Improving Cross-Functional Relationships
White Paper Executive Summary
Differing functional leaders, priorities and accountabilities can surely make cross-functional collaboration challenging and complex, not to mention the role that generational, personality and character differences can play. However, strong and trusting business relationships across functional areas can usually mitigate and overcome these complexities. Conversely, the lack of strong and trusting cross-functional relationships generally amplifies friction and hinders effective collaboration. As a result, healthy cross-functional relationships are a critical ingredient to effective collaboration.
Surprising Views on Relationship Impact
Perhaps it’s no great surprise that personal and professional relationships have a significant impact on business results. Research with VP level and above executives in the same functional specialty found very similar beliefs on this subject, however beliefs across functions vary greatly. Do birds of a feather flock together? Or do the priorities and accountabilities of certain functions drive them to differing beliefs about relationships? These divergent views about the impact and importance of relationships on business results certainly must affect the effort and priority they are given across functions.
Critical Differences in Relationship Expectations
Do senior executives in different functions value and expect different things from their relationships with peers? Recent research shows significant differences in relationship expectations, particularly between the CEO, HR, Finance and IT functions. These differences were most pronounced on expectations around “worth your
time”, “trustworthy”, “fair and respectful”, “high quality advice” and “common interests”. Given how differently these relationship dimensions are valued across functions, it’s no wonder that disappointments and misunderstandings sometimes occur.
Relationships for Personal vs Company Success
It turns out that executives in different functions also have very different views about which relationship types impact personal versus company success. For instance, Finance executives indicated a greater belief that supplier and peer relationships significantly impact their personal success, but a lesser belief that these same relationships have as much impact on company success. Conversely, HR executives indicated a greater belief that customer and supplier relationships significantly impact company success, but a lesser belief that these same relationships have as much impact on their personal success. Clearly, executives in distinct functional areas see the world very differently when it comes to relationships, particularly as relates to colleague relationships.
Implications for Action & Results
Differing beliefs and expectations certainly impact the effectiveness of any relationship. Gaps in executive beliefs on peer relationships surely lead to misunderstandings, unintended perceptions and breakdowns in collaboration effectiveness across functions. However, by more clearly assessing, sharing and discussing the differences that exist in relationship beliefs and expectations, these gaps in understanding and breakdowns in collaboration can be reduced significantly. The Enterprise Talent RQ™ Assessment developed by The Relational Capital Group directly addresses these gaps and helps organizations resolve collaboration challenges. It enables them to measure, manage and strengthen the cross-functional relationships that drive their performance, acting as a high value complement to existing employee engagement, 360° feedback and other organization effectiveness systems.