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Cross-Functional Collaboration Is the Hardest Kind


Let’s say your marketing team is putting together a campaign for a new product line. There’s a lot of buzz and excitement around the audience. However, as the marketing team dives into the plan, they come up with some important questions about establishing the audience. The last launch ended with the sales team having to backtrack on promises and you’ve finally learned your lesson from that.

The marketing lead reaches out to the product manager for more insight, but she is tied up in meetings discussing some new features. After a week, they finally get together, but the discussion around the audience is very hazy and the product manager has to leave abruptly to run to another meeting.

These kinds of stories are common in almost all organizations, and they usually involve a lot more backbiting and eye rolls. It’s not that people don’t want to help each other, they simply have different priorities. Making time to include other departments in key discussions goes against the grain of most companies. Over 75 percent[1] of cross-functional teams are dysfunctional with no accountability. Here’s where cross-functional collaboration comes into the picture.

What is cross-functional collaboration?

Cross-functional collaboration happens when different teams in an organization collaborate on a common project or a goal. Collaboration is an essential practice for organizations looking to break down silos and work alongside departments instead of against each other. Collaborative functions are more productive and create a more enjoyable workplace.

Common challenges of cross-functional collaboration

Cross-functional collaboration is the goal of any organization, but it’s hard to pull off without a lot of hard work. Like the previous example, there are some roadblocks to deal with:

1. Skewed team dynamics

Many departments don’t know much about what other teams do. They don’t have a clear idea about the responsibilities of other teams due to communication gaps. Different squads work in dark corners, handling only a portion of the project and missing out the vision of the big picture. This results in microaggressions, animosity, and ambivalence towards other teams.

2. Misaligned goals

Each department might have its own clear objectives, but when united, those goals don’t always overlap well. If marketing’s job is to bring more leads, what do you do when sales complains that most of them are junk? Each team chases its own metric which doesn’t always result in the common good.

3. Geographical limitations

If your workplace is distributed across multiple locations or even just different floors, you can struggle to keep all teams informed and up to speed. Many organizations stick to emails and messages for discussions that need to be highly collaborative. When it’s time to follow up on conversations, you have to dig through a huge pile of chat threads.

4. Inefficient meetings and discussions

Meetings are a great way to make sure everyone knows the latest data and moves forward as a group. But when the agenda of the meeting isn’t set, or not everyone is allowed to participate equally, they end up making everyone bitter.

5. No visibility on progress

Even if you establish KPIs, does anyone care about them if they are not responsible for them? Some team members might drop their responsibilities or not be willing to help others because they are focused on their own metrics. Everyone tracks their goals in separate spreadsheets or applications, so it’s hard to know how much progress has been made.

6. Siloed apps

Your data is spread across different apps that need to be pieced together. Spreadsheets, emails, chat tools, and many other applications carry your work. Combining them to get a unified view is difficult.

What if teams collaborated like this?

Imagine teams being so well in sync that marketing, product, sales, support, and all other departments used the same terminology and technology and discussions could move fluidly across teams without a need for translation. Here is a vision of how teams could collaborate.

  1. Everyone works on the same goal and knows how their work supports it
  2. There is clear understanding of the importance of each team member to reach common goals
  3. Team meetings are public, accessible, and understandable by everyone else in the organization
  4. Teams in different locations have the same level of involvement and contribution
  5. Everyone knows the status of important milestones as you move toward your goals
  6. Teams get along and have a high level of respect for each other

When teams collaborate this way, they are more agile, and your office becomes a more positive and focused place to work. Teams are strongly knit to each other, resulting in faster decisions, and immediate recovery from failed attempts.

Best practices for effective cross-functional collaboration

Here are six smart practices to keep your cross-functional teams engaged and collaborative at all times:

1. Establish and reinforce primary goals

Primary goals should be a top priority at anytime across any team. Everyone should realize they are working towards this goal at all times. When teams focus on higher order goals, they naturally lose the hierarchical mindset. They forget silos, and picture all teams as one collaborative unit.

Each team can have a secondary goal that shows how they are contributing to the overall company, but it must always be in the context of the primary goal. Better yet, allow individual teams to reflect and set their own metrics for how they will help reach the primary goal.

2. Encourage transparency with channels

Limiting the usage of chat tools is a good way to promote transparency. Chat tools are good for short discussions that need the immediate attention of people. But to keep everyone in the loop, it’s better to communicate through open channels that are easily accessed by the entire company.

Channels are a great place to share project updates, announcements, and meeting notes. Have quick and organized conversations with teams keeping everyone informed at all stages. Channels are also a good way to resolve issues that are not urgent, or need ideas from a lot of people in multiple teams. You can also use private channels for sensitive discussions, but they should not be the norm.

3. Organize short, data-driven meetings

To make actual progress with your meetings, try to keep them short and informative. Share the detailed agenda beforehand in your channels and set the context beforehand. Get the momentum going by sharing any relevant information.

During the meeting, avoid discussions that are outside the scope of the agenda. Make sure you meet the purpose of the meeting. Make sure you take notes and document the entire meeting so that nothing gets missed that was agreed on. This also helps to give direction to upcoming meetings.

4. Create rules of engagement for collaboration

Everyone thinks they know how to collaborate, but it’s not as easy as getting everyone in the same room or on a channel. Who drives the conversation? What do you do if someone is talking too much? How do you draw out everyone’s expertise? What happens if no one comments on a thread? What happens when things get heated?

Creating common house rules for how you do collaboration makes it easy when different team meet up.

5. Build diverse teams to bring in different perspectives

Different perspectives to a problem can be brought in by recruiting people from diverse backgrounds like skills, educational qualification, age, gender, race, and experience.

If each team is very homogenous to itself, it can make cross-functional collaboration even more difficult. If all your teams have their own diversity, then groups will be used to listening to new perspectives.

6. Build a common cross-functional collaboration framework

Having separate apps for each department to manage their own work is a double-edged sword. There may be some benefits to tracking specialty metrics in unique software solutions, but if your apps don’t play well with each other, how will your teams get along any better?

While there are some specialty tools you should be using, find a common digital workplace that unites many types of work onto a single platform. Imagine not only being able to have conversations in the same place, but also manage projects and automate workflows as well.

Same team. Same tools.

Keeping everyone in different teams of your organization engaged in a cross-functional collaboration is a big challenge. Offering a single all-in-one collaborative platform not only evens the playing field, but brings everyone to the same place.

Kissflow’s collaboration features can get your cross-functional teams on the same page. You can create open and closed channels based on your preferences to discuss work in social media-style posts, announcements and polls. Kickstart meetings in advance by starting discussions, and have productive discussions with intuitive file sharing and notification preferences.

Try the platform built for cross-functional teams and experience trouble-free collaboration!