The word collaboration is a significant aspect of organizations and businesses. While it may seem like a positive term for most people, the lack of it can bring the company's downfall. This is why today, when most collaborate with internal and external stakeholders to achieve company goals, it's best to make it strategic and know how to cross-functional collaboration better.
Read through this article to learn more.
What is cross-functional collaboration?
A cross-functional collaboration is sometimes called a cross-team collaboration. It is the process in which individuals from other teams and departments of various expertise come together to achieve one goal. Collaborations can be project-based or organic.
A project-based cross-functional collaboration means an organization or a team decides to develop a new product line that needs the cooperation of people with different expertise. Meanwhile, organic cross-functional collaboration happens when a product development manager gets insights from a marketing manager about the buying trends of its target customers to create campaigns around it.
In most cases, the projects assigned to the cross-functional collaboration team are something that team members work on together with their daily tasks.
Benefits of cross-functional collaboration
Organizations that have used cross-functional collaboration generally benefit from increased employee engagement and enhanced work processes, and are able to create faster solutions.
- Increased employee engagement. There might be times when distance between teams and departments is evident. Each unit is too focused on its tasks, which results in poor engagement levels with other employees. This can cause possible misunderstandings, isolation, or conflicts. However, if you integrate different teams through a cross-team collaboration, it increases the probability of better teamwork. Along the way, the team will have better brainstorming sessions, and individuals will feel a greater sense of the collaboration's ultimate goal.
- Streamlined work processes. Once the cross-team collaboration is activated, most organizations discover that it results in more streamlined processes. By maximizing the strengths of each individual, the collaboration team can accomplish more than the siloed ones. Remember, though, that streamlining the workflow might take time. It does not happen instantly.
- Promotes an innovative working environment. With collaboration, you can expect fresh and great ideas. For example, sales and marketing departments can provide insights into a product's new features, while the development individuals in the cross-team collaboration can identify customer pain points. In short, this collaboration encourages ideas from all angles, resulting in innovation and greater creativity. While not all ideas will be relevant to the existing task, opening a platform for more ideas through collaboration is always an excellent gain.
- Gathers diverse experiences and skill sets. As you gather different people from different departments, you can expect a vast range of skills and expertise in your collaboration team. There could be a marketer with a STEM minor or a marketing rep who's into creative arts. Diversity guarantees different contributions to the team's ultimate goal.
- Improved alignment across all departments involved. Within a cross-functional collaboration, you have clearly defined roles and specific goals to work toward realizing the task at hand. Companies use this strategy to let individuals from different departments be aware of what's happening within the organization rather than staying within the siloed departments.
Common challenges of cross-functional collaboration
As previously mentioned, a cross-team collaboration won't work overnight. Since you're gathering different individuals from various teams and departments, it might take a little time for them to warm up to each other. It may also take some guidance from the head of the collaboration team to get used to accommodating inputs and opinions from different people.
Look closely at some of the possible challenges this strategy has. This allows you to make initiatives to at least lower the probability of these scenarios from happening.
- Conflicting goals. It's been said that collaboration is essential in an organization. It's technically accurate. However, members might disagree on certain things, including which to prioritize or how to reach the ultimate goal. It pays to set clear expectations and show how they align with the team's mission.
- Trust issues. Building trust within the collaboration team is a challenge. Trusting someone and earning trust from your team members generally takes time. If your trust seems challenging in siloed environments, it can be much more complex in cross-team collaborations. Team building initiatives can be of great help to build camaraderie. During meetings, the team can also participate in short games to shake some awkward air within the group.
- Resistance to other working strategies. The change in the status quo can be scary, and some think it's unnecessary. However, keeping the status quo limits the opportunities to increase efficiency and productivity in the workplace. An individual being used to a set of processes in doing things may not welcome new tools that are forced upon them. You can introduce new approaches and strategies so collaboration team members can adjust and provide feedback. Accepting opinions matter, and it puts reluctant team members at ease.
- Poor communication leads to more misunderstandings. Some individuals struggle to work in team settings. They're usually those people who prefer to work independently. If you put them in a cross-functional collaboration team, the tendency would be some lapses in the communication aspect. To remedy this, you can include them in email threads so they can work on the tasks alone while keeping all members in the loop about the project. Another means would be conducting check-ins frequently so they can slowly open up to other members.
- Remote collaboration can be challenging. Online communication tools can be of help in simple projects and working environments. However, it may be different when dealing with complex workflows, especially if you bring different departments of the company together in a cross-functional collaboration team. You might need to use more collaborative tools to ensure the cross-functional setup is working, even virtually.
Tips and best practices for effective cross-functional collaboration
The previously mentioned challenges generally centered around individuals having to adapt to new workflows and new colleagues within the cross-functional collaboration team. It's beneficial to acknowledge the common difficulties so they can develop initiatives and solutions.
Consider the following points below to implement a cross-team collaboration effectively.
- Develop a collaboration plan. A plan is necessary before the team is assigned roles and sets deadlines. The plan must consider various aspects, including the company objectives, strengths and weaknesses of employees, and future challenges. Throughout the collaboration period, you can have a plan as a reference to evaluate bandwidth, settle possible disputes on execution, and understand roadblocks.
- Use the appropriate collaborative tools and systems. Technology makes the job easier, regardless of industry. It's nearly impossible to succeed without using specific tools for efficient workflows. List the daily tasks and objectives so you would know the tools to make the collaboration successful. Diagramming and collaboration platforms like Boardmix let you organize projects and concepts in one accessible location. As a result, you're allowing team members to have a shared digital space. This allows better engagement and participation, which results in innovation and productivity.
- Include collaborative leaders and staff. Surely, you can choose the best employee in the department for the cross-functional collaboration project. But besides that, ensure to select those with a collaborative mindset. This way, they're more open to innovations, opinions, and workflow changes. At the same time, collaborative leaders will also be vital to gathering the rest of the staff together for a more effective and efficient collaboration.
- Diversity is essential. Inviting diverse individuals to your collaboration team leads to different perspectives. Besides gender, age, and race, education, skills, and experience will bring fresh and varied insights to the team. Younger members might see solutions they learned from university, while seasoned members may have encountered the issue in the past and know how to resolve it quickly.
- Embrace feedback. You can expect different opinions from everyone on the team; some favor the idea, while others feedback might be against it. Generally, some employees fear criticism. However, it's beneficial for everyone to listen and be open to criticism. The point is not to single out a team member; instead, the feedback is a way for the team to improve. After all, it's from constructive criticism that you grow as an individual.
Take your organization's cross-functional collaboration to the next level.
You can streamline your workflow and have everyone in the cross-functional collaboration team aligned through Boardmix. This diagramming and collaborative platform lets you utilize a virtual whiteboard to conduct meetings and take notes simultaneously. Furthermore, it's accessible to everyone through a link to the whiteboard.
This means your projects, concepts, and ideas are stored in the workspace, and members can reference them when necessary. Most importantly, strategic and development planning templates are accessible in the Boardmix library. Whenever your team needs specific templates, you only need to search for pre-built diagrams and use them conveniently.