17 Proven Ways to Benefit from a Cross-functional Team
“PEOPLE ARE your most important product. Use them to continuously improve your organization,” says Chuck Intrieri, management consultant at Supply Chain. That is precisely what cross-team collaboration does. It drives continuous improvement within the organization, reduces costs, and enables agility and creative problem-solving. Most importantly – it keeps everyone aligned with the overall goals of the company.
But cross-team collaboration doesn’t happen by accident – it takes time and effort. Unfortunately, it’s easier to find examples of cross-functional teams that don’t work. Research has shown that of 95 teams in 25 leading corporations, 75% of cross-functional teams are dysfunctional.
“Cross-functional teams often fail because the organization lacks a systemic approach. Teams are hurt by unclear governance, by a lack of accountability, by goals that lack specificity, and by organizations’ failure to prioritize the success of cross-functional projects.”
– Benham Tabrizi, Stanford University
In the past, the only time the IT department and those in business operations might have interacted was at the annual office party. But it’s a different story these days, as more companies encourage – or even require – cross-functional collaboration.
“Before, these functions were run as silos. But business has become more complex, and organizations continue to invest in technology to make strategic decisions. A few years ago it wasn’t necessary to work together – now it’s essential.”
– Tim Hird, executive director for Robert Half Management Resources
Successful collaboration requires trust. It’s hard enough to establish that bond of trust when someone works in the same room as you. This challenge becomes ascendingly more difficult when you have teams collaborating from different departments.
At Scoro, we have teams working from around the world. Most of the time, that’s a great thing. When teams collaborate, we can apply a global perspective to our work. However, the distance does create some obstacles. These obstacles help your teams to grow, but only if you tackle them appropriately.
To start seeing the benefits of cross-team collaboration, use these 17 tips to get you started and keep you going.
1. Standardize your processes
Establish a consistent, central place to document meetings and important files. Make sure this a real-time online source, so you don’t have to worry about managing multiple versions of information.
Standardizing processes takes time and requires an ongoing effort to sustain. It can be easy for staff to fall back to the old ways of doing things.
Automated communication for regular updates is an excellent way of establishing standard practices. For example, in Scoro we have automated the process of distributing meeting notes to the team. After every meeting, the document containing product meeting notes is automatically emailed to every relevant party with the directions on how to send future ideas for the team. This saves the product team countless hours every month and makes sure everyone is always on the same page.
Professional services automation (PSA) doesn’t stop at communication. It uses any automated process in order to improve organization’s overall workflow. BPA consists of integrating applications, restructuring labor resources and using software applications throughout the organization.
For example, Zapier links your online tools so that they can share data. This helps to build processes faster and get more done – no code required.
2. Challenge traditions
It’s always difficult to proofread your work, so a new set of eyes can be a huge opportunity in finding errors and ways for improvement. Cross-team collaboration creates an environment where “the way we’ve always done it” can be questioned and considered from a fresh perspective.
Collaboration done right means not just working closely with and learning from each other – but hunting for new ideas and ideals. Great teams know how to collaborate not only amongst themselves but with other teams as well.
3. Stay on top of things in real-time
Don’t overschedule meetings or constantly send emails. Use technology such as business management software to manage the team, share feedback, and monitor results.
Scoro enables to create a real-time team dashboard that everyone can access. You can add graphs, charts, visual metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) to your dashboard. The KPIs provide a quick overview of whether the team is reaching their goals, leading to more informed decision-making.
4. Exchange team members
If your sales team is having a meeting, bring a developer, copywriter or marketer along. The intersection of different teams from different locations will help to facilitate better understanding between offices and departments.
They might bring in a new perspective that you hadn’t even considered. Worst case scenario: they go back to their team with a better understanding of what the sales department does all day, and will share this knowledge with their team.
5. Use social media the authentic way
Many companies seem to have lost the original idea behind social media. It’s a great tool for building your brand and promoting your product, but nobody wants to be on a platform that’s filled with just marketers sending tracked links to each other.
The purpose of social media is to connect. Encourage your team to be active on your channels – create a private group on Facebook or a team Instagram account. This will help to unite your company across offices and might be one of the only opportunities they have to explore their lives outside the office.
You may have to take the initiative to get these internal channels started, but they can be a great morale booster if the idea takes off. It will also help to drive engagement on company’s public social channels – your employees are one of the greatest assets you have for increasing this metric.
INFOGRAPHIC: Why You Teamwork Isn’t Working
6. Measure the impact
People want to know that their efforts are making a difference – showing them their results will get them more interested in continuing the effort. It creates momentum and ensures the sustainability of the teams.
On a larger scale, measuring the impact of every team in one system helps you to truly understand the ROI of your entire business, and improves the transparency in the organization.
● Operational ROI helps to assess how collaboration eliminates or avoids costs associated with running your business. You might cut travel costs, reduce infrastructure needs, lower bandwidth or energy costs, save on office space, and so on.
● Productivity ROI refers to more efficient processes, accelerated decision making, and reduced cycle times.
● Strategic ROI can be the hardest to measure, but perhaps the most transformative. This kind of ROI occurs when collaboration enables your business to take a giant leap forward in areas such as enhancing customer satisfaction and loyalty, accelerating innovation, introducing new business models, or entering new markets.
7. Identify existing problems
At a glance, cross-functional teamwork looks like an easy process to implement.
Simply get together a group of people from different parts of the organization who have something to contribute about the subject and good things will happen. While it sounds brilliant in theory, like many good theories about group behavior, when it gets tested in the field, obstacles emerge.
Understanding some of the challenges faced by cross-functional teams is the first step in making them work. Make a list of the problems that arise. For instance, team’s expectations and corporate goals might not be met because of a lack of communication. Or different departments rely on different technologies for information management, which impedes the progress of cross-functional teams and makes working together unnecessarily difficult.
Cross-functional teams have too much potential to let them be derailed by these avoidable problems. Managers who can find their way around these obstacles will be rewarded with teams that fulfill their purpose and achieve measurable impact.
8. Set objectives
Managing a project of any kind requires strong leadership and knowing exactly where the team is headed. A clear focus is especially important when it comes to setting the conditions for successful collaboration in the workplace. Start a project by stating the shared challenges the company is facing and collect input from all the teams involved.
Once everyone has agreed on what problems need a solution, the next step is to set collaboration goals and objectives for getting there.
Objectives should tie directly to the problems and large scale company goals. Set a reasonable number of objectives per problem – limiting the number of these goals makes the project more manageable and less overwhelming.
9. Consolidate technology
You might find that team members are using a variety of tools to get their work done, which can be time-consuming and impede real collaboration. Sales reps, for example, may use customer database software to track activities, while the development team uses an entirely different ticketing application. While it makes sense for each department to use the best-of-breed automation for their core function, this can hinder cross-functional teamwork.
Obviously, we use Scoro to manage our work. All of our teams and departments are in the system so that everything can be managed and viewed from a central place. All data is displayed in real-time, and this makes our cross-team communication a breeze.
By consolidating the tools and getting everybody using the same ones, you will not only improve communication but also simplify logistics and the allocation of resources.
10. Establish a collaboration culture
Collaboration culture is about setting an environment in which collaboration is valued and rewarded. Some managers see collaboration as a “nice to have” that interferes with core processes and productivity. But smart managers know this is a shortsighted attitude.
Through teamwork and collaboration, employees are able to take advantage of the organization’s collective knowledge base, profiting from a much larger pool of expertise than would otherwise be available to them. This enables the organization to avoid overlapping work and reinvention while accelerating problem solving and innovation.
11. Don’t overschedule meetings
When working with large, dispersed teams, it can take a long time for everyone’s schedules to align for a meeting. Meetings also take away from the time your team has to work on their regular work, which is frustrating for them. For these reasons, it’s important to limit the number of meetings in any cross-functional collaboration efforts, using time wisely.
When you do need to meet, there should be a strict agenda and a well-defined method to document follow-up tasks.
Dave Gilboa, the co-founder of the $1.2 billion company Warby Parker shared a technique to make the most out of meetings and filter out inefficiency:
“At the end of each week, I try to look at my calendar and review all the meetings that I had that week and rate them zero, one, or two. Zero means it was a really bad use of time and, if I had to do it again, I wouldn’t have attended that meeting at all. Two is a great use of time—I wanna spend more of my time in those types of meetings. And one is somewhere in-between. And then I’ll connect with my assistant and make sure she understands which of those meetings I want more of and which ones could be filtered out so that hopefully over time my schedule becomes more and more productive.”
12. Establish leaders
Every team needs a leader who ensures accountability and offers feedback to each of the team members. The leader can also act as a liaison between teams and management.
In an effective team collaboration, each person involved knows exactly what’s expected of him. The leader provides the timeline and guidance to get people on track. At the same time, good project managers realize that conditions can shift and conflict happens. Having the flexibility to alter plans when a better idea comes along leads to more efficient processes in the long run.
13. Balance collaboration and focus
To get people collaborating, many companies are embracing the open office floor plan. There are many perks to this style of office, primarily the openness and transparency fostered between co-workers and departments. It’s easier to work together when you have open rooms where collaboration can happen spontaneously.
A study by MIT claimed researchers were able to predict 35 percent of a team’s performance simply by measuring the number and quality of face-to-face interactions. However, a study by Gensler found that 69% of workers were dissatisfied with the noise levels of their workplaces.
The conclusion: you need to give your employees balance – room to focus and breathe, while also providing open spaces for collaboration. Make sure the design of your office brings harmony between working solo and putting your best brains together.
14. Select the right team members
Companies are finding it harder and harder to differentiate themselves from their competition. Those that have pulled ahead have learned that putting the right people in the right jobs doing the right things creates an opportunity that would otherwise not exist.
The thing with teams is – they can make or break your project. There is a reason why smart VCs keep telling the world that they invest into teams first, ideas second.
Collaboration works best when team members have complimentary skill sets required to complete the project. As important as skills – are personalities. Teams work when the right people are working together.
Equally important to maintaining the right mix on a team is removing people who should not be on the team – either because their work is not aligned with the efforts of the team or because they are in some way hindering the team’s work.
15. Foster creativity
Your best people are creative problem solvers – so help them cut loose and listen to them. Make creativity a focal point of your company culture by encouraging employees to cultivate ideas, especially in a collaborative environment. Set up regular brainstorming sessions and get everyone involved.
We see companies like Google setting up the 20 percent policy where Google developers are encouraged to spend 20 percent of their working hours on side projects. It was an attempt to give employees the time and space to think innovatively. Indeed, the policy works well, with some of the best products of Google (e.g. Google News) originating from the program.
Remember to always leave your door open for great ideas, no matter what section of the company the idea is coming from.
16. Reward collaboration
People respond to positive reinforcement – so reward the behaviors you want to see more of. There’s something to learn from every project – even a failed one. Learn from mistakes and gains, and use those lessons to build stronger teams and a higher project success rate.
All of the other strategies can be undermined if employees throughout the organization are not recognized for their team effort. It is not uncommon to find incentives that are based solely on the goals of one department.
To improve cross-functional collaboration, it is important to set goals that improve the overall system, not just one piece of it.
Try new things. Every team and organization is different – what works for others may not work the same way for you. Don’t be afraid to try out a new strategy. Most changes will at least have a positive short-term effect on your teams, especially if the idea came from within.
Cross-team collaboration takes time and effort, but it’s full of rewards. Teams that make it a priority to focus on collaboration help pave the way for a smoother integration of new systems and processes.