Creating a Cross-Functional Workplace
How manufacturers can develop a culture that delivers inspiration and innovation.
The HVAC industry is highly regulated with stringent requirements set by countless government organizations. The number and frequency of regulations has been increasing—and the overwhelming number of changes are forcing manufacturers to make frequent updates to their product offerings to comply. In fact, the pace of regulatory change has increased two-fold over the last two decades with the window between changes shortening between each iteration.
Tearing Down Silos
When monumental changes such as this arise, companies must rethink their “business as usual” mentality and shift their focus towards how to be more innovative and productive on a much shorter cycle time without sacrificing quality. The siloed style of working that companies often adopt does little to promote a workplace that encourages innovation and speed-to-market. Bringing all areas of the company together to focus on a mission-critical goal gives every employee a vested interest in its success.
Creating a work environment that promotes innovation while simultaneously maintaining structure and process can be challenging, since these two ideas are often at odds with each other. Bringing in stakeholders from all areas of the company during each phase of a project drives teams to engage and debate throughout the entire process, from conception to delivery. This allows problems to be solved earlier in the process in areas such as performance, quality, component selection and qualification and—most importantly—standard operating procedures (SOPs) for assembly and manufacturing.
More than the Sum of Its Parts
Rather than simply “establishing a vision,” cross-functional collaboration challenges employees to see organizational strategy as more than the sum of its parts. It may seem counterintuitive to involve manufacturing, continuous improvement and operations (including those on the production line) at the start of the product development process. However, establishing collaboration across cross-functional teams plays a key role in ensuring optimal product design includes driving innovation in the manufacturing process for optimal product cost and quality.
Cross-functional teams should be included in all phases of the process, including the definition of product requirements, design and component selection as well as engineering and manufacturing trial runs. Cross-functional teams should extend past the internal organization to include key suppliers who can provide guidance on how their products are being applied during design and in the factory. Leveraging the expertise of key suppliers leads to improved reliability of the product. In addition, the co-location of the team further enhances the collaboration and innovation.
It has been clearly demonstrated that using a structured, disciplined approach of cross-functional product development does not stifle innovation. Rather, it has the potential to deliver award-winning products to market. Of course, cross-collaboration is not limited to a product manufacturing environment. For example, after two years of evaluating team performance, Google discovered group collaboration was the best way for each department to work together for the mutual benefit and success of the organization. The key to readjusting its previous business model was to encourage active participation in an environment that offered a level playing field for all employees. Once the “threat of failure” was removed, workers felt more empowered to share their expertise—regardless of their position within the company.
Benefits of a Horizontal Org Chart
Increasing the company’s overall success is a key driver in workplace collaboration. However, there are also many other tangible benefits derived from that success. As stated earlier, a collaborative business model can lead to faster innovation by bringing together diverse interests and viewpoints to solve a problem. Keeping everyone abreast of project milestones, challenges and opportunities—while encouraging participation and feedback—can drive improvements to both product and process.
Working in a team environment can also allow employees to learn from each other’s expertise and, in turn, develop new skills. This rings true in all areas of the company. For example, design engineers can gain a better understanding of the challenges facing workers on the assembly line, which can help streamline production costs through enhanced product design. In addition, new employees can learn about the company faster when placed on collaborative teams.
Cross-collaboration can also lead to greater employee satisfaction. Workers who feel valued for their input and respected for their individual skill set are more likely to stay engaged with the company. This can lead to an increase in retention, which translates into a more experienced and skilled staff. Greater worker satisfaction ultimately leads to more satisfied customers.
Embracing the Big Picture View
While it can be difficult to take a few steps back and evaluate the overall workflow of a company, creating a cross-functional environment will yield many benefits to the companies that embrace the process. Breaking down the siloes of “business as usual” will deliver ongoing process improvements and allow employees to understand how their work relates to the bigger picture of what the company is working to achieve. Innovation, inspiration and teamwork will lead the culture of the company delivering faster speed-to-market, higher standards of quality and greater employee satisfaction. Creating a cross-functional workplace is truly at the heart of continued success for the manufacturing industry.