Focus group discussion — Yopougon — Abidjan (Côte d’Ivoire) — Oct-16

In change management, cross-functional teams matter

When starting the ILO Impact Insurance Facility’s project with SUNU Assurances in Abidjan last July I started working with their project team, composed of middle and top managers, mainly IT and sales focused. The aim of this project team was to allow the insurance company SUNU Assurances to reach a new market with inclusive insurance products.

On paper the team composition made sense. The project would require sales and administration process changes, including:

- Better distribution processed, hence the presence of sales people;

- Better automation of the administration process in their IT system, hence the presence of IT; and

- Quick decision-making by those able to roll-out change within the company; hence the top management representation.

Well, the first three months strongly encouraged us to reconsider this approach.

We were lucky to have what most companies lack in this same situation: top management’s buy-in. Unfortunately, we needed everyone else’s buy-in as well.

The IT focus of the team spread the wrong idea; the idea that this was only an IT issue. Therefore, IT people alone were expected to fix it. This not only created a reluctance to change within the team, but it also froze the entire decision-making process. By late October, the project was close to a stand-still situation.

In November I proposed a new team composition, consisting of middle and first-line managers, representing not only sales and IT but also marketing, production, claims, customer care, and communication. I offered to coordinate the project, hoping to build momentum within this cross-functional team. From now on when an IT-related task started, non-IT people were involved, and vice versa. IT and customer care people met with the back-office staff of our distribution partners to understand their operations; production and claims people met with clients and prospects to understand their needs.

That is the moment when the first signs of change occurred in the mind of the team members. They started to embrace the idea that a better way of working was possible, and that their complementary skills were the key to overcome this challenge.

We now realize that change management is not just about planning, organisation, capacity building, and a proper decision-making process. Change management requires a cross-functional approach, and a strong buy-in from the team. In this project, the change process occurred when the team realized the learning experience that this project involves, and the working environment improvement it would enable.