Making Remote Working Work for Your Cross-Functional Team

Making Remote Working Work for Your Cross-Functional Team

March 25, 2020

Sara Howshar

Any good business nowadays appreciates all the qualities that diversity brings to a company. Along similar lines, top sales managers today will understand the value that cross-functional teams can yield.

The mixing of differing skill sets, responsibilities, and approaches in cross-functional teams can be transformative. Your knowledge is shared more easily, old silos are broken down, and you can achieve goals faster.

Of course, bringing out the best in cross-functional teams requires dedicated, skilled sales management. That challenge can seem amplified all the more if, through choice or circumstance, you decide to move to a remote working model.

It’s a particularly pertinent subject in current times. As the global community tackles the threat of COVID-19, the switch to working remotely is becoming more and more widely adopted. Professionals throughout sales organizations are having to adjust to work in this new environment and in a volatile economy.

In this situation, keeping close to best practices is key — to secure a smooth transition, to maintain sales motivation, and to build momentum again. Remote cross-functional team management needn’t be intimidating.

In fact, when done right, it can unlock new degrees of productivity from within your squad.

Cross-Functional Teams: What Are They, and Why Are They Important? #

Cross-functional teams are the product of a certain management philosophy. A cross-functional team will include individuals from various departments — from sales (including sales development representatives, account executives, and even customer service pros), marketing, product development, and customer success.

A cross-functional team can be prioritized to tackle a multitude of goals — from a one-off squad put together to work on a particularly large or difficult enterprise-level deal, to a long-term arrangement for team-selling. Overall, the point of cross-functional teams is to optimize customer relationships and deal success. It’s done by pooling knowledge resources and pairing team members with complementary skill sets. These teams can often answer more questions quickly, provide more customized solutions to issues, and speak to a wider variety of client pain points and needs than a single AE or traditional sales team can.

SaaS buyers tend to know a lot about the product they’re seeking; after all, they’re making long-term investments, not one-off purchases. In fact, our research shows that the more a SaaS buyer knows, the more likely they are to be buy-ready and a good potential customer.

As a result of the soaring degree of knowledge required to succeed in SaaS sales, cross-functional philosophy is a natural development. Its collaborative approach optimizes limited resources, including knowledge and expertise, to better net outcomes.

The Challenges of Remote Cross-Functional Team Management #

Before you get down to what it takes to excel with this kind of remote management, it helps to know exactly what challenges you’re likely to face as a manager of a dispersed, cross-functional team.

First and foremost, remember that each team member likely belongs to teams within their own respective departments, too. This is a consideration for in-office, cross-functional outfits but is just as relevant for remote teams, and more still for teams making a circumstance-driven switch to remote working. Avoiding clashes of responsibility and interest is one of your main responsibilities as a cross-functional manager.

Given those varying responsibilities, you may also encounter frequent timetable clashes when managing a cross-functional remote team. They may have multiple commitments, and it may also be the case that responsibilities are unevenly divided between members of the team, particularly if your company’s selling structure is not primarily cross-functional.

For instance, you may find an AE or sales rep is needed more throughout a process than a product dev, who is there for innovation meetings and key calls only.

Of course, many of the same universal concerns across remote working will affect cross-functional teams. These include:

  • Motivation, particularly for sales reps used to high supervision and a competitive environment to fire them up.
  • A feeling of distancing from company objectives and colleagues through the lack of physical proximity.
  • Changes to tech-stack availability; tools available in-office might not be available when working remotely.
  • Sharing of knowledge beyond the team. Particularly if your team is used to simply getting up and going to a colleague’s desk to get the latest news or information, this can be an issue.

How to Make the Switch to a Remote Cross-Functional Team #

Making some key resolutions as you change over to remote work can help your cross-functional teams maintain their caliber of performance and rise higher following the switch.

Maintain your TEAM structures #

Before we get down to some of the finer rules for transition, it bears stating: when going remote, stick to and consolidate your existing structures. This is doubly true if your switch to remote is due to external circumstances.

In such instances, you need to prioritize stability, making the best approach to maintain whatever team structures you have at present. If you don’t currently have good precedent for working cross-functionally in your company, now may not be the best time to experiment with it.

However, if you do operate cross-functional teams, ensure that you continue to operate them. Keeping your cross-functional nodes together can be of great benefit, especially if your remote switch has been obliged by circumstances. Your cross-functional teams naturally prioritize knowledge-sharing and good team spirit (by preserving familiar, work-linked social structures), and it will help your team respond more rapidly to rising customer issues. This way, you can stabilize your trajectory more quickly and effectively.

Communicate Effectively #

If they don’t already exist in your company, create standardized communications channels that make both in-team and out-of-team communication accessible and visible.

The likes of Slack are exceptionally effective at this, and via customized channels your cross-functional team members can easily jump between their cross-functional and in-department duties. You should already have a well-maintained company wiki, too. Emphasize to your team that this is essential for communicating asynchronously about processes and about larger project goals, if you’re working remotely.

Go further than that. Encourage your team to use Slack or your favored communication tool to interact socially, too, perhaps via sport- or music-oriented conversation channels. You can actually set up these interest-focused channels in Slack (or other similar tools) to encourage socializing on any subject.

Additionally, schedule individual check-ins, as well as team clinics and whole department meetings (via Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype, etc.), to keep your team members feeling connected to one another and to company goals while remote.

Be Agile #

It’s likely that, if your company was built on lean startup principles, you’ve used Agile methods when building and managing teams before. Agile principles revolve around putting customer experience, flexibility, and continuous product improvement first. It’s a product development strategy that’s intended to bring disparate departments closer, making it well suited to cross-functional working.

Encourage your team to work by Agile principles, especially if the switch to remote will coincide with a period of higher need for customer support and/or a higher churn risk among your existing customer base.

Reassure Your Team #

Particularly under enforced remote-working conditions, your cross-functional team’s main priority will be reassuring customers and helping to maintain a steady course for your business through uncertain times. To give them the psychological position to do this, take every opportunity to reassure them yourself.

Psychological stability is the most fundamental driver of professional success. Consistently make time for one-to-one meetings with your team members, and listen to any concerns they might have. Ask for feedback on how your newly transitioned processes are (or aren’t) working for them. If they’re having trouble balancing their workload in a remote environment, review and redistribute, or suggest a solution such as OptimoRoute.

How to Manage Your Cross-Functional Team Day-to-Day #

Once your remote cross-functional team structures are in place, daily management involves keeping their performances at optimal levels. Because cross-functional teams’ activities are broad by design, this requires a particular degree of care and diligence from remote management.

Firstly, ensure that you’re observing cycle times. Managing team members from disparate departments, who may well have other responsibilities to handle, means getting members involved exactly when they can provide the most value. Monitor how your cross-functional team’s capabilities can be best spent. Should you prioritize customer requests? Or does instinct tell you that the time would be better spent on developing a new feature to address an emerging pain point?

To ensure that cross-functional duties aren’t obstructed by your team’s physical separation, demarcate time for specific cross-functional activities, such as the following:

  • Time for new business focus: A meeting to review leads offered by your in-team SDR, for example.
  • Customer retention/expansion focus: A meeting led by your AE/customer success team member to review where customers are being lost and where they might be regained.
  • Product innovation focus: A workshop, brainstorm, or demo session led by your product development pro to discuss new pain points and talk about how your product could be modified to respond.

Finally: knowledge-sharing is all the more important to a remote organization but is also the kind of thing that team members can easily forget. To combat this, schedule time in the week for your cross-functional team to ensure that pertinent wikis and CRMs are updated. Ensure that the team’s common Github/Tettra, etc., is regularly reviewed and is made available to other teams in your organization. Elect someone in the team to handle data or reporting each week, and assign a delivery deadline.

Cross-Functional, Across Time and Space #

The key to getting the best out of cross-functional teams in remote environments is to help them manage their time and allocate resources effectively. Depending on the nature of your move to remote, you may wish to have them sprint ahead with high-volume selling. Otherwise, you might want to have them target tough deals, or task them with steadying the ship. All those options can be rewarded with success.

Your focus, as their remote management, should be to maintain balance, encourage regular contact, and promote that sense of togetherness within the team. Purposed correctly, the cross-functional team’s versatility and closeness can bring unprecedented results for your company, in good times and bad.