what is cross-functional collaboration

In every medium to large business, the organisation has several teams, each catering to a different function of the business.

There are separate teams for sales, marketing, research, product development, testing, manufacturing, quality, operations, finance, etc. 

Each team has its own set of targets and metrics which they work on diligently. 

However, individually these results don’t make as much of an impact as they do when teams collaborate on various projects and work towards the success of an organisation. 

Think of it this way—would it make more sense if each of these teams contributed to make the other perform at a better level, and vice versa? 

Would the results be better if teams collaborated to make the whole business perform better? The answer is a resounding yes. 

But how can an organisation improve cross-functional collaboration, especially in the era of remote working?

By implementing cloud-powered solutions. 

Let us learn how businesses can encourage a culture of interdepartmental collaboration with the help of the cloud, and the benefits of doing so.

What is cross-functional collaboration?

The name itself is self-explanatory. 

Cross-functional collaboration simply refers to a workflow wherein a few members from different functions are grouped together for common objectives. 

Each of them brings functional knowledge, individual skills and insights to the table. 

Such goals may be:

  1. Short term
  2. A special project, or
  3. A long term pathway

Some people prefer to call this cross-team collaboration. 

Cross-team collaboration is usually seen in a project for which the business leader creates a virtual team of individuals drawn from different functions. We may also see such a collaboration where leaders of teams reach out to each other as an initiative. 

The addition of cloud-based services such as a hosted phone system can greatly benefit these virtual teams. Even if the members of the cross-functional team are located in different parts of the world, they can stay connected seamlessly.

There are significant benefits to such workflows. Let us quickly review them.

Benefits of cross-functional collaboration

From the list below, we will be able to understand that there is significant value in such collaborations, whether they’re implemented as a joint initiative by someone in the team or as a structured approach by the company.

  • Increased innovation

Diverse talent that is available in different teams has its own insights and thoughts that stem from their own experiences and learning.

Encouraging contributions from them outside of their primary roles brings out some interesting and pursuable ideas for the business. With the power of the cloud, the members of the team can continue to collaborate in virtual environments and still be productive.

This is the extra that changes ordinary to extraordinary.

  • Higher employee engagement

Cross-team collaboration breeds the next level of teamwork.

Newer ideas come from varied insights and opinions. These get team members encouraged to contribute at a higher level. A culture of embracing change surely follows.

Screen sharing, audio and video conferences, and in-meeting notes are some features that enhance collaboration between team members.

  • Better and more efficient workflows

It is an established fact that every initiative tends to get accomplished faster and better when relevant stakeholders come together to work on it.

Imagine the value of getting things done faster.

You can definitely foresee a positive impact on the profitability of every business.

With a hosted phone system, you can define role-based access to data and processes, and keep unauthorised personnel out. This way, only relevant stakeholders are able to access information whenever and wherever they need it.

  • Improved agility

There are changes in the marketplace all the time. The ability to quickly adapt and stay ahead is a key need in business environments today and certainly into the near future too. The capability of a business to remain flexible and agile gets a huge fillip from a culture of cohesive cross-functional working. 

A hosted phone system is highly flexible and scalable. You can pick and drop features, or scale up and down, as and when you need to. 

Beating the seasonal rush? Launching a big campaign? It will all be a cakewalk.

  • Opportunities for external collaboration with relevant stakeholders

A culture of collaborative work within an organisation extends to involving external stakeholders like suppliers, business partners, service providers and even customers in certain initiatives.

For example, if we can get customers and product developers in one team, it is easy to imagine the potential results that are both tangible and intangible. 

Using a hosted phone system, in this case, is surely beneficial. Not only does it promote internal communication but also external communication as well. 

You can choose from a range of tools, such as automated inbound or outbound calls, bulk messages, free phone number, and streamline their workings for efficient performance.

  • Opportunities for talent

A culture of cross-functional collaboration builds the esteem of the company. 

Better talent attraction is a natural benefit. And the learning opportunities that such talent gets help the business grow. Leadership at all levels makes all the difference.

While the benefits are many and certainly valuable, established organisations often find it difficult to effectively implement the culture of collaborative work. It is important to know and review the difficulties that come in the way before we look at the tips to make it a way of everyday life in a business.

Impediments to successful cross-functional collaboration

Here is a list of key reasons compiled through experience and inputs from business leaders who have been there, done it.

  • Physical distance and remote teams

Traditionally, we have seen that teams tend to be more tolerant and communicate better when they are interacting face-to-face or working together on a project. 

Physical distance is seen as an impediment by a large population of existing employees.  

Today, remote working is a reality with the talent available in multiple locations of established businesses. 

Further, in the new normal of the post-pandemic world, leaders are unlikely to have the leverage of getting everyone together in one common location for collaboration. 

  • Effective communication

Teams within organisations are used to communicating openly and effectively within themselves. They are, however, wary of sharing information outside of their teams, especially around their own workings and measurements.

This is usually left only to the team leaders. 

Interdepartmental collaboration is completely ineffective when communication is moderated or censored.

  • Misalignment in priorities and goals among different teams

We all see different teams and individuals working towards their goals diligently. There are metrics that keep track of the journey. All sounds very good, right? 

Now, imagine a salesperson reaching out to the finance department with favour to delight their customer—one of their goals. It would not be a surprise to get an answer like – this is not on our priority list. 

This happens purely because the finance team has its own set of goals that it is obsessed with, and rightfully so.

The core issue is goals in silos that may not be linked to a larger objective—whether overall business or even a simple project. There is always a difference between time-bound goals and the purpose of existence.

Surely, this is one of the impediments.

  • Social loafing

In a lot of teams, there are members whose contribution to team goals is limited and inadequate. This could be deliberate or otherwise. At the same time, they are good as individual contributors. 

Herein lays an impediment to cross-team collaborations because such behaviours are often unpredictable and tend to put burdens on others.

At times, such behaviours also surface when individuals may be unfamiliar with the working styles of others and are pulled in to collaborate on an initiative or a project.

  • Culture of superstars

Most businesses and teams love to have and are proud of, superstars who are super achievers. Such individuals, pretty often, come with diverse personality traits. 

Not having a plan to get superstar individual contributors to cross-team alignments can be a potential showstopper.  

  • Office politics and mutual trust

Much as we may want to deny, politics exists wherever there are relationships. And offices have professional relationships. Such behaviours exist in most businesses to varying extents. 

While all of them are not bad politics, these surely come in the way of open communication and the art of giving to an initiative outside of one’s own goals. 

A natural by-product here is a lack of mutual trust, especially when it comes to working with people outside of one’s own team. And this can be an obstacle to effective cross-functional collaboration.

With an understanding of the benefits of multi-team collaboration and some insights into the potential hindrances, let us look at the ways to make it work. 

Tips for creating buzzing cross-functional teams

The tips illustrated below have been compiled from the experiences of accomplished business leaders. These are simple and bordering on common sense. Yet, they surely work.

  • Buy-in of the executive

This is a no brainer. When the executive is the driver, at least as an overseer, teams or individuals tend to align better. With the benefits of cross-team association in sight, the top leadership, even if they are busy, will commit time for ownership and for reviews.

  • Messaging for a culture of collaboration

To initiate and develop the culture of collaboration across departments and teams for the next level of business growth, It is imperative for the executive leadership to articulate the reasons behind the plan. Over-communication is the key to bringing out suggestions, opportunities and ushering in the change.

  • A plan for collaboration

A detailed plan for collaboration is an absolutely important starting point. In the regular workflow, the team and the individuals have their own plans and goals. 

Collaboration requires teams members to come together for a specific initiative or project, and they need to have a crisp objective, approach and timeline to work on. 

A defined plan also mitigates conflicting interests that may otherwise arise going forward. The metrics for keeping track of milestones also need to be developed. 

Not having a plan at the start is a sure recipe for disaster. Plans certainly do not evolve. They need to be defined upfront. Course corrections, whenever required, should only be done through executive approvals.

  • A strong team leader with the right members

The key to the success of a collaborative plan is obviously in having the right team. 

A careful selection of individuals, drawn from relevant stakeholder teams, purely based on their skills is crucial. These employees become the single point of contact for the functions that they represent. 

A key point to note here is that such team picks need not be from top performers only. Apart from skills, they need to be picked for their personalities so that they can all gel well. Average performers also contribute strongly when the right opportunity comes forth.

This team also needs to be led by a strong manager who can align and lead the group to navigate the milestones and achieve the objectives. 

  • No micro-management

Once the team has been put together and a leader has been defined, the executive leadership needs to give space and freedom to the team to deliver the objectives.

This needs mentorship, not micromanagement. Senior leadership can set up systems and processes for regular reporting and reviews. This ensures they step in only to add further value or course corrections.

  • Communication platform

On a daily basis, there are multiple ways for employees to communicate internally—phone, instant messaging, email, shareware, cloud tools, etc. 

Additionally, when they come together with unfamiliar people from other teams, there could be an element of mistrust. This is natural because different teams have their own charters which could at times be conflicting. 

For a cross-team collaboration to succeed, it is important to have crisp and timely communication.

A centralised, technology-enabled communication platform that also supports remote working forms the backbone to the effective and aligned working of this diverse team. It also creates opportunities for open feedback and acknowledgements.

  • Right technology

A critical success factor in today’s world, where different functional teams are spread across locations and also have remote workers, is the use of the right technologies—both information technology and operational technology. 

Tools are important and have to be used for efficiency. Whether it’s Web conferencing, project management, collaboration platforms, these tools need to come in. 

Technology and expertise have to work together. Anything short will bring in stumbling blocks. 

  • Coaching and mentoring

Any change requires team members to adapt to deliver. Handholding and guidance are important for them to rise above individual and functional goals. 

The human resources department can play a key role in identifying talent for coaching and mentoring within the organisation. The first mentor and the coach can come in from the leadership team itself. 

The vision of the business leaders together with their experience is certainly invaluable here. 

  • Conflict resolution

Conflicts of various kinds in a running business are inevitable. 

They just tend to happen more in a cross-functional collaboration rollout. And the reasons are obvious—different work styles, functional priorities, varied understandings and skills, and the likes. 

The fact is that collaboration across functions is more a matter of behaviour than a matter of process automation. And conflicts mostly breed from behaviours.

An absolute wrong approach here would be to avoid or even kill conflicts. Resolution of conflicts, like everywhere else, is based on looking at the positives. 

And this is what needs to be the go-to mechanism for mitigating and managing conflicts.

  • Review and refine

The start point is often the endpoint and you begin again. 

For the successful rollout of cross-team collaboration, you begin with executive leadership buy-in and end with reflections, reviews and refinements. It is back to the executive leadership to step in. 

A review of each cross-team exercise and suggestions of team members are both mandatory for learning and refining the process. The next has to be better than the previous, almost always, right?  

Conclusion

Whether the task is to create a new product or service, unleash a new marketing program, find newer ways to service customers, refine operational efficiency in the organisation, they all need contributions from diverse teams. 

Certainly, collaboration across teams holds the key. It breaks the silos and priorities of individuals for their respective teams.

It would not be wrong to conclude that, if you want to run your business the way it is supposed to, there is just no alternative to effective cross-functional collaboration. The goals of team silos can, at times, be misaligned to larger organisational goals. Such gaps can only be addressed through effective collaboration with teams in other functions. 

A work environment where individuals from disparate teams come together certainly enables better innovation fosters creativity and enables businesses to harness the diversity of talent in the teams. Even the old ways of working can be challenged fruitfully. All this adds to sharpening the saw. 

There are obstacles and there are ways to overcome them and perceptions around them. Complexities are also higher in today’s world where a significant percentage of the workforce is remote working. 

Bring in a cloud communications solution to enable better cross-functional collaboration, eliminate manual effort and redundancies, streamline workflows and automate mundane processes.

Additionally, follow these tips to drive better revenues and see better margins in the balance sheets.

Olivia Trott

Content Writer at Acefone
Olivia is an outgoing person who enjoys writing, is an SEO enthusiast, and often interacts with others in intellectual conversations. She enjoys listening to music in her free time. Connect with her on Linkedin and Twitter.
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