28 September 2016

Tear down information silos to release the power of cross-functional teams

Today, many organizations focus their energy and resources on changing and updating outward facing systems and processes, such as eCommerce, search engine optimization, and merchandizing. This is completely justified, since the speed of change in the marketplace is faster than ever. However, at the same time, the lack of high-quality product content being directed to these outward-facing systems is inhibiting the creation of a great customer experience. The root cause is mostly found on the inside of the organization, evident in a dysfunctional innovation and product marketing process that cannot support the outward facing initiatives. As Jack Welch so aptly noted, “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.”

Challenges of sharing information
A cross-functional team is a group of people with different functional expertise working toward a common goal. Cross-functional teams are significantly different from teams that are aligned on one functional level and are made up of representatives from a wide array of specialties, each with a unique expertise and opinions. Although this diversity is one of the key strengths of cross-functional teams, it can contribute to challenges in management and efficiency.

According to the Harvard Business Review, cross-functional teams often fail because the organization lacks a systemic approach to information sharing. Different departments often rely on different technologies for collaboration and information management. For example, engineers work in a product lifecycle management (PLM) system to manage product development and engineering drawings. Marketers may deploy a digital asset management (DAM) or a content management system (CMS) to manage digital assets, marketing content, and internal processes. All too often these people and systems are completely disconnected, leaving Microsoft Excel and email to act as the glue. I think that another reason cross-functional teams may fail is because these disconnected information silos cement the organizational silos.

inRiver Team Collaboration
Harnessing tribal knowledge
Tribal knowledge is commonly defined as a set of unwritten rules or information known by a group of individuals within an organization, but not common to others. In most cases this knowledge is still needed by the whole organization in order to produce a quality product or service in an efficient way. The root cause of tribal knowledge is oftentimes found in information silos that result in a compartmentalized organization. However, there is good news. By deploying the appropriate tools and processes, tribal knowledge can be converted into company property in such a way that it can be re-used and re-purposed everywhere.

The need for a single information platform
Having disconnected information silos makes working together in cross-functional teams more difficult. Therefore, to effectively collaborate across departments, an omni-channel organization needs to leverage a single platform for the whole organization—one that supports the cross-functional team process, leverages diversity, and enables teamwork. Successfully implementing such a platform consolidates all the knowledge and capabilities of all the roles in all teams. Most importantly it will support the customer-facing initiatives with high-quality product information, speeding time to market, and reducing cost.

My advice to companies that are serious about creating a great customer and product experience is that they should consider investing in a product marketing hub with support for cross-functional teams—preferably before investing in the customer-facing tools that would otherwise be hampered by the lack of high-quality product content.

Johan Boström, Co-founder and Evangelist, inRiver

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