Many companies want cross-functional collaboration between their teams. It has multiple beneficial outcomes for the organization, both quality and profit-wise.
However, cross-functional collaboration requires clear guidance, good communication, and several other aspects. Despite their many benefits, cross-functional teams are often dysfunctional and fail to deliver high-quality results.
💡 Moreover, the switch to remote and hybrid work models has posed challenges to teams that used to collaborate in vivo. Get our eBook on team collaboration in hybrid work environments and get end-to-end guidance on resolving challenges and best tools for hybrid teams.
What is cross-functional collaboration?
Simply put, when individuals with different functional expertise and knowledge work on a joint project, cross-functional collaboration takes place. Usually, this means that individuals from different teams will work together.
The goal of such collaboration is to marry team members’ different insights and achieve a high-quality outcome. Some common examples include cross-functional collaboration between marketing and design teams as well as between customer success and sales teams.
Benefits of cross-functional collaboration
Building cross-functional teams can be challenging, especially in a hybrid work environment. Yet, it is highly rewarding. In fact, research shows that groups make better decisions than individuals, and that collaboration can lead to huge improvements throughout the company.
Here are some specific benefits of cross-functional collaboration.
More innovation and creativity
Innovative and creative ideas that are a product of team collaboration are a starting point for all other benefits of cross-functional teams. The main premise of cross-functional collaboration is that team members come from different educational backgrounds, and focus on different areas of business. This will make their ideas on common goals radically different, thus enriching the project.
Breaking down barriers
Sadly, 39% of employees believe that there isn’t enough collaboration going on in their organizations. However, when teams engage in cross-functional collaboration, it creates a starting point for more communication between different teams.
This ultimately leads to breaking down barriers and organizational silos.
Steep learning curve
Cross-functional collaboration enables individuals to grow individually. By collaborating with colleagues from different teams, they learn new concepts. Furthermore, employees can learn from someone else’s mistakes.
Exposing employees to cross-functional collaboration is great for putting their work in a bigger context. Employees can gain new insights into other teams’ work, and see how everyone’s work contributes to organizational goals.
Improving communication skills and patterns
Did you know that social interaction is responsible for 50% of the positive changes in communication patterns between coworkers?
This speaks volumes about the indirect benefit of cross-functional collaboration: employees from different teams getting to know each other better. Moreover, every participant’s communication skills can improve by practicing them more frequently – and receiving feedback.
💡 Find out 10 ways to master team communication.
There is no better way to put leadership to practice than exercising cross-functional collaboration. People from different teams and backgrounds put together sometimes make a tough crowd to handle. This is exactly why it is a great opportunity for up-and-coming leaders to brush their management skills.
According to Deloitte’s research, organizations that moved to cross-functional teams experienced 53% of significant performance improvement. This is because collaboration has the power to engage employees in their work: it makes them feel like their work is meaningful and will have an impact.
Increased customer satisfaction
McKinsey’s research shows that cross-functional collaboration can lead to increased customer satisfaction. Actually, most companies create cross-functional teams to serve their customers better.
For example, employees from marketing, product, engineering, sales, and customer success often come together to work on a specific project aimed at improving the quality of their company’s service or product. Having multiple perspectives in the same room (be it real or virtual) can resolve the issue much faster and with higher quality.
Building team spirit
It is sometimes hard to create and maintain team spirit in digital workplaces, especially if everybody works fully remote. However, the beauty of cross-functional collaboration also lies in its inclusiveness. Is there a better way to create a feeling of belonging to the same organization than having cross-functional teams working on high-impact projects?
5 steps to successful cross-team collaboration
Unfortunately, 75% of cross-functional teams are dysfunctional. They go over budget, don’t meet deadlines, fail to meet customer expectations or steer away from corporate goals.
Well, nobody said it was easy!
Here are some research-backed recommendations on making cross-functional collaboration work.
A lot of cross-functional teams fail because of a lack of accountability. Cross-functional team members usually have their work and goals they have to reach. To collaborate cross-functionally, they usually need more guidance than usual, simply because it is often a new situation for them.
Therefore, it is useful to assign a task to manage the project to a single person, and potentially also to have team leaders from each different department.
Clear goals, deadlines, and resources
In general, it is good to operate any project with clear objectives in mind. This is especially true for cross-functional collaboration projects. Having work agenda set out helps everyone prioritize the cross-functional project, and also to include it in their everyday schedule.
More precisely, a whopping 97% of workers believe that a lack of alignment between team members impacts the outcome of a project.
Objectives and key results (OKR) methodology is a good way to have everybody on the same page and focused on the same results.
Constant project re-evaluation
To stay on top of cross-functional projects, it is necessary to continuously go back to the basics and re-evaluate them. Are you on the right track, deadline, budget, and objective-wise?
The same goes for cross-functional collaboration: it needs to be frequently analyzed to be improved. Polls and surveys to team members are a great tool to check if everybody believes their ideas are being listened to and the project is on the right track.
💡 Engage your team by creating simple polls within Rocket.Chat!
Building better communication skills
Communication is the key to successful projects, and employees know it. According to research, 89% of people believe that effective communication is extremely important in the workplace. Unfortunately, only 17% of people believe their business communication skills are great.
Therefore, building better communication skills is vital to cross-functional collaboration as well as to other aspects of the business.
Having the right tools
Having the right tools for cross-functional collaboration does not mean having many of them. Many employees experience app fatigue in their work lives and feel overwhelmed by the work technology.
The absolute minimum you need to collaborate are synchronous and asynchronous communication apps. They allow teams to connect in real-time via video conferencing, but also to communicate with time delay. That way, communication does not get tedious and overwhelming.
💡 Check out our list of best collaboration software. Also, don’t forget that data security is a huge challenge when it comes to remote collaboration! Get this list of the most secure messaging apps and communicate with your team without any worries.
Extra tips for successful cross-functional collaboration
There is a lot to keep in mind when working on cross-functional teams. Here are some extra tips to follow when collaborating across different teams.
Be mindful of data security and protection
With the switch to remote work in 2020, many companies didn’t take adequate measures to protect their data. A lot of data security vulnerabilities come from a dispersed workforce that still needs to collaborate.
Therefore, don’t forget about protecting sensitive data when collaborating cross-functionally! Find out which encrypted messaging apps can help you do that.
Encourage open feedback
Did you know that the ratio of positive to negative feedback in high-performing teams is 5:1?
This means that you should encourage people to recognize each other’s work as well as provide some constructive feedback. For many people, it is still an unpleasant experience. However, it goes hand-in-hand with improving communication skills overall.
Spread positivity & motivation
Like with any other team effort, positivity goes a long way! For example, motivate your team with a team lunch or drinks after project completion. Recognize your mistakes, but focus on the positives and how much everybody has learned along the way!
Keep end-customer in mind
Every step of cross-functional collaboration projects should be oriented towards the end customer. How does your project contribute to your end-product or services, and how does it make your customers’ lives better?
This is the #1 goal you should always stay focused on when collaborating across teams. Make a habit of bluntly asking your teammates: How does this help our customers?