part of a team can be both very energizing and very frustrating at the same time. Because routines and rituals were never consciously and explicitly designed, it often feels like choices on responsibilities are made arbitrary. They arose, either because they were part of a legacy or brought in by new team members that valued them in previous teams.
The strange thing with team play is that you only start reflecting on it and improving it when they are not satisfying when routines and rituals don't work well, or become annoying for some team members or coalition. When this happens, often people feel not recognized in the processes. You want to prevent this from happening because of the negative impact it may have on the workforce. The lack of reflection on cross-functional team play means a massive loss of productivity, and even more, politicizing processes and stirring up the 'battle of the capabilities.'
'From 'the battle of the capabilities' to 'cross-ops maturity.'
We believe that the answer to all this can be organizational design. Explicitly designing cross-functional team play, either small or in a design sprint, workshop, or bigger, in cross-ops transformation projects, will improve cross-functional departments and organizations' maturity into more balanced teams, socially as well as professionally. Also, by designing cross-functional collaboration, we make organizations less political, less focused on gaining influence at the expense of other disciplines, and more focused on discovering and delivering quality, but maybe even most of all, it makes it more fun.
So tap into this considerable change potency because it will engage pleasure, purpose and meaning to your teams and departments. Co-creating team play through workshops and design sprints or transformation projects might be the best thing to do in 2021. And the nice thing about co-creating is that it does not tell disciplines what to do or when to do it, but it helps them decide and design it themselves.