In traditional strategic planning, executive leadership gathers in a room and outlines the future. What are key initiatives, objectives, and goals for the year? The fodder for this discussion is often drawn from the previous year’s performance.  This is called ‘top-down planning.’

However there is alternative way to facilitate strategic planning, that provides a more rounded perspective, and, more often than not, a better plan- Cross-functional collaboration and planning.

This process brings together all important departments in the organization who have varying functional expertise. Together, they are able to tackle any of the specific challenges that the organization needs to solve. With cross-functional planning, more perspectives help spur innovation and promote the sharing of information and expertise across the organization. You also level the playing field between leadership and the employees who execute the strategy. This method of strategic planning promotes a flatter organizational structure but can be chaotic if it is not structured properly.

Here are six ways to help increase cross-functional collaboration and planning.

1. Consider and Involve all Relevant Departments for Business Initiatives

Imagine one of your key business initiatives is to reduce customer churn by 10%. With the “what” identified, the next step is to determine the “how”. How will we reduce churn by 10%? What actions will we take to impact this number?

When planning the “how”, first include the departments that interface with the customer from on-boarding through renewal.

So who all contributed and to what degree?

First the Marketing Team may have originated the lead and set expectations through marketing messaging.

Then the Sales Team worked to understand the customer challenges and provide a solution.

The Customer Success Team then took on the onboarding and ongoing support needed to delight the customers.

Finally, the Finance department handled any billing and collection needs.

By bringing in all these different departments and teams, who act as touch points for customers, then your organization can consider all possible opportunities for process improvement to reduce churn. Only through leveraging cross-functional collaboration can one understand the connection points between problems. With the understanding in place, a solution can be identified.

Thankfully this model can apply to most initiatives. Involve all stakeholders who are directly and indirectly involved for a 360-degree perspective.

2. Create a Steering Committee with Cross-Functional Representation

So how do you ensure the right people are involved and that it’s not a chore to gather the needed people?

You will want to establish a steering committee to promote discussion around key issues experienced in each department. You will need to provide a collaborative environment for stakeholders  and departments to explore problems, create connections between problems, and brainstorm ways teams can collaborate to solve the problems. This ensures that agreed-upon initiatives have the broadest impact across the organization.

Try to select leaders from each department and work to involve people from across all levels of the organization for the most rounded perspective.

3. Encourage Regular Collaboration Between Departments in a Structured Environment

Establishing regular meetings and communication between stakeholders across departments is the best way to root out impediments to success in a timely manner. While having organizational representation during planning is important, it shouldn’t stop there. You will want to encourage members of the steering committee to regularly discuss key business issues by scheduling bi-weekly or monthly review meetings.

Between these meetings, you should also establish a system for communication that allows for ad-hoc planning and collaboration around business issues in real-time.

4. Establish Periodic Review Sessions for Departments to Meet and Discuss Progress and Impediments

While cross-functional meetings are important, don’t forget about inter-department communication. If these meetings aren’t happening already, then you should establish regular departmental meetings in order to discuss progress on key initiatives. Consider a cadence to occasionally include company leadership and the steering committee as observers.

These meetings should discuss departmental issues and allow for complete transparency into operations. Long-term, this helps encourage a culture of continuous improvement.

5. Create a System for Shared Resource Allocation on Shared Initiatives

It is common for departmental managers to blame lack of resources or budget constraints. Why did we miss our target? Well, there wasn’t enough resources.

As discussed in the example above there was at least four departments that were involved in successfully attaining this information. As necessary, these four departments should share their resources, time, and energy to ensure success.

Encouraging shared resource allocation gives every department a chance while increasing the number of resources available for success.

6. Create a Shared Deliverable Calendar to Ensure Timely Execution of Initiatives

The above steps, 1-5, can help to establish systems for cross-functional teams to meet, share resources, and outline key shared initiatives. But the final step is here to help promote transparency to encourage timely execution.

Create a shared deliverable, or dashboard, that outlines key objectives and tasks, due dates, and accountable parties. This ensures that teams across the organization know what needs to be done, by when, and by whom.

This sense of shared success across the organization creates a culture of cross-functional accountability. A culture that translates well when entering your next planning cycle.

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