By Sarah Henson
As technology evolves, organisations need to remain agile. The rapid development of generative AI has required organisations to become more collaborative than ever before in order to take full advantage of everything this revolutionary technology has to offer. AI is enabling greater innovation, and creating new ways for different departments to adopt a collaborative mindset and work together on novel projects, even in business areas that are traditionally siloed from each other.
Change is never easy, particularly large organisational shifts like the ones that can be expected through the adoption of generative AI. The nature of some roles may change, along with established methods that many employees will have become accustomed to over the years. However, with the proper learning and development initiatives in place, such as group coaching, the collaborative mindset can be continued long term and steps can be taken to break down organisational silos.
New ways of thinking about organisational collaboration
Amid the hustle and bustle of day-to-day work, siloed thinking can become incredibly common. It becomes difficult to keep colleagues in other departments aware of the key focuses of each team. However, as technology develops and the economy changes, it will become more important than ever to break down these walls and figure out how to work together to solve common problems and reach shared goals.
To make this a reality, leaders should look to introduce a cross-functional approach to help them navigate the rapidly evolving environment and become more agile. According to a survey from Deloitte, 83% of companies that considered themselves ‘digitally maturing’ reported using cross-functional teams. Digitally maturing refers to organisations that are currently going through a digital transformation, adopting new technologies to see them through disruption and continue to be nimble. During the pandemic, a significant number of companies found themselves in a situation where people from across the organisation had to collaborate to navigate the adoption of new technologies (such as video conferencing software and LMS platforms) to keep up their normal operations in a remote setting, or risk falling behind. This is just one example of how cross-functional thinking in response to change is required to reach success – but really it can be applied to any major change that employees from different departments will have to navigate together.
Being prepared for anything prevents stagnation within a business, and enables organisations to turn challenges into opportunities for growth. The benefits of cross-functional working are broadly known and accepted, but it takes preparation on behalf of leaders to implement this throughout the workforce. Different departments with diverse goals, such as HR and IT for example, contain employees with a range of skill sets and expertise – so it takes strong communication from leadership to make seamless collaboration on joint projects a reality.
Building bridges to cross-functional people development
Large changes in organisational behaviour must have clear motivations from the outset that are directly connected to the objectives and values of the organisation, or cross-functional working might not be successful. It requires direct, effective communication from leaders to the rest of the organisation. Miscommunication is a breeding ground for conflict that could delay projects and have an adverse effect on employee wellbeing.
It can be difficult to understand new ways of working, particularly when employees with different backgrounds and skill sets are working together for the first time. This could stem from misunderstanding technical terminology, to approaching problem solving in different ways, to misaligning on timelines for deliverables. In addition, everyone has their own personal and departmental goals, and a shared project can be seen as a distraction.
Leaders should make it clear that experiencing bumps along the road isn’t a failing of the team or the collaborative approach, but can be caused by a lack of preparation for the change that employees are experiencing. Prioritising learning and development programmes that equip employees with uniquely cross-functional skill sets can empower them to thrive in this type of environment.
Collaboration as a tool to handle change
Leaders must take situations like this into their own hands and proactively introduce collaborative learning and development programmes into their organisations that help employees navigate change, break down silos and work together with ease.
Collective approaches to L&D, such as group coaching, can facilitate this process. This involves carving out time for small groups of colleagues to exchange insights, discuss common challenges and create solutions together. Group coaching typically reveals that peers, although working in different departments, are often experiencing similar challenges. The combined knowledge that comes as a result can unlock new ways of thinking, help workers build support groups across the organisation, and encourage a mindset of continuous learning across the career cycle. This process can also instil a culture of communication and collaboration across the organisation which can be applied to future cross-functional projects.
Breaking down silos is only possible when leaders focus on cross-functional collaboration, particular in response to organisational change. Building a strong, collective approach to people development is a key way to make this a reality – ensuring employees are adequately prepared for any changes that come their way by working together with new colleagues and developing an understanding of each person’s unique skill set. Even amid organisational shifts, such as the adoption of generative AI, setting a firm foundation for effective collaboration will help a business move through any challenging periods with agility.
About the Author
Sarah Henson is a Senior Behavioural Scientist at CoachHub who has a passion for problem solving and making a difference. She is a people development leader with experience across a range of disciplines, including coaching and organisational development. Prior to CoachHub, she was Senior Learning & Development Manager at De Beers Group.