Next instalment…Cross-functional relationships: Start with one!


Ethan was focussing on the cross-functional relationships of his Quality Engineer. We’d established the role was accountable for engineering standards being met such that all work passes inspection from government regulators and any other external audit functions we may choose to bring in.

“Each role relationship attaches to an accountability” I explained. By setting up a clear role relationship for each accountability, we can give your Quality Engineer the authority they need to get their work done.”

“Wish I’d had that years ago” Ethan smiled. “Let’s do it then. What’s the role relationship?”.

“A couple more questions for you and we’ll be there”.

“Go for it”. Ethan was into it.

“Tell me how they are going to go about doing this”.

“I’d expect them to set up a system of audits and inspections….they’ve got a team of five Specialists, and it’s up to them to be both in the office with the Design Engineers, as well as out there on the ground where the building is happening. Looking, talking, discussing and in the end, making sure the Ops guys are doing the right thing”.

“Make sense. And if they see something that doesn’t pass muster?”

“Well they try to resolve it right there, and if they can’t, take it to the person’s manager”.

“And if the person’s manager disagrees that there’s an issue”?

“Won’t happen. There’s clear engineering standards”.

“Come on!” I laughed. Ethan smiled too. “Let’s live in the real world. Physical realities, let alone business realities require standards to be interpreted. Especially given some of the unique projects you’re doing, where the usual standards may or may not apply. “

“Hasn’t taken you long to work out Engineering is more grey than people think. There’s going to be some good arguments out there”.

“And this brings us to the guts of it.” I was happy we were here. “What do you want to happen when each side genuinely believes their view is what’s best for the organisation”?

“In that case, I want them to bring the disagreement to me.”

“OK. And until it’s come to you, can the work just continue?”.

“Well…no. I’d expect them to down tools until I’d made a call”.

Ethan looked firm, then I saw him waver.

“Is that right?” he asked. “Is that what will work?”

“Well that’s the thing” I replied. “You can set it up however you like. That’s what you’re paid for. You just described what we call a Monitor role relationship. It’s one of six cross-functional relationships that are found in organisations”.

“Monitor…” Ethan tried it out. “Which means….”

“Your Quality Engineer can request information as they see fit, perhaps regular reports, or to be notified of new developments, and can then ask questions and investigate as they deem necessary. If there’s something happening they believe will cause standards to not be met, they intervene. “

“Then…and here’s the key bit” I continued, “If the person they are getting to stop or change something disagrees, and they can’t work it out, they down tools and come to you for a decision”.

“Doesn’t seem that complicated” Ethan said.

“It isn’t. Here in your office. But if each person is assuming it’s another type of role relationship, which they are likely to be doing if you haven’t let them know this is how you expect things to roll, then they’re doomed to disagree. And no amount of friendship training is going to resolve that effectively”.

“So I need to make sure they know how I want the role relationship to work so I can make sure everyone is on the same page” Ethan ventured.


“Good. Tell me more”.

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