This post was originally published on May 24, 2019, and updated most recently on April 3, 2021.
Cross-functional collaboration has never been more important. Businesses are becoming larger, more complex, and multi-layered. Working well with teams across functions, offices, and countries is now a must.
Investing in modern collaboration software is a great start, but it won’t magically make your organization more collaborative overnight. You also need to instill a culture of collaboration from the top down with established best practices.
What is cross-functional collaboration?
It’s simple: Cross-functional collaboration is when different departments work together to achieve a single goal. It can apply to larger projects, such as product releases or events. Or it can involve smaller day-to-day tasks, like generating reports.
It happens in every single organization in one capacity or another, but that doesn’t mean it always works well. Communication breakdowns, conflicting goals, and a lack of transparency can all spell trouble. So we’ve put together a list of tips on how to approach cross-functional collaboration effectively.
1. Tackle communication issues before they happen
Working with someone on your own team is generally easier than working cross-functionally. You’ll naturally know more about how the other person works, their communication style, and what their schedule looks like. Working with someone on another team requires more effort. You’re less familiar with them to start with, and since you don’t work as closely, you’ll have to actively seek out those same preferences and constraints. The key here is communication — and lots of it.
Unless you work in a small organization, physical proximity – or lack thereof – may also cause an issue. Rather than popping over to your colleague’s desk for a quick chat, you may need to give them a call. If they’re working across time zones, you may need to rely on asynchronous communication, which could include talking over email or in your company chat app. Ultimately, being aware of each option’s benefits and limitations will help you figure out which is best for your circumstances.
2. Make transparency a top priority
Not knowing what your colleagues are up to can be frustrating, especially if you’re trying to schedule work or waiting on a response.
One way to get around this is to make calendars visible, give people access to your product roadmap, and take every opportunity you can to share what you’re doing with everyone.
This doesn’t have to mean updating everyone about your every move. It just means using things like your team chat app and notifications on your project management tool strategically to keep people informed. The goal is to be visible and available without bombarding people with a constant stream of status updates.
3. Make sure everyone is on the same page
When you’re working in a team, you’re naturally going to think your team’s priorities are number-one. But when you’re working with multiple teams, you’re going to need to broaden your vision. If managers are too inward-facing and fail to see the priorities of others as important, it can put a real damper on productivity and cause untold frustration. One way to deal with this is to make sure your higher-ups practice strong organizational communication. This includes consistently explaining the business goals in a variety of ways in an on-brand way.
4. Get to know each other’s roles
It’s so much easier to work with someone when you know what they do. When you know how people work and how their role contributes to the overall goal, then you’ll not only be able to work more effectively together, but you’ll also spot opportunities you might otherwise have missed. Ask questions and get to know your collaborator’s full breadth of responsibilities, not just the ones directly relevant to you.
5. Make time for collaboration
The gap between project proposal and initiation is crucial. Leave it too long, and other jobs get in the way, people lose interest, and before you know it, it’s dead in the water before it’s even had a chance to kick off.
Strike while the iron’s hot. Before you even ask other people to get involved, set aside some time to lay out a project plan. That includes time and resource estimates so everyone is aware of the commitments from the outset. This makes the project instantly more tangible.
If you have access to project management software, then use it to help you create a rudimentary plan with timeframes and assigned tasks. This not only makes you look like you mean business, but it also makes the concept easier for your colleagues to grasp and subsequently support and begin.
6. Make sure everyone understands the tech
Project management tools are a communication lifeline when you’re working across different teams and projects. But you can’t just introduce one and expect it to work its magic. You need to make sure everyone understands how to get the most out of it.
Traditionally, people don’t like change, and that includes new technology. After all, if something kinda works okay-ish as it is, why bother disrupting things with something new? It’s the manager’s job to explain the benefits to the team, ease people in, and organize training sessions to make sure everyone feels committed and confident.
It’s also a good idea to check in several times after the software integration to ensure everyone’s using it effectively. Not to mention optimizing your workflow as you go.
Increase of cross-functional collaboration
This probably goes without saying, but the past year has seen an unprecedented rise in cross-functional collaboration and the need for better online communication skills. Huge numbers of people, entire companies all at once, were suddenly put in a position to have to start working from home and lost the natural contact that had among their own team and the ability to just walk over to a different department to ask a question.
Despite many work hardships, this has equally forced people to become more resourceful, downloading new apps that made it possible to create more natural communication. Working with other teams became almost as easy as working with your own team once you got past the initial introduction. Emails, chat app messages, and video calls becoming the norm also helped to normalize team members working in other locations all along.
Collaboration tools play an important part in helping teams work efficiently across different departments and locations. But fail to properly train everyone, and that tech you’ve invested in could do more harm than good.
Make sure you do your research and choose software that’s intuitive, with plenty of useful features like real-time notifications, task management, and cloud-based file sharing so everyone can work effectively wherever they are. And then get people excited to use it. The rest will follow.