Effective cross-functional (peer) relationships are among the toughest to build within an organization.

It’s not surprising because of the strong “not created here” mentality between work units, and the natural competition between groups which are often fueled by pay systems that pit groups against one another.

The ability to bridge this discord and build and sustain effective peer relationships is a “game-changer” for most leaders.

It is a true selection differentiator when it comes to consideration and success at the most senior levels.

That is, those who do this well usually go on to senior executive roles where they execute these roles successfully.

Those that don’t…simply don’t.

Their careers are often derailed at one level below.

Possible derailment factors, culled in studies done by V.J.Benz (1967) who did a 30-year study on the subject, concluded that one major reason for leader incompetence was their inability to form effective relationships, cross-functionally or otherwise.

Another study performed by Lombardo & McCall who were inspired by Bentz to conduct similar research in 1983, concluded that the most frequent reason for leadership derailment was insensitivity to others (read as peers)

Why is this?

3 Ways To Create Positive, Cross-Functional Relationships

In our experience the answer to this has three reasons that are interrelated:

1.) Those that effectively build cross-functional relationships with their Peers understand that their most important Team is their Peers and not their Direct Reports.

Do you look at your “world of work” in this way.

If not it’s time for you to play catch-up as some 40 years ago Peter Drucker wrote in his book The Effective Executive (1966):

The people who are the most important to the effectiveness of an executive are not the people over whom he has direct control. They are people in other areas, the people who are “sideways”…his Peers…Unless the executive can reach these people, can make his contribution effective for them and in their work, he has no effectiveness at all.”

2.) Those that effectively build relationships understand that effective leadership is not about them. It is about others.

Our friend and colleague Jim Kouzes writes in his book entitled The Truth About Leadership (based on 30 years of research):

“Leadership is a team sport, and you need to engage others in the cause. What strengthens and sustains the relationship between leader and constituent (read as Peers) is that leaders are obsessed with what is best for others, not what is best for themselves.”

3.) Those that effectively build relationships have a strong sense of self-regard. They understand their strengths and limitations and acknowledge them…. publicly.know-strengths-and-limitations

In our decades of working with, developing, and coaching executives it is without a doubt that collectively they have more than enough skill and intelligence to be highly successful.

From our point of view what set the best ones apart is their ability to know their limitations, surround themselves with others who fill their gaps, and perhaps most important of all, freely and openly admit to their Peers that they are aware of and comfortable with their shortcomings.

Going Forward

In conclusion, leaders who create effective Peer relationships do the following effectively:

  • They understand that their Peers are their most important Team, their Direct Reports are second
  • They understand that Leadership is about making others successful over themselves
  • They know their strengths and limitations and acknowledge them publically
  • There is indeed a high return on investment for the organization if Peer relationships are working effectively

Clearly, it leads to more efficient use of time and resources with the easy exchange of both ideas and talent.

In addition, leaders who do this well attract and retain better employees and inspire them to be relationship builders too.

As a result, they build companies that clients trust, stick with and enthusiastically recommend to others.