December 2020

How you enhance cross-functional collaboration

Collaboration across professional boundaries is vital for success in pharma. Unfortunately, this is not always as easy as may seem. Differences may lead to conflict and to working within small, self-contained units of colleagues who remind us of ourselves. This article provides suggestions for how to enhance your cross-functional collaboration competences.

Not understanding or valuing competences of colleagues from other educational backgrounds is a widespread and well-known challenge in the pharma industry. It may stand in the way of an enterprise’s success and may also affect job satisfaction. It requires efforts to change this – but the good news is that it is definitely possible to meet across professional boundaries.

The reason why it is difficult

What, in fact, is the barriers for cross-functional collaboration? What can go wrong? Atrium’s Educational Programme Leaders, Marianne Puggaard Jensen and Maibritt Thoft-Christensen, are interested in precisely this aspect, and they have several ideas as to what is at play: ”If we get off to a bad start, this is seldom a matter of reluctance, but more about different perspectives and different ways of communicating and working. We view things from own perspectives, just as we may find it difficult to imagine ourselves in our colleague’s shoes – in particular within life science, where professional profiles are so clearly defined. When we basically don’t understand one another, it is difficult to make unambiguous agreements and, without clarity, the collaborative relationship will be challenged,” Maibritt Thoft-Christensen explains.

Cross-functional collaboration is a matter of culture

Different professional profiles are similar to different languages and different cultures. People of different professional profiles have different points of departure, and what one person considers plain language, the other may hear as nonsense. Strong cross-functional collaboration presupposes that all parties share knowledge and actively contribute to bridging the gap. At the same time, it is important that your mindset is to appreciate work forms and value perspectives that are different from your own – also when this is less convenient.

The spoilsports from Regulatory Affairs

Our RA colleagues are a good example of an underappreciated group. Their primary role is to ensure that everything is strictly by the book, and yet, they are reputed to be ‘nay-sayers’ who, to too large an extent, think inside the box and veto good ideas, even before they have a chance to grow wings.

Or what about Marketing? This superficial, overselling bunch in whose hands even serious matters turn into hot air. Get the drift?

You are probably familiar with examples of when and how it can be difficult to understand one another across professional boundaries. Fortunately, if we understand and respect one another’s contributions, our differences do constitute a strength.

Personal traits also provide insight and understanding

Personal traits frequently correlate with professional profile, meaning that many of us prefer to work with someone who reminds us of ourselves – someone with whom we share a professional language. However, this type of collaboration doesn’t necessarily create the most value. Therefore, it may also be relevant to delve into the details of personal profiles and be curious about other people’s preferences in respect to what constitutes ‘good collaboration’. Perhaps, your firm is already using a profile model that may be useful. Or you can participate in our course on clinical project management, where we, among other things, work with different personality types and how they are expressed in work-related contexts.

Become an ambassador for enhanced cross-functional integration

To put it bluntly: Clear alignment of expectations and clarity concerning roles make it easier to appreciate the competences brought into play by different professional standpoints. Set aside time for this. It is time well-spent.

This is how to put cross-functionality on the agenda – important items for your next meeting agenda:

  1. What are our shared goals? And how will our different professional standards contribute to success?
  2. Which potential areas of conflict (gaps) will we encounter, and how do we nip them in the bud?
  3. What are our respective expectations regarding type and frequency of feedback, meeting form and frequency?

Cross-functionality claims attention

At Atrium there is considerable course-participant interest in how to achieve enhanced collaborative relationships with colleagues from other departments:

”When we plan our course content, cross-functionality always constitute an element in our considerations. We do not, per se, organise courses solely on cross-functionality, but where relevant, we do facilitate discussion of challenges, opportunities, and synergy effects. Since it is a subject that preoccupies our course participants, Stakeholder Management is incorporated in an increasing number of our courses,” says Marianne Puggaard Jensen.

The following courses are particularly focused on collaboration (internal and/or external) as well as Stakeholder Management