The pharmaceutical industry has long operated with a “silo mentality,” in which multiple departments work independently of one another and communicate infrequently. This organizational structure may have made sense in the past, but today’s competitive environment demands a level of speed and efficiency it simply can’t accommodate. Now, pharma companies are under intense pressure to get products to market faster than ever in order to drive profits and deliver value to their customers.
Cross-functional teams offer tremendous advantages to companies willing to incorporate them into their ongoing operations. By creating teams that represent a cross-section of the organization, pharma companies can accelerate their operations and break down the traditional boundaries between key stakeholders. They can also identify potential problems faster and ensure that products are better suited to the needs of the market. This can help to avoid expensive failures like Exubera and Benlysta, both of which began as promising, first-in-class treatments but wound up falling far short of expectations due to a lack of commercial and market input during the development process.
There are several best practices that organizations can follow to provide support for these teams once they’re established:
Establish Shared Goals
Unlike a traditional team within a single department, cross-functional teams need to have clearly-defined goals that explain why the team members were brought together in the first place. Since each member comes from a different department or field, they may bring conflicting agendas or visions of what needs to be done with them. Without establishing common ground and identifying what goals the team is trying to accomplish for the organization, productive collaboration will be difficult to achieve. The very act of defining the team’s goals can also help to create the consensus needed for building trust between team members.
Encourage Diversity of Thought
In the context of the pharma industry, team members will often bring very different perspectives to the table. Someone from the marketing department, for instance, will view ongoing product development very differently from a research scientist or salesperson. The purpose of a pharma cross-functional team is to improve efficiencies and shorten development cycles to get products to market faster. Bringing disparate departments together at the beginning of this process can help identify and resolve potential issues much faster than a traditional siloed development cycle. In order to work properly, though, team members must be willing and able to make contributions throughout the process. By encouraging members to speak up and share their unique perspectives, organizations can ensure that they’re getting the most out of their cross-functional team building.
Promote Cross-Functional Communication
Communication is critical to any team’s success, but it’s even more essential for cross-functional teams. In many cases, one or more members will be working remotely, which can make collaboration and coordination a challenge. Since team members are drawn from different departments within the organization, their communication styles may be very different. Some departments, for instance, might be overly formal or prefer to use one communication channel, while others are much more open in their discussions and use multiple tools to relay information. Since open and honest discussion helps information flow more freely to key decision makers, the standards and expectations for cross-functional communication need to be established quickly and clearly. After all, having a diversity of thought won’t count for much if no one is engaging in discussion.
Provide and Collect Feedback
Cross-functional teams are ultimately organized to fulfill specific purposes. If they’re not moving toward those goals, then it may be worth rethinking the goals, practices, or composition of those teams. In addition to objective measures like tracking relevant ROI metrics, organizations should also gather and share feedback with team members. Especially in the early days of the team’s formation, people may still be feeling out their role and understanding how to collaborate effectively with others. Feedback can reveal inefficiencies and unproductive practices that might be holding the team back. Gathering this information will also reveal what a team is doing right, allowing organizations to identify and implement best practices when organizing new teams in the future.
With mergers and acquisitions continuing to grow the pharma industry, companies must identify ways to retain the flexibility and adaptability needed for success in today’s competitive economy. By building and supporting cross-functional teams that draw upon assets throughout the organization, companies can enhance efficiency and speed up the product development cycles that the pharma industry needs for sustained success.