Drawing of two hands clasped together filled with words like cooperate and connect

Cross-Functional Team Management: Part I

Have you started to notice “Cross-functional team management skills” required on recent job postings or asked about in interviews? I certainly have. But what does that really mean? It sounds like a clever way of saying ‘you’ll need to manage a group of people who do not report to you.’

There are always at least a few people in any organization that have this special talent. They have an uncanny ability to read between the lines and build on common ground. That common ground may be a teeny-tiny-tiny pinpoint to stand on at first…but it’s a start.

Graphic of two hands clasped in a handshake. Image contains words which are synonymous with "cooperate," like connect, merge, integrate, welcome, and bridge - all things that cross-functional team managers do.

I’m super intrigued by these people. And I observe them intently when I find them. I’d like to think that over my 20+ years in higher ed, I’ve picked up a few good tips from these folks – let’s call them Cross-Functional Team Managers. Here are a few things that I think are worth working on if you, like me, want to be a better Cross-Functional Team Manager.

They Pre-Game.

No, they aren’t tailgating (though I’d bet they’d throw a heck of a tailgate). Rather, they meet with people in advance to hear their comments and concerns on a topic BEFORE the committee meeting. No one wants to be surprised in a meeting with negative or uncomfortable information. So Cross-Functional Team Managers get the information and feedback they need in advance. They don’t dictate what the meeting will be, nor do they make ‘surprise’ announcements. Rather, they seek input and expertise in forming the meeting agenda and content.

They Listen.

I mean really listen. They literally pause and think – in the middle of the meeting. These folks are comfortable with silence to ‘digest’ the information in real time.

They Have Empathy.

About 15 years ago, I read a sidebar in Fortune magazine indicating that empathy would be one of the most needed skills in the workplace over the next decade, but most lacking. Empathy? Now, technology keeps us connected to work 24/7. Which leaves little down time and opportunity for recharging. Good Cross-Functional Team Managers care about people and see them as a whole person. And they express it more often than just on a staff member’s birthday.

They ask how employees are doing – both personally and professionally. And they pay attention to the answer. Also, they notice things – when a colleague has a new shirt, when an employee did a great job, if someone is consistently late to a meeting. Good Cross-Functional Team Managers know who has been caring for an elderly parent or sick child; they make sure to check in on the well-being of the caregiver and patient. They know who is training for a marathon, and they ask them about their preparation. And they know who is working hard, going above and beyond, and would value professional recognition. When they notice and acknowledge these things, they encourage employees–theirs and others on their cross-functional teams–to be the best they can be.

They Build on Each Pinpoint To Get Results.

After finding that pinpoint of common ground to stand on (as described above), they run with it. They get a team of people to move forward, building consensus with intention, so that the pinpoint turns into a full landing pad. This often results in something new and exciting that could not have been accomplished without collaboration across multiple teams.

Who Are Your Model Cross-Functional Team Managers?

At IEHE we love learning about best practices. Think about the Cross-Functional Team Managers you’ve worked with. How can you learn from those folks and model your own professional persona after them? Tell us about them in the comments below. And be sure to check out Part II of our Cross-Functional Team Management series.

The Institute for Effectiveness in Higher Education (IEHE) innovates and improves higher education standards through our strategic research, publicly available resources, and partnerships with colleges and universities. We provide extensive expertise on data strategy, IPEDS, institutional research and student success to drive institutional effectiveness.