Key takeaway: Cross functional collaboration is how individuals from across your company work toward a common goal. By focusing on transparent processes, collective ownership, and knowledge sharing, cross functional teams enhance the productivity of your organization and the quality of your projects.
The promises of cross functional collaboration make it a clear pursuit for any business looking to evolve. But executing the bold ambition of cross functional collaboration, however, is not so clear.
In this article, we’ll cover:
- What is cross functional collaboration?
- Benefits of cross functional collaboration
- When to use cross functional collaboration
- Tips for improving cross functional collaboration
- Taking the next step in cross functional collaboration
Let’s get started.
What is cross functional collaboration?
Cross functional collaboration can be defined in the name:
- Cross functional: As in, across or between functions
- Collaboration: To join forces, unite in a project or idea, and otherwise work together
Team cross functional collaboration happens between different internal functions (e.g. product marketing and content marketing teams), while department cross functional collaboration happens between various business functions (marketing and sales).
As a result, cross functional collaboration can bring a variety of expertise, inputs, and interactions that otherwise would not happen in siloed initiatives.
Benefits of cross functional collaboration
Teamwork does indeed make the dream work.
Cross functional collaboration is imperative in a post-pandemic work environment, where your business may be challenged with:
- Distributed work teams vs. in-person staff
- Varying styles of work approaches (collaborative vs. individualized)
- Increasingly complex knowledge work critical to company functions
With cross functional collaboration, your team can overcome these challenges, cultivating five key benefits for your business.
Cross functional collaboration ensures representatives from multiple company functions are involved in project communications. Not only does this make each team aware of progress, but cross functional collaboration allows different areas of expertise to work alongside each other.
As a result, duplicate work is avoided and accountability for results becomes group-focused, reducing the risk of projects or deadlines falling through.
Bringing multiple perspectives together allows for diverse, non-traditional solutions and processes to be created.
For example, a sales team member can deliver unique insights to the marketing team, straight from potential customers. The marketing team can then develop a targeted campaign based on insights that otherwise wouldn’t exist without cross functional collaboration.
Team members are exposed to different types of expertise. Each person’s knowledge base becomes richer, leading to more efficient work processes and higher quality end results.
Streamlined work process
Cross functional collaboration is the pinnacle of effective operations. By leaning on the unique strengths of individuals and departments, no single team is stuck trying to be the “jack of all trades.”
When everyone does what they’re best at, sprinkled in with expertise from additional teams or functions, the entire workflow becomes leaner and less siloed.
More inclusive work environment
Cross functional teams are established with the understanding that each person’s contribution is critical to the final outcome.
This improves employee engagement by creating trust and accountability between team members. As such, there’s less “stepping over the line” between individuals, which builds solidarity between teams.
Common cross functional collaboration examples
While opportunities aren’t limited, these real-world scenarios provide tactical insight into the synergy created by cross functional collaboration.
New product development
When you roadmap what a successful product looks like, you see the influence needed across the board — product design, engineering, marketing, operations, and leadership. Cross functional collaboration is critical in bringing together each team’s unique skills to push a highly aware, highly functional product.
Stemming from our product development example, cross functional collaboration ensures each team has visibility into project objectives. When teams have clarity on the same goals, project managers can avoid duplicate work and increase efficiency.
Transparency in cross functional collaboration ensures each team knows who is responsible for what, and when, from a project management perspective.
When customer service representatives operate cross functionally, they can communicate with the teams who create end value for the customers.
By fielding customer insights from sales, the customer service team can inform product development teams to iterate the product, marketing to push promotion of the changes, and operations to ensure timely delivery of the product changes.
An employee engagement task force, focused on cross functional collaboration, will focus on different factors relative to each department to improve employee satisfaction.
For example, an employee survey can help identify common themes, which the HR team can then develop initiatives for. By working with operations, HR can then align workplace culture with the mission and values of the company, while ensuring leaders are supporting these initiatives from the top down.
Using cross functional team alignment, your company can reduce costs. This may look like:
- Team leads evaluating vendor contracts, exploring better pricing or term negotiation
- Operations leaders eliminating redundant labor or identifying projects with low ROI
- Teams identifying opportunities for automation through technology
Cross functional collaboration reduces labor costs by prioritizing thoughtful project management, rather than conflating busyness with productivity.
Tips for nurturing cross functional collaboration
Creating a team built on cross functional collaboration is no easy task. As the old habits of siloed communication and traditional operations structures must be unlearned, these three tips will guide you on the right path to nurturing cross functional teams.
1. Create a clear plan for collaboration
Your teams can only be as collaborative and engaged as your framework allows. A flexible goal-setting framework, like OKRs (objectives and key results), can help you facilitate cross functional collaboration in a way that suits your functions and teams.
By defining a clear definition of success (objective) and how this will be achieved (key results), your teams can create a clear plan for collaboration. OKRs allow you to define tasks and assign ownership of specific outputs or outcomes. Teams share collective responsibility for key result progress, while maintaining autonomy for independent initiatives.
Through a shared, aligned outcome, your newly cross functional teams are set up for success.
Learn more about OKRs for cross functional collaboration
2. Communication strategy is contextual
Building an effective communication strategy for cross functional collaboration means meeting your teams where they’re at, and using channels suited to collaboration.
For example, managing projects via email threads or memos probably won’t foster the agile communication style you need. Whether it’s Asana, Slack, or a goal management platform for your OKRs (like Quantive), enabling communication suited to your teams is imperative.
Finally, checking in on goals is the best way to teach accountability and encourage transparent, collaborative ownership. These are essential for making cross functional collaboration stick.
3. Diversity wins
To maximize the benefit of your cross functional teams, pay attention to the makeup of your teams. While pooling together three senior leaders and two VPs may make for a powerhouse lineup, it’s not going to get much done at the tactical level.
Diversity takes on three meanings in cross functional collaboration:
- Experience: In terms of seniority or project-specific backgrounds
- Influence: People who work well with others or serve as informal leaders
- Subject experts: Those who know most about a process, product, or discipline
The odds of cross functional collaboration working significantly increase when these three levels of diversity are present.
Next steps in building cross functional teams
Cross functional collaboration is a process, like any aspect of change management.
Helping your teams understand its importance comes first, as cross functional teams can’t exist without buy-in and engagement. Trying to coerce or force teams into cross functional collaboration never works.
Establishing a collaborative change framework like OKRs allows you to lean into your people leaders and build trust from within, first. Then, implementing the tips and knowledge in this article can help you nurture the cross functional team process.
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