Cross functional OKRs – breaking through the silos on the Death Star

by Roger Longden | Mar 21, 2019

time icon 3 mins

It almost seems a fact of life for businesses who scale:

Growth means more people, more teams – even in this digital age where automation means greater efficiency.

With this organisational expansion comes complexity and also a carving up of budgets and resources, and that can fuel a degree of protectionism if not kept in check. I’ve seen this be driven both by a reluctance to share and also by a sense of protection towards individuals’ own teams. Sounds a bit like the school playground doesn’t it?

This is where “silo” working often appears; where teams or departments work in isolation without any knowledge of or collaboration with other teams.

The design of your OKR map (how your OKRs are structured within your organisation) gives you the opportunity to either reinforce silos or break through them; clearly, I hope you choose the latter or you’re missing one of their major benefits!

Let me start with the risk: it’s assumed that your OKR map must match your org chart. This reinforces a traditional cascade of objectives, most likely set at the top and then cascaded down through the functions. The only coordination which takes place is at the top and that’s based on the upwards flow of information which can be slow and become diluted with each level it passes through.

Let me be clear: nowhere is it stated OKRs MUST match your organisational structure. I find it is often habit and ingrained thinking which results in this.

The way to break through silos and promote true cross-functional working is to construct OKRs which focus on an initiative that requires a team made up of people from multiple functions – cross functional OKRs. They come together to form a virtual team for the duration of that OKR. You see this within the Spotify model of how they develop products which you can read about in this blog.
Enabling these virtual teams to quickly form and mobilise is essential, so it’s important to have a set of tools available to the objective owner (i.e. the leader) and that they have the necessary skills to lead that team.

Continuing my theme of Death Star analogies, let’s look at an example:

The context is set by the 12-month strategic OKR:

O: Be the most feared force in the galaxy

KR: Blow up one planet by the end of the year

Now, it’s likely that the Emperor will expect Darth Vader to own this one, however, Lord Vader can’t do all the work himself (even with the Force behind him). He therefore needs to work on some OKRs with his team that focus on the initiatives which will help them hit that 12-month OKR. An example might be for a Q1 OKR:

O: Implement the most powerful weapon ever installed in a space station

KR: Parts are sourced and available for installation

KR: Installation plans are signed off

KR: Teams hit the milestones set for them

KR: Test firing shows a power 100 times greater than any previous weapon

It’s likely Lord Vader would expect one of his Generals to lead this objective and they will need a team drawing from procurement, project planning, resource planning and engineering at the very least to achieve it. If they worked in isolation, there’s a big risk delay, misunderstanding and cost overrun from poor communication and weak alignment. I doubt any of them would want to answer to Lord Vader for that.

Vader tries to get supprt

Analogies aside, the serious point I’m making is that how you design your OKRs has a massive impact on the benefit you’ll gain from them. This is why it pays to work with OKR consultants like TBG who can challenge your perspective and practice to work differently. Get in touch.