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What is Cross Functional Collaboration? Benefits, Examples, Challenges & Best Practices

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9 min read
Outlined square, circle, and triangle slightly overlapping from left to right, with a connective dotted line, to signify cross functional collaboration

Key takeaway: Cross functional collaboration is how individuals from across your company work toward a common goal. Using cross functional collaboration best practices such as focusing on transparent processes, collective ownership, and knowledge sharing, you can enhance the productivity and quality of cross functional teams' efforts.

The promises of cross functional collaboration make it a clear pursuit for any business looking to evolve. But knowing how to perfect and improve cross functional collaboration isn't so clear.  

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • The cross functional collaboration meaning
  • Benefits of cross functional collaboration
  • Examples of cross functional collaboration
  • Common cross functional collaboration challenges
  • Cross functional collaboration best practices

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

Cross functional collaboration occurs 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 between various departments can bring a variety of expertise, inputs, and interactions that otherwise would not happen in siloed initiatives. 

definition of cross functional collaboration

What are the benefits of cross functional collaboration?

Teamwork does indeed make the dream work.

Cross functional team 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

Knowing how to improve cross functional collaboration can help you overcome these challenges, cultivating five key benefits for your business. 

1. Improved communication

Cross functional collaboration ensures representatives from different departments in a company are involved in project communications. Not only does this make each team aware of progress, but cross functional team 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.

2. Increased innovation 

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 with other teams.

3. Knowledge sharing

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.

4. Streamlined work process

Cross functional team 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.

5. 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. 

What are some examples of cross functional collaboration?

While opportunities aren’t limited, these real-world cross functional collaboration examples provide tactical insight into the synergies created by cross functional team 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.

Project management

Stemming from our product development example, cross functional team 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.

Customer service

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.

Employee engagement

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.

Cost reduction

Using cross functional team collaboration, 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

As such, employing cross functional collaboration best practices reduces labor costs by prioritizing thoughtful project management, rather than conflating busyness with productivity. 

What are common cross functional collaboration challenges?

In an ideal world, functions would collaborate seamlessly across tasks and projects. Unfortunately, that's not always the case. There are a couple of challenges in cross functional collaboration that make this difficult. Let’s look at each of these and what solutions they require. 

Lack of accountability

Teams struggle to clearly assign ownership and responsibility for goals, tasks, and deadlines. This ambiguity often leads to confusion and misalignment, making it hard to stay on the same page and work together effectively. 

Solution: Establish clear goal ownership and a regular check-in cadence

Create a structured accountability framework that defines and communicates each team member's responsibilities, ensuring everyone knows their role in achieving specific goals. As part of this, facilitate regular goal check-ins or status updates to reinforce accountability and maintain team alignment. 

Conflicting goals

Conflicting objectives among different functions hinder coordination and unity. When departments prioritize goals that are misaligned with top organizational priorities, it results in disjointed efforts.

Solution: Align goals with the organizational vision

Create a shared understanding of the company vision, mission, and primary goals and ensure all departmental goals support these. Encourage open communication to diminish conflicting goals and ensure coordinated efforts towards common objectives.

Information silos 

Silos restrict the flow of knowledge and insights between functions. Vital information might be withheld or limited to certain channels, impacting decision-making. 

Solution: Implement transparent communication channels and knowledge sharing

Establish transparent communication channels and cross-functional collaboration platforms for all functions, ensuring the flow of information and insights. As part of this, create and nurture a culture where open communication is integral to the business’s foundation. 

Lack of shared metrics

The absence of shared performance metrics across functions poses a significant challenge. Different departments might have separate measurement frameworks, making it difficult to evaluate collective success or align goals.

Solution: Develop unified measurement frameworks and KPIs 

Use unified measurement frameworks (such as OKRs) and create KPIs that align with overall organizational goals. Regularly review and adjust these metrics to ensure consistency and alignment.

Adjusting to remote/hybrid communication

The absence of in-person connections and physical cues creates significant barriers to effective communication, collaborative teamwork, and the organic development of relationships among team members. 

Solution: Foster virtual team building and communication

Invest in team-building activities tailored for remote or hybrid teams. Establish clear communication protocols, utilize collaborative tools effectively, and encourage virtual bonding sessions to bridge the gap caused by physical distance.

What are best practices for effective 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 different 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

a bullseye graphic representing 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. This is especially important when there are communication barriers, such as with remote teams.

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 team leaders
  • Subject experts: Those who know most about a process, product, or discipline

The odds of cross team collaboration efforts working significantly increase when these three levels of diversity are present. 

4. Recognize success and contributions

By acknowledging your teams' individual and collective achievement, you keep their ambitions and motivations high. Beyond this, celebrating your teams' successes can facilitate innovation, learning opportunities, and a positive work environment. 

One way to do this is by using dedicated software solutions and project management tools. As a one-stop shop for all things goal-setting and strategy execution, Quantive's OKR software also serves as a tool for cultivating engagement, allowing you to recognize and reward performance with badges, gifts, and comments. Contact Quantive today to learn how we can help you get your team on the same page and drive success in your cross functional projects.

Next steps in building cross functional teams

Effective cross functional team 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 from team leaders and team members alike. Trying to coerce or force teams into cross functional group 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. 

Quantive empowers modern organizations to turn their ambitions into reality through strategic agility. It's where strategy, teams, and data come together to drive effective decision-making, streamline execution, and maximize performance.  

As your company navigates today’s competitive landscape, you need an Always-On Strategy to continuously bridge the gap between current and desired business outcomes. Quantive brings together the technology, expertise, and passion to transform your strategy from a static plan to a feedback-driven engine for growth.  

Whether you’re a visionary start-up, a mid-market business looking to conquer, or a large enterprise facing disruption, Quantive keeps you ahead — every step of the way. For more information, visit www.quantive.com

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