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Cross-Functional Process Efficiency – a “Relay” Strong Parallel

Welcome to the fourth installment in our series of business lessons learned in unconventional places.

Three Keys to Winning the Race

by Jordan Smith – Special to Orion

I’ll start off with an admission: when I embarked on my career as a track and field athlete, I did not have cross-functional process efficiency in mind. I know you’re thinking “wow, how could anyone have missed the obvious parallels between track and a successful business process?!?!” Now that I have seen the light, let’s dive into the relevant track applications through examining the components of a relay team.

  1. The Grit: It comes to no surprise that in order to achieve success, you are going to have to put in work in one form or another. On the track, it is essential that each leg of the four-person relay carries their weight in terms of training. Strong training sessions create faster relay legs, and faster relay legs create a more successful team. In the corporate world, hard work and dedication are required to achieve functional expertise… without which you cannot have successful cross-functional processes.
  2. The “Handoff”: Communication is essential between the members of a team, whether on a track or in the workplace. One of the most critical aspects of a track relay is a smooth handoff between runners. In order to maintain a constant speed and to perfect timing, countless hours are spent practicing the handoff from one athlete to the next. A smooth handoff can be the difference between first and second place (or last place, if you drop the baton). In business it is equally critical to perfect the communication, or “handoffs”, between departments to ensure that processes will run smoothly.
  3. The Leader: Having everyone on a team united under one leader with a common goal is essential for growth and development. In the world of track and field, we have a coach tasked with setting us up for success. He designs workouts that peak our performance and chooses a relay order that promotes optimal handoffs between each member. Similarly, in the business realm an overall process manager should look out for the good of the process as a whole. A leader, whether it be a coach or a manager, is a key component when aiming for success in any institution.

My time as an Orion Intern has included being a part of cross-functional process mapping sessions. While the three key lessons described above may seem somewhat obvious, I have been surprised to find that different functional areas operate without an understanding of what the other functions do. Further, there have been many cases where it seems no one is managing the process as a whole. The good news is that the remedy is clear. If you work hard to maintain functional expertise, perfect the handoffs, and designate an overall process owner, then your business is headed for first place.

Ralph Smith

Check out the rest of the series on Unexpected Sources of Business Education:

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