Employee Feedback

How to Encourage Cross-Functional Feedback

January 29, 2021
November 7, 2023
Deanna deBara 
Lattice Team

An important part of your job as a manager is giving your employees feedback to help them grow. But in order for them to truly excel — not only on your team and under your guidance, but on their career paths and within your organization as a whole — they’re going to need more than just feedback from you.

Cross-functional feedback, or feedback from leaders and colleagues in other departments within your organization, can help your employees gain greater perspective on their strengths, challenges, performance, and growth opportunities. If you want your team to thrive, getting insights from other teams and leaders is a must.

“Often employees only see an organization’s goals and challenges from their own departmental position. But most teams are creating work that impacts the entire company,” said Diane Gayeski, PhD, Professor of Strategic Communications at Ithaca College and principal of consulting company Gayeski Analytics. “That’s why it’s useful to have a few members from outside a given department [delivering feedback], even if it seems like a team project is pretty focused just on one operational area.”

Here’s why cross-functional feedback is so valuable, and how to make the most of it for your team.

The Benefits of Cross-Functional Feedback

Cross-functional feedback is so important because receiving insights, feedback, and guidance from different managers, leaders, and colleagues across the organization can give employees the information they need to better harness their strengths, identify — and work on — their blind spots, and become more effective overall.

As a manager, you have one experience of your team members; you see them through the lens of the work they do with and for you. But your employees are more than just the sum total of the work they produce for you. Additionally, they may work differently with other people and teams in a way that you can’t see. In order for them to reach their highest potential, they need to get insights from outside your limited perspective.

“A manager typically has a limited view of the employee's holistic performance; they have a myopic view of work products and deliverables, and perhaps [don’t see] other key skills, particularly interpersonal skills around communication and collaboration,” noted Victoria Pelletier, an HR and organizational expert and senior leader with over 20 years of experience at companies like American Express and IBM. “It's critically important for employees to receive 360-degree feedback from those they regularly work and engage with to improve their whole performance, and not just that related to a specific set of measurable skills.”

As well, when you manage someone for an extended period of time, the relationship you develop could get in the way of your ability to deliver honest, helpful feedback. For instance, a close, collegial relationship with an employee you hold in high regard could prevent you from seeing some of their shortcomings. Conversely, a strained relationship marked by disagreement and strife could hinder your ability to recognize your team member’s strengths and accomplishments. Looping in other leaders or managers can deliver the fresh perspective your team member needs to reach the next level in their career.

“Often, an employee’s manager and direct colleagues have long-standing relationships that can be colored by past events or by their own...agendas,” said Gayeski. “Getting feedback from others in an organization who have a fresh look at a person’s behaviors and accomplishments — and who don’t have a personal stake in the employee’s future — can be enlightening, and much more fair.”

Finally, cross-functional feedback can help drive collaboration across teams — and when teams are more collaborative, the organization is more effective as a whole. “Part of working well together means that we are sharing feedback about those who work in other areas — not just about the quality of their work product, but how they communicate and engage with teams — creating a participative and engaged work environment which drives innovation and success overall,” Pelletier said.

Clearly, cross-functional feedback plays a significant role in helping employees reach their full potential. Here’s how to put this into practice and encourage cross-functional feedback within your organization.

5 Ways to Implement Cross-Functional Feedback on Your Team

1. Incorporate cross-functional feedback in hiring.

One of the best ways to encourage cross-functional feedback is to incorporate it from day one — and the best way to do that is to make it a part of the hiring process.

When you’re hiring for a new position, “create search committees...with at least one person from outside the functional area,” advised Gayeski. By involving people from other departments and getting their insights, you can gain a clearer picture of whether the candidate is going to be a good fit not just on your team, but across the organization. You’ll also set the precedent for getting cross-functional feedback for that candidate from the get-go. 

2. Foster mentorship.

As a supervisor, you mentor your employees and nurture their careers in any way you can. But having a mentor that they don’t report to directly can be just as — if not more — beneficial for your team member.

“Having a mentor in another department is one of the most valuable things that can happen in an organization,” said Lily Kelly-Radford, PhD, psychologist and partner at Executive Development Group, a firm of consulting psychologists that provides leadership education, organizational development, and leadership coaching to clients across the globe. “This allows the employee to speak freely and to know that the person mentoring them will not directly impact their performance or pay. They’re more likely to be open and they create a broader network, which we know has been shown to improve upward mobility in organizations.”

Proactively seek out ways to foster mentorship across departments within your organization. For example, you could have leaders sign up and volunteer to mentor employees in different areas and departments of the business. Or, if you have an employee you think could benefit from a specific leader or manager’s mentorship, you can approach them directly.

Cross-functional mentorship automatically lays the foundation for cross-functional feedback. If you want your employees to get feedback from across your organization, set them up with a mentor (or mentors!) elsewhere in your company.

3. Leverage feedback tools. 

Some people may not feel comfortable giving feedback directly to someone who’s not a direct report, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get the cross-functional feedback you need to support your employee’s growth.

If you have your employee working on a project with another team or department, send the leaders and/or members of that team or department a feedback request. “Many performance management tools allow managers to send a request to those who work with the employee to allow them to provide feedback directly within the performance management tool [or] technology,” Pelletier said. “This can be done anonymously so that only [that employee’s] manager will see the feedback.”

Once you’ve gotten the responses back from the team and/or leaders your employee is working with, you can review the feedback, figure out what can or should be addressed with your team member, and then discuss the feedback with them directly.

Leveraging a feedback tool is a useful route to go if your colleagues aren’t comfortable delivering feedback to your direct reports: You get the cross-functional feedback you need to help your employee succeed and grow, and your colleagues get to deliver that feedback without having to confront your employee directly.

4. Reconcile conflicting feedback. 

Feedback is subjective; something you think your employee needs to work on could be looked at as a strength by another leader within your organization.

For example, say you have an employee who has a more mellow, laid-back personality. You might think your employee needs to be more assertive in how they manage their projects and tasks, but a manager with a different leadership style might commend them for their easygoing attitude. Or you might have your employee working with two other teams within your organization, and while one team praises them for their communication style, the other might find their regular Slack messages and emails overwhelming.

“The worst thing you can do is give an employee competing information without helping them reconcile it,” Kelly-Radford cautioned. When you’re dealing with cross-functional feedback — which, because it’s coming from different people with different opinions, could be contradictory — it’s important to help them sort through the feedback and identify what you actually want them to work on.

By taking the time to sort through cross-functional feedback in this way, you can prevent your employee from getting confused or overwhelmed by differing or conflicting feedback, and help ensure that they know exactly what they need to be working on.

5. Develop a plan to help employees implement feedback.

Getting cross-functional feedback for your employees is the first part of the process. But once you have that feedback, it’s crucial to partner with your employees to develop a plan for putting it into action.

“Employees should be building the feedback into their ongoing performance goals, with regular coaching discussions and performance touchpoints to determine if they are being successful in adopting the feedback,” advised Pelletier.

By creating a concrete plan for how your employee can implement their cross-functional feedback (and how you’re going to measure their progress), you’re setting your team member up for success and ensuring that your efforts in encouraging cross-functional feedback are actually driving results.

When your staff gets feedback from different leaders, managers, and departments, it makes both them and your organization stronger. By routinely incorporating cross-functional feedback on your team, you’ll be able to get the feedback your employees — and your company — need to grow, evolve, and thrive.