Cross-Functional Alignment Simplified

By Jessica Wishart

cross-functional alignment

dateWed, Jan 26, 2022 @ 10:01 AM

Integrating acquisitions, launching new products, deploying new company-wide systems or processes, shifting your organizational structure, rolling out new branding...these are just a few examples of some big projects that require effort from multiple teams. 
A major complaint in growing companies is that departmental silos make cross-functional efforts like these feel unmanageable. Companies with shared resources or big projects need a process for planning that helps them get aligned across the organization to achieve success.
company alignment
There's no one-size fits all approach for achieving organizational alignment when cross-functional priorities are essential for a successful quarter. The best way to align around a plan could be different, depending on the size of your company, the organization's structure and the number of projects requiring shared resources. Here are some successful patterns we've seen with our clients:
  1. Pre-planning at the departmental or business unit level. In preparation for the executive team planning session, team leaders pull their teams together for a pre-planning session. They talk about what their potential priorities and cross-functional dependencies are for the upcoming quarter and draft the team's plan. The team leader brings these potential priorities into the executive team planning session where the leaders discuss, debate and agree on what the company should be focused on for the quarter. The team's plan may change depending on the decisions made in the company session, and the leaders follow up with the team to share the decisions made and why. Clear communication and support for the plan at the executive team level is essential for making this approach work. Team leaders have to be able to confidently explain trade-offs in the team's plan in a way that still garners buy-in from the team if they end up working on a priority for another team and punting their own potential priorities for later.
  2. Cascading the company plan. In this approach, the executive team meets first for planning and sets the top priorities for the company for the quarter. Team leaders will often come out of the session with some priorities for the team mapped out. The team leaders then cascade the company plan to their departmental teams, and teams confirm or create their own plans to support the company plan. To avoid potential redundancies or dependencies, these teams (or just the leaders) need to come back together to share the departmental plans and success criteria with each other. This way, if one team's plan was out in left field or if deadlines are unrealistic for shared resources, the plans can still be adjusted before the start of the quarter for complete organizational alignment.
  3. Hybrid approach. Most of our clients do a hybrid approach. Team leaders collect feedback from their team informally (maybe asking them to do a simple start, stop, keep exercise) prior to executive team planning. They don't do a full draft of a team plan; they just gather some insights so they know what's top of mind for the team as they go into the company planning session. Then, they agree on key priorities for the quarter with the executive team and cascade the company plan to their teams. Leaders link priorities for their department into the company's plan, and they share this plan in the executive team's next weekly meeting to ensure they are all aligned around what the teams are working on.
Another creative approach I've seen includes capturing potential cross-functional priorities in a list throughout the quarter, meeting with departmental leaders to hash out which ones will make it into the plan and assigning names to them. One team did this process on a monthly basis rather than quarterly.
The keys to successfully achieving cross-functional alignment are getting input from the relevant parties, prioritizing focus on only the few most important projects at a time, and agreeing on what success looks like for the project. Completing the communication loop from pre-planning to prioritizing and confirming the plan are also key. If there are ideas that don't make it into the final plan, it's important to acknowledge the reasons for that as well.
Once you've done all the work to set up the plan, continuing clear channels of cross-functional communication through the quarter is essential. Often, the hard part is staying aligned—not getting aligned. Having a dashboard where anyone can see progress on cross-functional priorities and collaborate across teams is hugely beneficial. Our clients love using Rhythm software to link priorities across teams and stay aligned on how the work is going throughout the quarter—from the high-level strategic initiatives right down to the tactical action steps.
I hope some of these ideas are helpful in aligning your teams to achieve your most important projects!
Need help with your planning process? Learn how we can help here

Jessica Wishart


Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images