Enhancing Collaboration with Cross-Team Accountability

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In the execution of cross-functional initiatives within the revenue organization, sales enablement is often the glue that pulls the efforts of multiple revenue teams together. Responsible for landing corporate initiatives in the field, sales enablement must connect the dots between leadership’s core objectives and how the actions of revenue-facing reps will support those objectives. This means that cross-team collaboration is critical to the success of sales enablement.

“As a sales enablement function, we are able to take all of the different things that all of the different groups are doing and make sure that we can tie that into the right program, the right story, the right enablement activities that we want the sales organization to do in order for us to be successful as a company and to support our overall corporate goals,” said Susan Savona, vice president of global sales enablement at Monster.

In order to drive effective collaboration, sales enablement must treat cross-functional efforts as a team endeavor. To do so, the other leaders that enablement collaborates with must also see themselves as teammates that are accountable to collective success.

Sales enablement can help enhance collaboration by instilling accountable behavior across cross-functional teams. To drive this accountability, sales enablement must understand the characteristics of effective teams, challenges to cross-functional accountability, how accountability impacts team functionality, and strategies to build accountability.

Characteristics of Effective Teams

Teams of all sizes and purposes can experience dysfunction that stalls productivity and hinders results. When team members are divided across organizational silos, however, these dysfunctional tendencies can be exacerbated. Therefore, it is important that enablement practitioners understand the essential characteristics of effective teams when leading cross-team efforts in order to quickly identify and address any signs of dysfunction.

In his book, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”, Patrick Lencioni describes five critical attributes that lead to team effectiveness:

  1. Trust: Team members feel comfortable voicing their open and honest opinions without fear of judgment or retribution. Vulnerability is core to this concept, as team members must confidently believe that their team members have good intentions.
  2. Conflict: When team members trust one another, they can engage in unfiltered debate aimed at reaching the best possible outcome. While thinking about conflict as beneficial may seem counter-intuitive, it is a necessary process of meaningful growth. Productive conflict that focuses on ideas is distinctly different from destructive arguing that resorts to personal attacks. When done with a foundation of trust, conflict can help disrupt passive-aggressive behavior and save time in decision-making.
  3. Commitment: Through the process of debate and transparent discussion, team members can commit to actions and plans with confidence. On one hand, decisions without team buy-in can cause resentment to build. On the other hand, however, relying on consensus can also slow progress, as cross-functional leaders often have different sets of priorities. By instead setting the expectation that team members commit to collective decisions, even if there is not full consensus that it is the best direction, enablement can ensure clarity in the responsibility of the team.
  4. Accountability: With a clear understanding of what is expected of the team, members can hold themselves and each other accountable to their commitments. In cross-functional teams, this means that it is especially important to emphasize how the efforts of the group further the individual goals of each team member.
  5. Results: Ultimately, teams are not successful unless they are able to demonstrate clear outcomes against objectives. In the case of cross-functional teams, they need to feel a sense of accountability to achieve collective results rather than pursuing individual interests. Teams that lack a sense of accountability are more likely to fall short of goals, because individuals will default to focus on their own needs.

Though it is listed as just one characteristic of effective teams, accountability is the throughline that connects each of these characteristics together to ensure effective teamwork. Without it, individuals cannot trust that fellow team members share their goals or will put in the effort necessary to execute against their commitments to reach collective success.

Diagnosing Challenges to Cross-Functional Accountability

As Eric Coryell writes in his book, “Revolutionize Teamwork”, teams often face two major challenges in developing a mindset of accountability. First, leaders may be unwilling or unable to relinquish control. Second, team members may be unwilling or unable to recognize their individual accountability in relation to the success of the team. This lack of accountability can breed dysfunction, which results in excuses, deflection, and stagnation.

Often, these issues can brew beneath the surface, and may not become obvious roadblocks to team success until it is too late and targets have already been missed. Therefore, it is critical that enablement takes time at the beginning of a cross-functional effort to assess the potential challenges that are present or likely to arise. Consider using the following questions as a guide to diagnose risks, as outlined by Coryell:

  • Who on the team is capable of putting the team’s purpose ahead of their own? Who do you feel is not, and why?
  • Is the team ready to take on higher levels of responsibility?
  • What is the level of trust on the team? Are there any relationships that are damaged or at risk?
  • In what ways is each team member’s success tied to others’ successes? Why would they care?

By assessing potential causes of dysfunction or challenges to building collective accountability, enablement can anticipate any issues that may arise and plan accordingly. If issues are obvious at the onset of a team effort, enablement can also work with the leaders that might be impacted to set expectations or make necessary changes to the team dynamic.

Purpose of Accountability in Teamwork

In contrast to the dysfunction of teams lacking accountability, accountable teams are able to own their individual actions and commit to collective goals in order to meet desired expectations. For example, consider some of the potential benefits of prioritizing accountability in team settings listed below:

  • Evidence: Increased opportunity to present data from a variety of sources to enhance decision-making and manage performance
  • Inclusion: All team members have an opportunity to contribute their perspectives and ideas in a safe setting, increasing a sense of ownership in the shared outcomes
  • Transparency: The pursuit of collective results relies on team members sharing progress and admitting when adjustments need to be made, which also helps to place necessary pressure on team members that need to make improvements
  • Camaraderie: Holding each other accountable means not only owning up to one’s own actions but also offering help to other team members as needed to reach the team’s goals
  • Learning: Exposed to ideas outside of their own area of expertise, team members can learn from one another and approach problems through a different lens
  • Problem-solving: Reviewing results together also offers opportunities for team members to flex their problem-solving muscles to address any gaps

Accountability ensures that team members take a dynamic approach to building solutions rather than a myopic view based on one function’s perspective of a situation.

“In sales enablement, if we go in and say, ‘here’s what we believe the solution is and here’s why, here’s how I’m going to fix it, and here’s what I’m going to do,’ we miss the opportunity to do the needs assessment to understand what’s actually a challenge for that particular internal or external constituency,” said Caroline Holt, EVP of revenue enablement at EVERFI. “It means we’re trying to sell at [stakeholders] as opposed to sell with [stakeholders] or work collaboratively.”

Strategies to Build Cross-Team Accountability

A mindset of accountability cannot be instilled without strong leadership from sales enablement to implement the necessary processes and expectations within the team’s operating rhythms. In order to drive accountability among cross-functional teams, consider the following steps outlined by Lencioni:

1. Publish goals and expectations: Publicly clarifying what the team is expected to achieve and the objectives it is responsible for fulfilling will help place pressure on team members to perform. Additionally, it ensures all members of the team can revisit the commitments as needed so that they can properly track their own progress.

As Coryell points out, it helps if these goals are developed collaboratively, as it ensures that all metrics set are things that team members have a high degree of influence over. Additionally, the goals set should be measurable, directly related to the work being done, and reasonably easy to track progress against.

2. Conduct regular progress reviews: To ensure deadlines are met and address any issues that arise before they impact overall outcomes, enablement practitioners should facilitate regular reviews to assess the performance of the team. In doing so, it also provides a platform for team members to voice concerns, observations, or suggestions for improvements. Thus, enablement can keep efforts moving forward while also fostering other characteristics of effective teams including trust, conflict, and commitment.

3. Incentivize the team: Finally, motivate team members to contribute fully to the collective results of the team through incentives that are tied to team success rather than individual success. For example, ask stakeholders to sponsor some sort of reward for team members if certain milestones are met or the overall objectives are achieved. These could be in the form of monetary rewards, or other benefits such as a day off or access to professional development resources.

By following these steps to build a sense of accountability, enablement can ensure that efforts to drive business impact on corporate initiatives are strategically coordinated across cross-functional teams.

“If there is no definable outcome and you can’t measure it by time, resources, or money of some factor, then why are you doing it? We make sure that whatever it is that we do, there is a partnership in place,” said Sheevaun Thatcher, digital learning and enablement leader at RingCentral. “There is mutual accountability, joint accountability, and then these programs are a lot more successful.”

When done right, cross-functional collaboration can fuel innovation by bringing together multiple viewpoints and skillsets to create solutions to multi-faceted issues across the revenue organization. While sales enablement is often just one key player in these efforts, it can make the difference between effective teamwork and dysfunction by stepping up in a leadership capacity.

Due to its unique position as a core partner to critical revenue-facing teams, enablement can help facilitate collaboration and delegate the collective work that needs to be done by individuals.

“We’re collaboratively working on different programs,” said Jonas Taylor, revenue enablement practitioner at Algolia. “But we do it in a way that it caters to each of our individual skill sets and strengths. At the end of the day, there’s always an owner for everything and that’s guaranteeing accountability.”

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