How Enablement Can Enhance Collaboration with Proactive Problem-Solving

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Companies increasingly hinge on cross-functional collaboration in order to speed innovations to market.

However, even though organizations recognize the importance of breaking down silos to help teams collaborate across boundaries, they struggle to make it happen. The challenge arises from the broad mix of expertise common on cross-functional teams, as different stakeholders often live in varying intellectual worlds and have distinct technical languages. The gulfs between behavioral norms and priorities across organizations can be even wider.

As a result, too many teams fail to prioritize desired outcomes, meet planned budgets, stay on schedule, or meet buyer expectations—and this is largely because the organization lacks a thoughtful approach to jointly determining problems and managing integrated solutions. There’s no clear governance, accountability, or specificity when it comes to collaborative decision-making and execution of cross-functional initiatives.

Effective cross-team collaboration can lead to improved business outcomes, as organizations with increased cross-functional collaboration achieve greater customer loyalty and higher margins. To bridge the gap and ensure cross-functional collaboration efforts are successful, sales enablement needs to work with teams to establish accountability within every project by transcending functional boundaries and providing shared insights and standardized tools and processes.

This requires masterful problem-solving skills to proactively address issues beneath the surface and design innovative solutions to enhance the impact of cross-functional collaboration. Here are four ways that sales enablement can lead with solutions to overcome challenges and improve cross-functional collaboration.

Identify Root Causes

First, approach problems as gold mines for cross-silo discussions. They are great opportunities to embolden key leaders and stakeholders to meet with sales enablement to discuss performance gaps and identify deeper issues to target for strategy refinement.

Enablement should carefully structure these conversations to explore questions, allow stakeholders time to listen to one another’s thoughts, and document multiple perspectives before identifying the root causes together. Asking “why” repeatedly before settling on an answer is a powerful way to recognize that most problems have not one, but many root causes that can be addressed without jumping to conclusions or implementing weak solutions.

When a cross-functional team has a multi-faceted picture of the contributing factors, it is easier to more accurately prioritize and alter procedures and systems within cross-functional initiatives. In his book “Lead From Any Seat,” Andrei Anca proposes several productive brainstorming activities practitioners can leverage to drive the thoughtful cross-silo dialogue that is necessary to identify root causes:

  • The Five Whys Analysis: A simple and effective root cause analysis tool that helps a cross-functional team drill down to a problem’s root cause(s) by asking “Why?” questions a minimum of five times.
    • Write down the specific problem clearly and completely.
    • Ask “why” the problem happens and write down the answer. Stakeholders will offer their takes, one at a time.
    • Continue asking “why” to the previous answer until all stakeholders agree that the problem’s root cause has been identified.
  • The Fishbone Diagram: A cause-and-effect diagram that helps track down the reasons for imperfections, variations, defects, or failures in a project. The diagram looks like a fish’s skeleton with the problem at its head and possible contributing causes for the problem feeding into the spine.
    • Write the specific problem at the mouth of the “fish.” Beware of defining the problem in terms of a solution.
    • Ask “why” and write down the causes of the problem on the “bones.”
    • Continue asking “why” about each cause, and write sub-causes branching off the cause to generate deeper analysis, and organize causes into related categories.
  • The Cause and Effect (C&E) Matrix: A tool to help a cross-functional team narrow a long list of suspected inputs down to a more manageable number of priorities.
    • Identify the outputs by aligning with stakeholders’ voices, and then assign each output a priority factor.
    • List key process inputs, then correlate the impact of the inputs to the outputs.
    • Calculate weighted correlations to identify which inputs enablement should direct their focus to first.

“You realize that there are some major challenges here, some major issues going on, or there’s a systemic challenge or process or problem that now we have to go prioritize and tackle,” said Christopher Kingman, director of international enablement at Transunion. “We’ve got to bring in resources. And it’s easier to get to that by just sitting and talking, person-to-person, than filling out a questionnaire or anything else.”

Assess Failure Risk

Cross-functional initiatives are bound to face adversity at some point. This means it is critical for sales enablement to help stakeholders to be proactive in considering potential risks in order to prepare actions for continuous improvement.

“It’s just part of the challenge,” said Leon Hassid, sales enablement lead at SecurityScorecard. “Leaders need to always keep in mind that there are a lot of uncontrollable variables that are impacting the business.”

Enablement can evoke a cross-functional team’s agility and ability to pivot by engaging in collaborative deep-dives with stakeholders. Consider Anca’s recommendation of using the Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA) to predict failures and the related effects, and subsequently conceptualize effective solutions to mitigate risks:

  1. Identify the scope of the risk. Is it related to a concept, system, design, process, or service? What are the boundaries?
  2. Identify the functions of your scope. What is the purpose of the system, design, process, or service? How will it impact specific audiences?.
  3. For each function, identify all the ways failure could happen. These are potential failure modes.
  4. For each failure mode, identify all the consequences. These are potential effects of failure. What do various stakeholder groups experience because of this failure?
  5. Determine the severity of each effect.
  6. For each failure mode, determine all the potential root causes. The cause/analysis tools outlined can be useful in this step.
  7. For each cause, determine the occurrence rating. This rating estimates the probability of failure occurring for that reason during the lifetime of the cross-functional effort.
  8. For each cause, identify current process controls. These controls might prevent the cause from happening, reduce the likelihood that it will happen, or detect failure after the cause has already happened but before other stakeholders are affected.
  9. For each control, determine the detection rating. This rating estimates how well the controls can detect either the cause or its failure mode after they have happened but before the customer is affected.
  10. Calculate the risk priority. This provides guidance for ranking potential failures in the order they should be addressed.
  11. Identify recommended actions. These actions may be design or process changes to lower severity or occurrence, or additional controls to improve risk detection.

Proactively Determine Solutions

It can be easy to become so deeply immersed in identifying problems that solution definition gets deprioritized. However, don’t overlook the implementation because no matter how much effort is put into identifying the problems using process improvement tools and methodologies, sales enablement will ultimately be evaluated by outcomes.

After gaining an understanding of the challenges and risks associated with a cross-functional effort, enablement can work with stakeholders to plan and execute clear and creative solutions that reduce possible problems or probability that risk will occur. According to the “HBR Guide to Project Management”, practitioners can minimize any risks or bottlenecks that may arise from implementing new solutions by piloting them as smaller, digestible projects first. Breaking down solutions into chunks will also allow the cross-functional team to proactively craft and improve solutions, by continually evaluating results and implementing course corrections.

Furthermore, it is important for enablement to propose solutions to a small sample of cross-functional team members first, to ensure they continue to understand the context of the issue through the eyes of the stakeholders and connect the solution to stakeholders’ pain points. Continuing to proactively consult with stakeholders early and often within the implementation will help to foster additional trust and enthusiasm in solutions.

“It’s about going back and sharing with them what you learned across the different teams and what you’re going to do about it,” said Jennifer Lopopolo, sales enablement leader. “So often, people go out, they collect information, and they go back to their team and they start doing without closing that gap to realign people to what solutions you’re recommending and getting agreement that those are the right things to be focused on, that you heard them well.”

Empower Open Communication and Ongoing Feedback

To avoid fragmented execution, it’s critical for sales enablement to facilitate sustained cross-functional communication to ensure diverse team members proactively contribute to the workflow. This also means forcefully and sincerely inviting input from all stakeholders, by creating a culture where collaborators can feel comfortable speaking candidly about what could be improved.

Routine and active cross-functional communication mitigates the risk of friction and confusion in collaborative projects, especially when cross-functional stakeholders often have limited visibility into day-to-day productivity. As guided by EM Campbell-Pretty’s book “Tribal Unity,” enablement can design processes to direct team members to communicate at least once per day, as well as to generate clear and candid peer-to-peer feedback on what parts of the collaborative efforts work well, and what parts do not.

For example, enablement can facilitate regular check-ins with cross-functional stakeholders — such as Daily Scrum events that aim to identify impediments and adjust planned work — that center around three questions:

  • What did you do yesterday?
  • What are you going to do today?
  • Do you have any blockers?

These recurring alignment and prioritization meetings will help team members fluidly interact with one another and stay apprised of the cross-functional workflow.

“[Scrum] really helps us to provide alignment across our different projects we’re working on,” said Emily Ricco, senior manager of enablement learning design at Salesforce. “It allows us to make sure that we’re keeping our stakeholders in the loop of any risks or impediments that we’re facing. It also allows us to move quickly so we can make iterations if we have changes come up, and not be completely thrown off on our deadlines.”

Focusing on collaboratively determining solutions instead of only discovering problems further breaks down silos in the organization. Once these walls are taken down, innovation can begin to truly take place. Cross-functional team members step outside their defined roles and further tap into all of their skill sets to solve a common complex problem.

While sales enablement teams have expertise in collaboration, they do not always have the context on the performance gaps that need to be addressed. To avoid building insufficient, obsolete solutions, sales enablement can leverage problem-solving skills that drive cross-functional alignment.

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