Cross-Functional Learning


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Cross Functional Skills Benefit Employees & The Bottom Line

By Lisa Woods (1258 words)
Posted in Professional Development on October 20, 2016

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Sometimes we enjoy working with others, sometimes…not so much. It’s human nature to rely on a personal exchange in order to get along with people & work cohesively. Simply put however, personal exchanges are not enough to elevate an individual’s career, nor bring substantial value to the bottom line. Here’s why: Business actions, simple or complex, can become personality struggles when a professional connection does not exist.  Those personal exchanges we rely on are not enough. That’s why the real goal and challenge for all of us, is to build professional connections


So how do you build professional connections that overcome personality struggles? By developing Cross Functional Skills you will be able to create those professional relationships in order to get things done, get better results, and integrate your needs into the overall organization. That’s right, your needs! Professional relationships are built on respect as the primary motivator, more so than likability, providing greater opportunity for you to add value as a better communicator and resource for your organization.


To understand the concept, let’s first explain the difference between developing Functional vs. Cross-Functional skills.


When Developing Your Functional Skills you take action to improve your job, get others to buy into your ideas, as well as participate in activities that elevate your own exposure within your organization or field. 


Some actions you can take to develop Functional Skills…

  • Create tools to proactively communicate your information: share goals and results with others.

  • Make an effort to teach others: explain why certain things are important to you and the company; helping others to understand your role.

  • Listen to feedback: seek out feedback from those you work with (your boss, other departments, your employees and your customers). Understand the needs they have when working with you and identify what you could do better to support them.

  • Participate in continuous education, seminars, etc.… to update your skills.


When Developing Your Cross Functional Skills you take action to study the functional skills of other jobs or professions in order to develop a more well rounded view of the business. It is not enough to look at the people you already interact with. Instead, you must learn about ALL business functions. Every aspect of business relates to your job. By developing your skills cross-functionally, you will be able to identify what key professional relationships exist, and how to improve upon them.


Some actions you can take to develop Cross Functional Skills…

  • Learn the goals and results of other departments or other levels in your company’s hierarchy.

  • Learn what is important to other departments and individuals in your company (their needs). Understand different roles and the impact they have on the business.

  • Establish a working understanding of what each functional area of your business should be doing and how they should work together.


There Are Three Major Benefits to Developing Cross Functional Skills

  1. You will know how to talk with others so that they listen to you. 


  2. You will understand how to show others that you respect the value they bring and communicate with them in terms they will be able to understand and act upon.


  3. Another benefit of cross-functional development pertains to management and leadership. Nobody has expertise in every field, but leaders are responsible for managing people within various business roles.  If you are managing others, you should have a general understanding not only of their responsibilities, but the expectation they should be setting for themselves. Managers can use cross-functional skills as a means to set expectations for their employees.


  4. The value of your personality and ability to get along with others is huge…and should not be taken for granted. But once you develop cross-functional skills, your value becomes an expertise that trumps personality. You bring value to your organization by creating yourself as a central point resource. Very few people understand your business, how things work, how things get done effectively (this point can’t be stressed enough).  If you can provide that value to all areas of your company, you will set yourself up for more responsibility and future promotions.


Now, one question that always comes up on this subject is: “How do I get cross-functional knowledge without aggravating people?” It is a very valid question. Don’t snoop around by asking questions people don’t want to answer…you’re not a spy. What you are trying to do is chronicle process flows, understand the business and try to integrate what you are doing to become more service oriented. 

  • Be honest with people. 

  • Explain to others that you want to learn the business. 

  • Ask for a formal sit-down with people outside of your area of expertise to review your understanding of what happens in each department and find out if your views are accurate-having them fill in the blanks. 


If you approach the topic as someone that wants to learn, instead of someone that wants to judge, the likelihood that others will spend the time teaching you greatly improves.  Make sure that as you develop your full view of the business, you go back to those that helped you and share your findings. This again will set you up as a resource for pulling others together.


An MBA may teach you well rounded business concepts, but by developing your cross-functional skills & the professional relationships that come with along them, you will propel your value within the organization, improve your effectiveness, the effectiveness of those around you, and ultimately, the bottom line. 


Putting this concept into action is always easier when you have a roadmap, especially if you are trying to influence a company culture that supports this level of communication. Here is a great tool designed for this process:

The Cross Functional Business: Beyond Teams-How to Drive Innovation, Accountability & Growth Across the ENTIRE Organization




Written by Lisa WoodsPresident ManagingAmericans.com   Lisa, a thought leader in management and leadership, founded ManagingAmericans.com in 2011 after 20 years successfully leading and driving growth in the corporate world. Her objective is to help mentor and develop professionals to be better leaders, managers, team players and individual contributors in a “do-it-yourself” learning environment using unique & practical tools to support the process. With a B.A. in Corporate Communication and an M.B.A., Lisa’s career spans from Global Marketing to General Management and has worked all over the world. Her publications include “4 Essential Skills for Leaders, Managers & High Potentials” © 2013, and “The Cross Functional Business: Beyond Teams” © 2015.


Do you have a question for Lisa?  Post it in our Executive Leadership Community, she will be happy to help: Ask an Expert



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