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Activating Teams for Climate Action 

November 7, 2023
Anna Adlard
Anna Adlard

We should be encouraged by the uptick in corporate commitments to climate action, because corporations have the responsibility, resources and imperative to drive climate action at scale. But we also know there remains a big gap between corporate commitment and corporate action. And this is the challenge right now: how to activate this work inside complex organizations and maintain momentum. Ultimately, people will be the engine for driving action (and change) inside companies. We need to create the conditions for these people to come together in high-functioning teams and move climate action forward in a meaningful way.

Why are cross-functional teams so important? 

We’re shifting into a phase of this work where it’s no longer the sole responsibility of a resource-strapped corporate sustainability team to drive this work forward. Climate action is fast becoming part of everyone’s job. To get this work truly activated and operationalized, we have to create high-functioning cross-functional teams. 

Cross-functional teams are critical to drive climate action from commitment into operations. Regulatory compliance? We need government affairs in the room. Funding this work? We need the finance team to understand what and why. Resourcing this work? We need HR to bring their expertise. 

Even better than having cross-functional teams engaged in this work is having them work together to advance more holistic and integrated solutions.  We need to break down the silos. That’s no small feat, but it can be done. 

How do we create the conditions for high-functioning, cross-functional teams 

When building cross-functional collaborations, Workshop considers both the culture we need to create on the team and the structural design that keeps work moving. Both are fundamental: culture nurtures the team’s spirit and commitment, while structure provides the scaffolding for action. 

Here’s how we think about it. 

Culture: The Container for Activation 

We are always thinking about how to create team culture for activation. Here’s what we’ve been learning. 

Micro-Culture Matters: 

Even in an organization that can be stressful or limiting, we have the power to create micro-cultures on a team. There is so much power in a small, activated team of people who are committed to a goal and committed to each other. When setting up cross-functional teams, Workshop spends time upfront to establish intentions and agreements. We also start every working session with connection time to build rapport and trust. With intention, you can build up a team’s micro-culture quickly, and this smooths the way for progress. 

Shared Purpose: 

It’s so important to rally a cross-functional team around a shared purpose, and it really needs to be a higher calling—something that can be a North Star when the work gets challenging or the team disagrees. This can be a potent way to elevate a team when they get bogged down. 

We like the formality of a “purpose statement.” Something clear, succinct and human-level (read: not a grand statement about objectives or outcomes). It should instead be focused on the people we’re trying to help. We like purpose statements that answer this question: Who are we helping, and how are we helping them? 

Collective Success: 

It’s important to understand what success looks like for every member of a cross-functional team. Likely, each team member will have different drivers, based on where they sit in the organization. 

When forming a new cross-functional team, we take time to co-develop a picture of success. We ask them to imagine what that looks like, and why we’ll be celebrating. And along the way, we take time to celebrate our successes and wins, no matter how small. This keeps a team going. 

Structure: Systems that Activate Solutions 

Purpose Built:

Instead of adhering to strict hierarchical structures that can slow progress, we suggest forming teams based on what the project needs. Find people across an organization who are well-suited to tackle a specific problem and create an A-Team around this. We also recruit people who are willing to make a time bound commitment to the team and work in a collaborative way. We find that a diverse “coalition of the willing” model makes for the most impactful team. 

Small and Focused:

Is there a magic number for effective teams? We think so. Keep your cross-functional team small—ideally, 6 or less people who have been delegated to represent their function. Keeping your teams small is not a limitation —it’s a strategy for maximizing effectiveness. It’s easier to move work forward in a smaller group. Smaller teams also tend offer more safety—and because you can’t hide out in a small group, it drives more accountability. Even with a small delegated team, it’s still important to have a sponsor to ensure working teams have the resources and backing they need to implement transformative sustainability projects. 


Don’t let your cross-functional team meetings become talk-fests without actionable outcomes. We like to start each working session with a clearly stated intention, and end each meeting with an actionable plan ensures that the time spent will yield real results. Set your time, and make sure you leave a few minutes to assign actions and get commitments from the team. 

Helpful Facilitators:

In cross-functional teams, where diverse skills and perspectives converge, the role of a facilitator can be a game-changer. The facilitator maintains focus, aids in decision-making, and ensures that every voice is heard. This could be an external facilitator, but it could also be a member of the team who plays this role. 

Turning Dialogue into Action Through Cross-Functional Teams

Every one of us, no matter our job title, has a role to play in climate action. Cross-functional teams are not only a necessity, they can be game changer for climate action. 

We like to say that great teams do great things. We’ve seen what happens when a small group of dedicated people commit to this work together. Momentum takes over, progress takes shape, and the work starts to feel hopeful again. 

Interested in learning more? We’re unpacking these insights and more in our Climate Activation Series over the coming weeks. Next up, we explore how to create the right conditions for cross-functional collaboration. Read the previous article in this series.

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If your organization is ready to activate on climate goals, we’re fine-tuning a 90-Day Activation Sprint designed to help cross-functional teams gain momentum and unlock meaningful progress on climate action. Reach out to hello@weareworkshop.io for more information.


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