Habits are the most effective component of internalizing and mastering a skill. While leading a cross-functional team, there are several habits that you can practice daily that should lead to better outcomes for the team.
These are all predicated on addressing the challenges of cross-functional leadership identified in this article.
Set an example at least once
You already know what behaviors you want your team to embrace: collaboration, communication, initiative, and so on. You probably have additional behaviors you’d like them to improve, specific to your team and its goals.
Outside of giving people the coaching and direction they need to work towards those goals, the best thing you can do to support those behavioral goals is to set an example.
Think of one goal you have set for the team and identify at least one example you can set today.
If you are striving to increase the communication across functional disciplines, take a moment today to start a conversation with representatives from two different areas (like functional and technical.) Ask each party what they are most excited about and what they have found most daunting.
Then ask each of them if they heard something from the other party they think they can help with, or conversely, they didn’t really understand and would like more information about.
This is just one example of how you can quickly set the example for dialog between team members, while also showing your own commitment to open communication.
Talk to people more often than you need to, for shorter than you are used to
If you are mindful or not distracting or micromanaging your team, I applaud you. But there is a subtle difference between the micromanaging or distracting conversation and the helpful bridge.
A short check-in daily to see if your team has any interesting insights that might be best shared, or if they need some support to remove roadblocks, makes it less likely things will sit unattended and fester.
I enjoy checking in with people, asking how they are, and trying to get a good handle on their thought process. But if you check in regularly, with a very focused and time-limited conversation, you won’t need to make them repeat things often.
You can keep these conversations to 5 minutes, and tack them on to the end of other meetings so it’s not disruptive. Let the team know you are doing this, and that the intent is to connect the dots of insights between team members rather than simply checking in on work.
As you hold these focused chats, you will find people feel more comfortable. They’ll also know exactly what to spotlight in the conversation.
I think of these as similar to scrums in Agile. As everyone gets used to the time-constrained nature of the meetings, they get better at managing the time and scope of their responses and the conversation overall.
Get to a serious understanding of their skills and their drivers
Getting to know your team takes time. It helps to have a focus in your efforts to understand them.
A serious understanding differs from surface knowledge because it is more intricate. It suggests you know the “why” in addition to the “what” and “how.”
While understanding what the members of your cross-functional team can do, figuring out what motivates them and drove them to that skill set means you can find opportunities to leverage more than what they know: you can connect with what they care about.
Try to bake conversations into your efforts to understand what is part of their motivation, and how they like using their skills to solve problems.
The better you understand their toolset and their personal drivers, the better you can connect them with situations where they will thrive.
Find the smallest thing that will get meaningful results
Cross-functional teams often deal with a complex array of tasks and parallel efforts. It’s easy to lose the connection to the underlying goal and miss what will have the biggest impact.
Making a daily habit of zooming out and thinking through how these parallel efforts connect provides a valuable perspective.
Schedule time to do this, perhaps after a scrum or status meeting, or a review of the outstanding tasks in whatever tool you use for project management.
Then, consider what is the highest value, lowest effort thing that can be done. This might not bet what people are focusing on. This exercise means you can call attention to this critical task in your conversation.
It may not be something you do right now, but it might be something you work towards.
The exercise alone has a way of keeping your priorities in line, and you might find some shortcuts to quick wins.
Introduce the outsider
The nature of cross-functional teams is that some people will often feel like outsiders. Being able to connect those people into the team daily will speed up the team’s ability to work as a cohesive unit.
Every day, you can make a habit of assessing the interactions of the team and figuring out how comfortable individual team members seem to be.
Are they sharing their opinions and speaking up in meetings? Are they representing their domain of expertise when the opportunity arises?
Take stock of this briefly every day, and when you identify team members that seem or feel removed, take small steps to bring them in.
Schedule time to highlight their area to the team and ensure that others from different disciplines see how their expertise connects to the whole effort.
Speak with the team members (perhaps during other conversations listed above) and see what you can do to remove any blockers they are feeling.
This process of integration will happen somewhat naturally, but your daily attention to it can really speed up the process.
Making your habits work
You can practice each of these habits daily, at the expense of only a few minutes. Stack them on other activities or daily habits, like stand-up meetings or check-ins.
By building them into your routine, you are creating habits and behaviors that specifically address some of the common leadership challenges on cross-functional teams, and they will build the guardrails for your own leadership behaviors.