How Can Global Management Programs Enable Professionals Think At Cross-Functional Level?

Program participants should also be encouraged to visit different enterprises that effectively use cross-functional collaborative models for their success.

At the turn of the 20th century when the industrial revolution led to automation the management concept of division by labour was perpetuated and popularized by companies like Ford Motors. This became the management norm for almost the entire century. Under this principle, work in a factory, manufacturing system or organization was divided based on the operational functions, and the cruel world of departmental silos ruled the roost. Humour writer Scott Adams became famous for making fun of this illegitimate and inefficient world of cubicles. 

However, the last two to three decades has seen the rise of the connected enterprise in an increasingly connected world. This has given rise to new and more efficient management systems including the “Lattice Framework”, adopted by the successful multi-billion-dollar Brazilian company, Semco. This company run by the maverick Ricardo Semler applies the concept of cross-functionality to effectively set targets and consistently achieve them. From a world obsessed with silos, divisions and departments which were very often in conflict and at crossfires with each other, we have come a long way to explore ultra-modern approaches like Holocracy adopted by the online superstar company Zappos and Humanocracy popularized by London Business School professor, Dr Gary Hamel and adopted by forward-thinking companies like Nucor in steelmaking, Haier in electronics and Cemex in cement manufacturing, to name just a few. These successful enterprises are building a strong case for infusing cross-functional learning in global management programs.

One of the most exciting examples of cross-functional synergy in modern times was demonstrated by the dramatic turnaround of the Nissan Car Company by the inimitable Carlos Ghosn at the turn of this century. When the struggling Japanese car giant agreed on a strategic alliance with the French carmaker Renault, the deal assumed 5.4 billion dollars of Nissan’s debt to be taken over by its strategic partner. Ghosn as the CEO has mandated to turn around the ailing Japanese giant and within two years achieved the almost impossible turnaround and reached record profits. This phenomenal turnaround has been attributed to the mobilization of cross-functional teams across the two organizations, under the able guidance and leadership of Carlos. 

These and other examples across the world have now illustrated a powerful case for bringing diverse departments and teams to work together. Taking a cue, a few leading business schools across the world are embedding cross-functional learning to integrate diverse and disparate functions into a synergistic whole. This novel approach is different from the conventional focus on electives and specializations only. The managers and leaders of today’s world need a cross-functional mindset that helps them to appreciate the interconnected nature of business. This approach requires a conscientious, continuous effort of training the young participants of global management programs to think cross-functionally. Good MBA programs achieve this by training the young professional’s mind with a series of cross-functional simulations that help them see the inevitable linkages and interdependencies of different functions, teams and departments. 

A whole body of contemporary research validates the enormous benefits of cross-functional collaborations, which among other things include increased innovation, a faster rate of change and enhanced performance efficacy. A recent World Economic Forum report identifies cross-functional collaboration as a key leadership skill in this current decade. In addition to simulations, students and participants need to be exposed to multiple cross-functional case studies from companies across the world. Even during the COVID pandemic situation, one of the most effective methods to address uncertainties and increase productivity has been to introduce cross-functional collaborations. This new mindset must be promoted and practised in all global management programs. Program participants should also be encouraged to visit different enterprises that effectively use cross-functional collaborative models for their success. In addition to the above, professors from diverse business disciplines come together to collaborate and co-teach on a strategic business case bringing the multiple functional perspectives into a systemic whole. 

The contemporary world with paradigm shifts in management and leadership is looking for a synergistic model that encapsulates the essence of human collaboration and taps this collective energy to enhance organizational effectiveness. Business schools running global management programs need to understand this imperative and prepare students with a cross-functional, collaborative mindset, using the suggestions given above to prepare them for a VUCA world filled with Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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