4 Cross-Departmental Collaboration Challenges—and How to Overcome Them

• Collaboration

Cohesively aligned departments are important for the continued growth of every organization. On the other hand, when departments don’t work well together, they can eventually tear down the growth of the organization in no time.

When employees build strong interpersonal relationships with their colleges in other departments, it helps the organization run more smoothly. It is as simple as knowing where to go and who to ask for help when you are facing a specific issue.

Given the amount of importance companies put on collaboration, you’d think everyone would have perfected cross-departmental collaboration by now, but it continues to be a struggle for most.

The collaboration tools that a majority of companies use tend to focus too much on team collaboration and while doing so, they end up siloing departments.

Here are the main roadblocks faced during cross-departmental collaboration:

1. Social silos in departments

Silos usually develop when teams get isolated from each other and don’t consider what the organization is trying to achieve as a whole. Siloed teams only focus on their own roles and goals.

Whether consciously or unconsciously, departments can end up getting isolated from each other and create a silo of their own. This happens when team members only interact among themselves and rarely ever cross territories.

The result is a series of teams and departments with their own micro-culture which aren’t always compatible with each other. Social siloes also make it difficult for employees to understand each other’s job responsibilities.

In small organizations, it is common for departments and teams to work alongside each other on numerous projects. But the structure of large organizations can make it difficult for departments to work with each other, especially now when most companies have gone remote because of the pandemic. Teams from different departments hardly ever interact and therefore they don’t always know about what the others are up to.

How to overcome it: Create more opportunities for employees to socialize with each other, both during and after office hours. You can have casual dinners every day of the month and ask different departments to host dinners for the rest of the employees.

You can also match random employees to grab a coffee together every week so that they can learn more about each other’s jobs and responsibilities. Cross-departmental collaboration is most successful when it happens in an organic manner, and by creating opportunities for employees to socialize, you can achieve exactly that.

2. Employees may not understand the jargon of other departments

Every department has its own set of jargon, abbreviations, and short-forms that they use to communicate effectively with their team. But people from outside the department who have never worked on similar projects might not understand those jargons.

When most employees hear new jargon in meetings, they will either ignore it because they don’t find it relevant to their work or they’ll feel too awkward to interrupt their colleagues and ask what the jargon really means. This creates communication barriers between departments and stops cross-departmental collaboration from happening.

How to overcome it: Create a company culture where employees are encouraged to speak up and ask questions. When conducting inter-departmental meetings for the first time, always assume that your coworkers don’t know the jargon of your department, and keep explaining them as you go.

Organizations can also introduce learning opportunities where employees can have one-on-one conversations to get a better understanding of how the other departments function.

3. Employees may not have time to take over a new project

When employees are already busy handling their everyday work responsibilities, it can seem almost impossible to take on a new project, no matter how interesting it sounds.

There can be employees who want to be part of an interdepartmental project, but they may not have the time to start work on the new project anytime soon. Usually, problems like these occur when you decide on team members before creating a clear project timeline.

How to overcome it: Create a thorough project timeline even before you start shortlisting team members. Estimate the approximate time it will take to achieve the different stages of the project. Once employees have a good idea about what needs to be done and the total time it will take for them to finish their part of the project, it will be easier for them to decide whether they can take on the project and finish it within the estimated time or not.

4. No leadership in place to support collaboration

When team members from different departments come together to collaborate on a project, there can be some initial hiccups. But when there is no leader to guide everyone and take the final call, it can lead to bigger problems in the future. The project could fall through or things may not go the way you expected them to.

There can also be situations where employees feel they don’t have a voice in how the departments interact and collaborate. When employees don’t feel they have an opportunity to raise issues, ask questions, or be proactive, they will have little motivation to perform their best.

How to overcome it: You can only achieve successful cross-departmental collaboration when department heads and managers lead by example.

Department heads should take a top-down approach and come together to lay out the guidelines for cross-departmental collaboration. Moreover, if they notice their department is more hesitant in collaborating with others, they should take responsibility in building bridges and convincing employees.

A digital workplace can streamline cross-departmental collaboration

The majority of collaboration tools available are not developed for cross-departmental collaboration. They only help teams collaborate in an effective manner. Not to mention, employees from different departments are accustomed to using different applications to collaborate and manage their work.

Bringing them together to create a new team would mean shortlisting new applications and training the employees so they can use the new tools effectively, which would in turn increase both the project timeline and costs.

By introducing a digital workplace platform, you can make sure that employees can seamlessly collaborate whether they are working with their own team or collaborating with coworkers from other departments.

A digital workplace allows you to create dedicated communication channels where employees from different departments can discuss projects they are working on which can improve organic collaboration. Moreover, when your entire organization works through the same platform, it’s easier for employees to work together. There is a decreased learning curve, fewer chances of siloed teams, and increased cross-departmental collaboration.