In the modern business world, agility is the name of the game. Your company needs to be able to adjust and change quickly or else get left behind in a cloud of dust. This need has led to many cross functional collaboration efforts for organizations in almost every industry.
In this article, we'll take a detailed look at what cross functional collaboration is, three challenges it represents, a proven collaboration framework, and four best practices to ensure success when collaborating cross functionally.
We have a lot to get to so let's get started!
Cross Functional Collaboration: A Definition
In a nutshell, cross functional collaboration is when people from different teams or department within an organization come together to complete a specific goal or project.
For example, if a company were to release a new product, its leaders might first consult the engineering team to assess the feasibility of building the product, the sales department to determine the product's target audience and ideal price point, and the marketing folks to design strategies to promote the product effectively.
Each of these departments must work in harmony for the new product line to be produced efficiently, sell well, and, ultimately, bring in profit for the company.
Cross functional collaboration happens every day within companies — from big product launches like the one we just described to small, run of the mill, interactions between, say, marketing and customer support teams.
But just because these interactions are commonplace doesn't make them simple to navigate. There are many challenges that businesses can run into when attempting to collaborate cross functionally.
The Challenges of Cross Functional Collaboration
The challenges of cross functional collaboration can be boiled down to three main issues: conflicting interests, miscommunication, and rigid workflows. Let's look at each of these challenges individually:
When each department within a company is more concerned with its individual goals and initiatives than the goals of the company as a whole — or worse, when departmental teams can't say for sure what the overarching goals of their company are — cross functional collaboration issues will arise.
The key is to publicize company-wide goals and ensure that each department's individual initiatives align with those aims. That way, no matter which departments work together, the end objective is still the same and teams won't have to deal with conflicting interests.
Communication issues can also derail cross functional collaboration efforts. For example, there's a good chance that your customer success team has no idea what KPIs, CTAs, and USPs are. If your marketing team is constantly spouting off language of this sort when working with customer success reps, miscommunication will abound.
Fortunately, this cross functional collaboration challenge is easily fixed! Simply instruct teams to drop the jargon specific to their department and encourage them to ask questions if and when they don't understand something.
Lastly, we have the challenge of rigid workflows. Each of us develops work habits — our daily routines, the software tools we enjoy using, etc. But oftentimes, to successfully collaborate cross functionally, these standardized workflows need to be adjusted. This can lead to resistance.
The trick to successfully changing workflows is to adjust incrementally. Don't attempt to change everything all at once. Start with a small project and introduce the new software your teams need to use. As they get comfortable with it, you can make more changes.
A Proven Cross Functional Collaboration Framework
Now that we understand the most common challenges of cross functional collaboration, we can build a framework to help avoid them. Here are the four pillars of every successful cross functional collaboration effort:
When multiple teams come together to start the collaboration process, a strong, central leader should be appointed. This person should be someone whom everyone in the group trusts and can rely upon. It's the leader's job to keep all collaborators on track and the group as a whole functioning properly.
The best cross functional collaboration leaders are strong communicators who have a firm understanding of both company wide goals and specific project initiatives, and can effectively motivate their team members.
A Thorough Plan
It's also incredibly important to have a thorough plan for your cross function pursuits. What projects are your teams collaborating on and what are the objectives of each? Where do you currently stand in relation to that objective? Which team member will be involved in the process and what's expected of them? When the collaboration is over, what should be accomplished?
Having a big picture plan that can be shared with your entire team and referred back to during your cross functional collaboration effort is vital.
And don't forget to include checkpoints throughout the process! By periodically checking in with your team's progress, you can assess whether you're on track and if any major changes need to be made.
Once your plan has been created and approved, hold your team to it. Make sure they hit deadlines and stay the course.
The Right Tools
The right tools can make cross functional collaboration much more, well, functional. While you don't want to introduce a variety of new solutions and completely upend your team's entire workflow, there are a few specific collaboration software tools that you may want to consider implementing.
A project management app will help keep your cross functional team organized and on track. Fortunately, there are plenty of well-respected tools on the market. A few of our favorites are:
- Trello: Trello is an intuitive tool based on the Kanban methodology. Users can quickly create projects and tasks and collaborate with each other inside the app. It's a great option for those who want a highly visual tool.
- Asana: Asana is a popular project management app with a lot of functionality. It offers different viewing options (Kanban, task list, and timeline) and puts a strong emphasis on goal accomplishment to help keep users on track.
- Airtable: Airtable is one part spreadsheet, one part database, and all parts project management powerhouse. It's a very flexible tool that allows users to work the way they want and stay productive.
The project management tool you choose to keep your cross functional teams engaged and working efficiently will depend on your unique preferences. But each of the above apps is a great option and worth a closer look.
It will also help you and your collaborators to have a dedicated communication app or two. Email is a valuable tool but when it comes to inner-company conversations, the following software will be more beneficial:
- Slack: Slack is a business messaging and collaboration app that allows users to quickly converse with each other, easily search for and recall previous conversations, and even send documents back and forth — all inside the software.
- CloudApp: CloudApp is visual communication at its finest. From screen recording and sharing to GIF creation and image annotation, users love CloudApp because it makes conversing with colleagues much easier and a whole lot faster.
- Highfive: For companies with remote employs and/or multiple offices, a video conferencing app like Highfive is ideal. It's very easy to use and the quality of both the audio and video is top notch.
Earlier we mentioned that communication is one of the major challenges of cross functional collaboration. Not with the apps we just listed! Try them out with your team and enjoy the business-boosting power of efficient communication.
An Optimization Mindset
Finally, the best cross functional collaborations are led by professionals with an eye for optimization. What did you learn from your last collaboration effort? How can you improve your processes so that your next collaboration is more effective than the last?
Make sure that you are constantly analyzing both the successes and failures of your company's attempts to collaborate cross functionally. This will allow you to continually improve. It will also help you determine when cross functional collaboration is beneficial and when it's not.
Not every project and company initiative is best served by multiple departments. Sometimes a project is better handled by one team. They may be able to complete it more efficiently and with better results without having to interact with other functions. It's important to keep this in mind and not automatically assume that cross functional collaboration is the answer.
5 Cross Functional Teams Best Practices
You now have a solid cross functional collaboration framework to build your efforts around, let's cover a few cross functional teams best practices. The following five tips will help you excel when working with multiple departments.
Does your cross functional team trust each other? If they've never worked together before, the answer is probably no — at least not completely. The folks from the same department may feel comfortable with one another but when it comes to "outsiders", there may be a barrier.
As the leader of your team, you can overcome this by first making sure that your team's goals are aligned with your company's overarching objectives. You may also want to start the collaboration process with a few simple projects. A quick win or two will go a long way toward building trust between teammates.
And once a project has been completed, even if it's a small one, celebrate the success with your entire team. This will bring new collaborators together and help to bond them in positive ways.
Diversity in the workplace is a good thing. The same is true of your cross functional team. The more skill sets you have access to the better and competing viewpoints will give your group the best chance at consistently discovering the right solutions.
When choosing personnel for your cross functional collaboration, look for professionals with different and complementary experiences, abilities, and seniority levels. A variety of ages and genders can really help as well.
In general, the most effective teams are the ones who can look at problems from every angle and devise creative solutions to solve them. By building a diverse cross functional team, you'll ensure this happens more times than not.
Respect Each Department
According to Lisa B. Kwan in the Harvard Business Review, group members may feel threatened when asked to "divulge information and sacrifice autonomy." They may begin to feel like their area of expertise is being encroached upon and worry that they'll become less valuable to their company.
The way to overcome this collaboration hurdle is to recognize each team member for the contributions they make. You should also let each of them know that you respect and appreciate what they bring to the table.
And finally, make sure that the folks in each department oversee their own area of expertise and have final say in all matters pertaining to it. For example, defer to sales experts in matters concerning sales, marketing folks when it comes to marketing best practices, and so on.
Incentivize as Needed
Lastly, incentivize your team when necessary. This doesn't necessarily mean you need to award prizes for jobs well done — though if your collaborators respond well to this, you may want to give it a try. But it does mean that each team member should understand the benefits of collaborating beyond just additional company-wide success.
Perhaps the project you're currently working on will boost the reputation of all involved. Or maybe it will reduce the amount of mundane busy work team members will have to complete on a regular basis. Both outcomes are strong incentives for effective collaboration.
Make sure each of your team members knows what's in it for them and they'll be much more likely to collaborate.
Succeed at Cross Functional Collaboration
You now have a firm understanding of what cross functional collaboration is, the challenges it presents, a framework to collaborate effectively, and a few best-practices to ensure success.
If we were to boil this entire article down to one word, it would be "communication." Clear communication is at the heart of every successful collaboration effort. That's why we're excited to introduce you to CloudApp, the screen and video recording software tool used by Uber, Salesforce, and Adobe!
Our intuitive platform and powerful feature set will make it easy for your team to converse, share ideas, and get important work done. So give CloudApp a try for FREE today and experience true collaboration between departments.