It’s far better to have a team of specialists working on a project than a handful of generalists.
This is why cross-functional collaboration has become the go-to way to handle complex projects.
If you’re working on a website rehaul, you want a healthy mix of copywriters, designers, editors, and developers onside. But it can be tricky trying to manage the wealth of talent, particularly when each team is working on multiple projects at once.
Here’s everything you need to know about cross-functional collaboration and how to leverage it effectively across projects.
What Is Cross-Functional Collaboration?
Cross-functional collaboration is when team members from different departments work together on a project.
It benefits from tapping into a diverse set of talent and skills that make it easier to solve tricky problems and reach goals quicker.
Why Is Cross-Functional Collaboration Important?
Cross-functional collaboration leans on the talents of different team members, it can lead to more successful project outcomes and better overall business performance.
Different viewpoints and perspectives break down potential silos and foster a more creative and collaborative culture.
Benefits Of Cross-Functional Collaboration
Increase Engagement From Employees
Teams can suffer from tunnel vision when they work in isolation.
This makes it hard for them to see the bigger picture and they can end up getting stuck in a rut.
When departments seamlessly come together, they can inspire new ways of thinking and offer alternative perspectives which can increase employee engagement and productivity levels.
When each department is treated as a separate entity, it can lead to bottlenecks and wasted time as teams wait for feedback and input from other departments.
Cross-functional collaboration streamlines the process by firstly allowing teams to work cohesively together so that everyone knows what’s happening and when, and, secondly, by bringing together diverse experiences that can improve processes.
Define Roles & Goals
Everyone has a dedicated role in a cross-functional team.
Instead of spreading themselves thin, team members are assigned tasks directly related to their skills and experience.
This makes it much easier for the project manager to plan who’s doing what and ensures team members know exactly what their role will be in a project.
Improve Cross-Department Communication
Communication is much easier when all teams work towards a joint goal.
Instead of communicating in silos among each department, everyone comes together to communicate via the same methods on the same platforms.
Utilize Diverse Skills
Each team has a wealth of skills and knowledge.
While the marketing department might excel at analytical thinking and quantitative tracking, the design team might be better at thinking creatively and coming up with unique concepts.
Combining different skill sets helps fill the gaps and ensures every base is covered.
Challenges & Solutions For Cross-Functional Collaboration
Lack Of Trust
It takes time to build trust.
Throwing together different teams can be uncomfortable at first, especially when you don’t know the strengths and weaknesses of each new team member.
A lot of the initial stages of cross-functional collaboration involve letting go and solving disagreements, but it’s worth it for the end result.
To start building trust, run icebreakers and other fun team-building activities so everyone can get to know each other.
Then, start small by running short sprints to see how different team members work best and to get everyone used to working together.
The most important thing is to stay open-minded.
Everyone works differently and, as soon as you understand the strengths of each team member, it’ll be much easier to implement a plan that helps them blossom.
Not everyone thrives in a group setting.
In some cases, people clam up entirely and forget to communicate with the rest of the team.
This can lead to bottlenecks and missed opportunities, especially if multiple team members struggle to collaborate.
Avoid this by leaning into asynchronous collaboration where team members can communicate when and how they want.
This limits the number of stressful meetings and gives everyone a chance to speak. You can also hold regular check-ins, both individually and as a team, so that everyone knows what they need to be working on.
It can be an uphill struggle trying to get each team to prioritize your project—especially if they’re working on multiple things at once, which is usually the case.
One study found that 81% of people working in teams work on more than one concurrently. If you have 10 people on a team, 8 of them are also working on other projects.
Get buy-in through detailed creative briefs that highlight the audience you’re targeting and the main goals and objectives.
This will help teams to see the purpose of the project and what it is they’re working towards. You can also use this to highlight when you need each department’s help so they can plan their workload around that.
Make sure you talk to the managers of each team member too so you can realistically map out timelines and get their help prioritizing your project tasks.
The rise of remote teams has made it harder than ever to work collaboratively across cities and, in some cases, continents.
Physical distance can create a barrier, particularly when it comes to working across time zones and in totally different areas.
You can help create an illusion of closeness with regular team check-ins, as well as promote asynchronous work sprints that allow team members to work on their tasks when they’re available and productive.
It’s common for individual teams to do things in the way they’re used to.
While this helps leverage their unique knowledge and past experiences, it can also lead to information silos that build up over time.
Reduce the possibility of this by creating a collaborative space for team members to share important information. Making sure everything is available to all teams at all times will minimize the hoarding of information and create transparency across the project.
Management Skills To Improve Cross-Functional Collaboration
Managing multiple different teams with varying schedules and priorities is not an easy task, so knowing how to successfully plan, execute, and track a project is critical when you’re juggling so many plates at once.
When you’re skilled at project management, you can:
- Accurately plan budgets and schedules
- Prioritize the most important tasks
- Maintain high productivity levels across teams
- Understand OKRs and whether you’re on track to hit them
This often means experimenting with different project management techniques to find out which is best for each project.
Agile methodologies might work well for one project, but Scrum or Kanban might be better for another. It’s up to you to determine which method you’ll be using and encourage team members to stick to the plan.
It’s critical to make quick decisions to keep projects moving forward.
This is particularly hard when you have so many different inputs, but someone has to have the final say.
Making decisions isn’t just about choosing who does what and when, it also involves tackling unexpected issues and figuring out how to deal with problems that crop up along the way (which, if you’ve ever run a project before, can happen a little more often than you’d like).
As the central point of contact, you need to be able to effectively communicate with every team member involved in a project.
This is easier said than done, especially when different people prefer different methods of communication.
Asynchronous communication works well in larger team environments because it gives everyone a chance to have their say in a way they feel comfortable and it’s easier for you to keep track of conversations because they’re noted down on your chosen communication platform or in an email thread.
It’s par for the course when you’re working with multiple different talented folks.
Heads might butt, so it’s up to you to tackle any issues head-on in a productive and structured way. Learning how to resolve conflicts quickly will lead to slicker processes and improve team satisfaction across the board.
Build Your Team
Continuous development is key to team growth.
To get the best out of everyone involved, it’s important that you can identify strengths and weaknesses and provide training and activities that help individuals overcome the challenges they face.
This isn’t just about hosting icebreakers and getting everyone to play two truths and a lie, it’s about tapping into the core strengths of each team member and working with those strengths to build an even bigger, better collaborative team.
Best Practices For Cross-Functional Collaboration
Trust is at the core of every team project.
If you don’t trust your team to do their job well, you’ll end up micromanaging everything they do.
It’s best to start building trust from the very start. Invite open discussions, host icebreakers and team activities, and work with each individual to learn what they’re good at and what they might need extra help with.
Create A Collaborative Team
There’s no denying that running a cross-functional team is hard.
It takes time to build a team that actually functions well and hits it out of the park every single time.
Start by creating clearly defined roles so that everyone knows what’s expected of them.
This includes setting external parameters, such as budget, timelines, and outcomes. Then, hold regular “health checks” to identify any bottlenecks or issues and foster a community of accountability.
Set Clear Project Goals
Project goals help keep everyone on track and spotlight the health of a project.
This is particularly important when you’re working with multiple teams with varying goals and interests.
Make sure everyone is well aware of the expected outcomes from the very start and regularly update teams on the status of a project.
Consider how you’ll keep sight of the goal and update teams on where they’re at in the bigger picture. Then, send email updates, message team members, and hold meetings to share key milestones.
There will be growing pains with every new cross-functional team collaboration.
It’s a big learning curve, but you can maximize your chances of success by inviting and embracing feedback from everyone involved.
Knowing what’s working and what’s not from the inside will help you plot a better route to the outcome, taking into consideration the individual experiences of each team member.
You can send out regular surveys to find out how each team is getting on, but you can also hold 1:1 meetings with each person to dig deep into their own experience.
Use this feedback to improve your processes moving forward—this is the true power of cross-functional collaboration.
Use Software As A Tool
Don’t try and manually remember to assign tasks and check the status of a project.
That will lead to guaranteed burnout and missed deadlines.
Instead, use CoSchedule’s Marketing Suite to bring your cross-functional team together.
The suite of agile marketing products helps you plan, coordinate, and track the progress of your processes, projects, and teams all from one central place.
Assign tasks automatically with task templates and leave comments and attach documents for each project individually, so everyone is on the same page throughout the project.
The Marketing Suite provides a single source of truth for every project, including who’s working on what, the tasks that still need to be done, and cross-team communication.
When a team member ticks off a task, it automatically notifies the next person in line who can get to work without waiting for approval.