Collaborative Work Management Guide

What Is Cross-Functional Collaboration?

What Is Cross-Functional Collaboration?

For many companies, projects undertaken are passed through the pipeline by one team, requiring minimal input from other departments. In some cases, it’s just a cursory review, whereas in others there’s no need to pass comments on the project. 

However, some projects require the combined effort of various teams, spanning a range of departments. This process is known as cross-functional collaboration, and it can play a key role in your business. The coming together of minds from different teams and departments allows you to innovate, bring fresh perspectives, and strive towards shared goals.

As an example, say you need to attract top talent to fill a vacant position in the company. To do so, it’s wise to draw upon the knowledge of the HR department, but if the position is for a marketing role, having input from that department could prove essential for finding the perfect candidate.

The benefits of cross-functional collaboration

The cross-functional collaboration meaning should be clear by now: it’s a way of bringing departments together for synergistic work.

We’ve touched upon some of the reasons you might want to instill a collaborative mindset in the workplace, but what exactly could you gain from exploring collaborative work?

Create an environment of innovation

One of the best ways to foster innovation within your company is to promote the cross-pollination of ideas. Relying on a single person or group of people to drive innovation excludes the input of different perspectives. 

While the sales department might have some fantastic ideas for product features that sell, the marketing department could refine those ideas to appeal to a wider audience. This is an example of cross-functional collaboration at its best: drawing upon different viewpoints to create a greater, more complete end product.

The process may not always be seamless, as too many voices can sometimes drown out good ideas and favor the loudest in the room. However, manage the process well, and you’ll be rewarded richly with vibrant ideas that could only come about through cross-examination and collaboration.

Boost employee engagement

One of the largest problems companies face in the digital age is low employee engagement levels. If your employees are largely going through the motions when they show up to work each day, you could be missing out on many productive hours. 

One of the best ways to improve employee engagement and create a sense of purpose for each individual? Teamwork.

It may seem counterintuitive that working with someone else helps you focus on your own work, but the evidence is there. Expand the scope of teamwork to include team members from different departments, and you’re onto a winning recipe for higher engagement levels. Working towards a shared goal under the guidance of strong leaders can be hugely rewarding.

Streamline work processes

Implementing cross-functional collaboration in any organization is a challenge, yet the reward can justify the risk. What you may lose in short-term productivity, you can gain in long-term output. 

At first, workflows will be stunted, and processes will slow down as employees get up to speed with the tools they need to collaborate successfully. Yet once everyone is on board, you can streamline work processes to make it easier than ever to work with others in the company.

Develop an Agile framework

The Agile enterprise is on the rise, and for good reason. Evidence suggests that Agile companies, which incorporate elements such as collaboration into the workplace successfully, enjoy greater productivity and employee engagement.

Collaboration is a pillar of the Agile framework, but it also underpins other methodologies. Incorporating it into your company’s work dynamic can help drive progress across departments.

Appeal to talent and stakeholders

Cross-functional collaboration can have a profound impact on the internal organization of your company. It can promote innovation, engagement, and higher productivity levels. But did you know it can also make your company as a whole more appealing to both top talent and stakeholders?

A well-oiled machine that focuses on collective work principles and effective collaboration is generally more appealing than one that leaves individuals to their own devices. After all, the ideal company is one in which all individuals contribute and move in the same direction as a single, cohesive unit.

Effective cross-functional collaboration

Knowing about cross-functional collaboration and how it can benefit your company is one thing, but successfully implementing it is another altogether. In this section, we’ll get into specifics, outlining how you can create a work culture built on a foundation of collaboration.

Clarify roles

Just as each member of a team needs to know what their role is and how they can contribute, each team in a cross-functional collaboration initiative must be aware of the part it has to play. 

From the outset, you need your team leaders to step up and paint a picture for their respective teams, clarifying each member’s role, the shared goal, and how they’ll work to achieve it. In these meetings, leaders should encourage open discussion and input from all members to create a back-and-forth dialogue. That way, each member will feel a vested stake in the project’s success and find it easier to engage with the workload.

This planning process can lead to an effective team-building exercise, creating new connections between team members. It also allows each member to define what they want their contribution to the project to be, within reason, so that they feel like they are allowed to imprint their autonomy on the project.

Host regular concept reviews

Concept reviews present an opportunity to invite stakeholder feedback and refine the collaboration process as you go. The input from stakeholders can influence the direction of the project and help you outline parameters such as the budget, timeline, and other important details.

Concept reviews can also encourage criticism before the project is too far down the pipeline. It’s much easier to change the project before you’ve made serious progress than when it’s close to completion. Plus, bringing stakeholders into the fold strengthens their ties with your company and makes them feel like they’re along for the ride.

Avoid micromanagement

Effective cross-functional team collaboration is only possible when you allow individual teams space to breathe. If you stay on top of teams, breathing down the neck of team leaders, you’re encroaching on the team’s ability to be creative and produce its best work.

Of course, accountability is a concern if you leave each team to its own devices, but there’s a solution: Implement systems that monitor performance without inhibiting progress. Working with a collaborative tool is an excellent way to oversee a shared project without getting in the way.

Wrike allows individuals from various teams to come together and work on tasks and projects with ease. Actionable to-do lists, 360° visibility, and instant file sharing give your teams all the tools they need to succeed. Plus, you have your checks and balances in place with access to detailed productivity reports in the form of tasks and projects completed. That way, you can assess progress and see how each team is performing.

Sign up for a free two-week trial today and see how Wrike can help create a cross-functional collaboration framework for your company.

The challenges of cross-functional collaboration

Cross-functional collaboration can work wonders for your business, but it isn’t all plain sailing. In fact, coordinating projects on a company-wide level, and involving various departments, can be a logistical nightmare.

Setting up communication systems to link the chain from one department to another, sourcing the right collaborative tools, and establishing performance metrics are all problems you will have to overcome in the pursuit of cross-functional collaboration.

Here are three of the greatest obstacles to effective cross-functional collaboration:

1. Working in remote teams

Collaboration is challenging at the best of times, let alone when there’s a global pandemic threatening to eradicate the traditional office workplace. With teams and employees scattered away from a single place of work, everything becomes more difficult — from communicating to working effectively.

As such, you need to embrace the remote work environment for any collaboration effort to be a success. Hold regular virtual meetings, make the most of collaborative tools, and check in regularly with each team leader to ensure everyone is on the same page.

2. Social loafing

Even if you’re not familiar with the term ‘social loafing,’ you’ve likely experienced it before. Cast your mind back to the last college project you took on with fellow classmates — was it a resounding success, an example of synergistic thinking at its best?

We’re willing to bet it wasn’t. Most likely, what went down is one team member (you) carried the team and did all the hard work. That’s social loafing.

To avoid this issue in the workplace, you need to create clear performance metrics that track not only a team’s progress with a project but each individuals’ contributions too. Collaboration tool Wrike allows you to assess performance with the following metrics:

  •   Completed tasks
  •   Duration of completed tasks
  •   Tasks and duration average

With these three straightforward metrics, you can see who is picking up the slack and who’s just slacking off.

3. Misunderstandings

Misunderstandings happen all the time and to some extent, can’t be prevented, as everyone communicates in a different way. 

When collaborating with other departments, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that they might not use the same technical jargon and terminology you’re used to. As a result, you could end up with needless, easily-avoidable misunderstandings that could impede progress.

For example, if your software developers create a user test to assess a particular feature and send it through to the marketing department for feedback full of jargon, it’s likely to cause confusion and slow down progress as clarification is required. 

To avoid this common issue, every team needs to understand the importance of clear communication. Instill this value from the top, and it’ll trickle down to individual team members, removing bottlenecks caused by poor communication.

Cross-functional collaboration can elevate productivity levels and help you create a close-knit community feeling in your company to hit your shared goals and work towards a greater vision. It isn’t without its challenges, but the juice is certainly worth the squeeze.

Further reading
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How to Increase Collaboration Between Teams

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What Are Common Collaboration Problems?

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What Collaborative Exercises Are Good for Teams?

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What Is Interprofessional Collaboration?