Procurement Leaders Blog Post: Cross-Functional Teaming is Easier Said Then Done

Continuing my reporting of the Procurement Leaders meeting in Miami, I sat in on a very interesting session that included three professionals from very different walks of life:

  • Captain Harry Thetford – Defense Logistics Agency
  • Robin Shahani – CPO, TD Ameritreade
  • Cynthia Dautrich, CPO from Kimberly Clark

Each of these individuals had an excellent perspective on what cross-functional teaming really means. Too often, people throw out the term loosely, without really thinking about what cross-functional teaming truly implies. In particular, management will often say “Oh yeah – we use cross-functional teams.” But what happens in these team meetings is what really matters – and a lot of it depends on the behavior of the individuals, the culture of the organization, and the leadership mandate for the team to develop a goal and the resources to carry out that goal.

Captain Thetford noted that in the military, it is always a challenge to get these teams to work as they are envisions.

“For cross-functional teams, it is hard to impose collaboration. It requires a lot of communication. There are two views of collaboration – and leadership may think we are collaborative, but workers may think differently. Open offices are important – but open minds are more important. It is about hiring the right people with the right fit and experience – and I’d rather have a jack of all trades, then an expert, working on a team.

A really important component, to begin with, is whether people actually show up for the meeting! You demonstrate collaboration by being there, and being part of the team. If you aren’t there and you don’t show up – then you aren’t part of the team. We were working on a new project, and it was important the supplier be there, to ensure the money was going to the right people, and to be involved in every meeting and every action. Procurement is their own organization and often doesn’t see the need for going to team meetings, and if you don’t show up, people don’t take you seriously. And being there upfront from a logistics and procurement perspective becomes key. Having people who have the authority to make it happen is key.   And the right attitude is also important. If an expert says you know how to solve the problem – then maybe they are thinking it is too easy. There should be a learning curve, as every problem is unique and requires a different approach. Even if you have done the problem before – challenge yourself on how can we do it better this time! Then this becomes a great forum for innovation.”

Robin Shahani from TD Ameritrade offered a different view.

“I’m a big fan of the trusted advisor framework– which involves having the credibility to show stakeholders you have the right expertise, and the right intimacy and the right relationship when you show up at a cross-functional team meeting. Procurement has to have a demonstrated record of success and expertise to bring value of the table, and this is divided by the amount of self-interest. The less self-interest, the better. You can’t come in and say – ‘here is the policy, but actually I’m only here to help’.   There has to be a reason for the team to pull you in. At TD we try to pull people in when we need them on a targeted basis. We identify what the team is doing, and ensure that we assemble the best people together for the problem. It is important to be able to be agile and pull people together on projects on an as-needed basis, to look at an opportunity and bring the right people together quickly on an as-needed basis. If you think about it, the reason a a startup can move more quickly is that they are 60 people, not 600. Start-ups are more agile. And what you see is that when start-ups are acquired by a large company, they end up disappearing in the ocean of the big copany. Big companies take so much longer to do things. They bring together ross-functional teams because it is political, to make sure everyone has a voice, not because there is a need to bring in the right expertise together.

Successful cross-functional teams also need to understand the headwinds and tailwinds they face. For example, if we meet with another function, who may not know anything about our business, and we don’t feel that they will run with the idea, then we don’t have confidence in their contributions. It is important to see ambassadors from Procurement in the same way, Do they understand the business – and do they really get it? ”

Cynthia Dautrich also added another dimension of thought to the subject of cross-functional teams.

:Empathy and understanding regarding what the other party is going through is important on a team. Actions speak louder then words. This means jumping into action as part of the team, and ensuring that everyone agrees and is aligned on what we are here to accomplish. It is also important to develop an end to end measure of what we are trying to achieve. We can focus on the customer – and is the measure being on time and in-full? To achieve these things means we need to help procurement to build confidence and understand how to be a good ambassador. We have to be clear on what skills we expect our people to bring to the table, and if you are hiring the right people we will have greater confidence. But this also means we need to coach, mentor, and train people along the way, so they feel equipped.”

These insights left a lot for people in the audience with new ideas to take back to their jobs next week…