Building Cross-Functional Expertise

Even if all your team members had the same jobs for their whole lives, modern organizations are becoming increasingly less siloed. This means that today’s professionals must work well with others both inside and outside their departments, and there’s no better way to collaborate with people than to understand and appreciate what they do.

That’s why team members with cross-functional expertise – or knowing how to do work across a variety of areas – hold greater value for employers than ever before. These are the individuals who your group can rely on to get things done and increase your team’s credibility, reputation and profile in the rest

However, you don’t have to sit back and hope that cross-functional professionals come knocking at your door. Leaders can employ several strategies to encourage broader expertise in their workforces, including the following:

Create your own rotations. Some larger organizations have set rotational programs in place, but if yours doesn’t, you can still build shadowing into your staff’s development plans. Through informal agreements, your people can work onsite with another team for a day or a week, sit in on other departmental meetings or partner on tasks or committees that impact several groups. If rotations are new to you, start in an area with existing synergies.

For example, if you are a human resources leader and your recruiting director frequently hires for customer service functions, have him or her spend some time in your call centers. Not only will he or she improve his or her own customer service skills, but he or she will also develop a new appreciation for what these roles entail. Note that rotations don’t have to take place in a physical environment, and remote ones will be even easier to pull off as videoconferencing and telepresence get more sophisticated and ubiquitous.

It’s even easier to move your people vertically within your department. Using the example of the recruiting director, could he or she shadow team members in the training and development, benefits and onboarding functions? Whether you focus on rotating people horizontally or vertically depends on your principal objective: is your goal mainly to create more well-rounded professionals in your discipline who can cover for each other when necessary, or, with an eye toward succession planning, is it to create versatile leaders, who, overall, are well-equipped to manage the requirements of the future workplace?

Quiz your people on other departments. Make it a priority for your people to gain a complete understanding of what other groups do. Ask them to pretend that they are interviewing for a position in another function and prompt them to study relevant online and offline materials. For instance, do your marketing employees understand how accounts payable operates? This knowledge would certainly help them when they process vendor invoices.

Identify their interests and point them in the right direction. Ask employees about other functions that intrigue them. Perhaps at the beginning of their tenure in the organization, they met people at orientation who went on to work in different disciplines. Suggest that they get back in touch with these individuals and learn more about what they do; as well as training they might undertake to whet their appetite for a new skillset. Emphasize the benefits of cross-training, including an increased likelihood of promotion and enhanced marketability outside the organization.

Want to learn more about how your organization can develop cross-functional expertise? Check out Alexandra Levit’s new book, Humanity Works: Merging Technologies and People for the Workforce of the Future.