One of the ways to differentiate leadership is to differentiate mindset and expertise. Cross functional teams are a common representation of such differentiation and have become increasingly more important to the success of organizations. As individual leaders, it is also advantageous to develop a cross functional mindset.
Cross functional teams working towards a common goal have more influence in an organization than any one leader individually. Similarly, a leader with a cross functional mindset will have more value to add to an organization than an individual with expertise in any one single area of business. Cross functional, by definition, means something inclusive of multiple skill or expertise working towards the same goal or within the same organization.
The areas of expertise may include finance, marketing, human resources, operations, customer experience, etc. In the example of a cross functional team, the team is comprised of members from multiple departments. From a leader’s perspective, it would involve training and development in multiple areas outside of the primary leader’s role.
For instance, a Human Resources Director may earn a certificate in finance, attend educational workshops in marketing, or spend time learning from key leaders in operations. Acquiring knowledge and skills outside of the human resources specialty creates a cross functional state of mind. It gives that leader a more global and unique perspective. Engaging in a cross functional team can give leaders a better understanding of how an individual’s work contributes to the company's overall goals and provide ideas on where to go when answers or resources are needed.
Leaders with a cross functional mindset tend to be strongly connected to growth mindset and have a strong desire for learning. Having a cross functional mindset requires a degree of curiosity and often puts leaders in a position to be innovative and create conditions for innovation with others.
A cross functional mindset will also make leaders more collaborative. Collaboration enables and accelerates continuous improvement in an organization. The more leaders there are with a cross functional mindset, the more effective the collaboration. Leaders will have the ability to look from the lens of multiple key aspects of the business and work together on problem solving.
Not every leader will be successful leading with a cross functional state of mind. There are several skills a leader must possess including:
· Effective Communication/Communication Agility
· Ability to influence and be influenced
· Listening Skills
· Capacity for learning
· Growth Mindset
For those who are able to differentiate themselves, there are benefits to being a cross functional leader. Gaining expertise in additional areas will allow for better communication with those in other disciplines. This can also help leaders diversify their network and provide increased presence and visibility.
The global perspective and improved alignment with other areas in the organization enables more effective decision making. It provides a more effective way to leverage organizational resources. And, it creates additional operational readiness that cannot be replicated with untrained leaders or those placed temporarily in the role.
For organizations that want to differentiate themselves, it makes sense to have both teams and leaders reflective of a cross functional state of mind.