As companies continue to flatten their organizational structures in order to share information more easily and respond to volatility in the marketplace, cross-functional teams are playing a major role in breaking down barriers between previously siloed departments. The pharma industry stands to benefit immensely from these teams. Establishing cross-functional teams that consist of members from diverse areas of the business allows pharma companies to leverage their expertise on specific issues that could have a dramatic impact on the company as a whole.
But building effective cross-functional teams requires more than selecting the right team members (although that is a very important step). Since these teams stand outside the typical structure of most departments, determining how to set expectations regarding how the team will function and what it aims to accomplish is vital. Without setting clear expectations, it will be difficult to foster accountability.
Identify Clear Goals
Since cross-functional teams bring together people from different departments and functions, it’s important to clearly establish why the team has been brought together in the first place. When team members come from different functions, they often bring agendas or priorities that are conflicting. This is especially difficult in the pharma industry because companies are so large and multi-faceted. Ideally, these teams should be able to break down the barriers between stakeholders to accomplish difficult objectives like accelerating product time to market and identifying potential problems before they become an issue.
But when a cross-functional team doesn’t have a clearly defined goal, it can become unfocused and ineffective. Collaboration becomes difficult because members lack the common ground needed to facilitate communication and trust. Goals should be laid out and agreed upon early on, ensuring that everyone is committed to the same objectives, even if it’s not immediately clear how the team will accomplish them. This is a critical first step in setting expectations for a cross-functional team.
Define Roles and Responsibilities
In order to realize those goals, cross-functional teams need to establish the roles and responsibilities of their members. Different functions may have different ways of working and are often accustomed to different structures. Someone from the sales or finance teams, for instance, works with a set of processes and assumptions that may be unfamiliar to someone pulled from the research side of the company. There will be questions about who has decision-making authority in the absence of consensus, as well as what information needs to be shared with the other members of the team.
As with goal-setting, role clarity is important to setting expectations for cross-functional team success. When roles and responsibilities are vaguely defined, team members may waste their time working on tasks that someone else has already completed or come into conflict with the rest of the team when work doesn’t get finished due to confusion over who is responsible for it. For cross-functional teams in pharma , establishing this structure is important so team members don’t have to worry about handling issues that lay outside their area of expertise and instead trust the rest of the team to hold up their end of the collaborative process.
Setting all the expectations in the world won’t amount to much without accountability. Successful cross-functional teams have processes in place to assess team performance on a collective and individual level. When the team is formed, it’s important to identify the key performance indicators (KPI) that will be tracked over time to provide an objective measure of team effectiveness. For a cross-functional pharma team, this could be a measure of how quickly new drugs move through the development and approval cycle or how research costs are impacted when new processes are implemented. Tracking performance not only makes sure the team is delivering on its objectives, but also identifies problem areas where the team can improve its internal processes to boost performance.
For individual team members, it’s helpful for team leaders to establish periodic checkpoints to assess their progress. This allows them to give and receive feedback as well as obtain any additional support they may need to follow through on a task. Instead of waiting until a deadline arrives (or passes), teams can adjust to help someone overcome any challenges they’re encountering. If a team member is routinely struggling to meet expectations, they can also be replaced before overall team performance suffers.
Cross-functional teams are well-suited to the unique and multifaceted demands of the pharma industry. By establishing diverse teams with the flexibility to handle a wide array of challenges, pharma companies can utilize their resources more effectively and develop innovative solutions that can carry them to future success. Setting clear expectations for these teams from the beginning will help them to be even more effective.