Define cross-team collaboration: what is it?
Cross-team collaboration is simply a team of people with a broad range of talents working together to complete a project, and it's a super beneficial process. Imagine launching a new product, but you only use employees from your sales team. Then, imagine launching that same product with a developer and marketer on the team, too. It's not hard to see why cross-team collaboration is more effective.
Why does cross-team collaboration matter?
Cross-functional teams and siloed departments are polar opposites of one another. When employees from other departments and roles don't talk to each other, it can have disastrous consequences. Cross-team collaboration helps break down silos and brings frontline workers into the fold.
The most significant advantage to cross-functional teams is their ability to challenge the current state of things. Employees who are in the same department or people who are trained to attack problems identically often follow procedures and processes. As a result, it can be easy to repeat mistakes and overlook potential opportunities to work efficiently and improve productivity.
Working with people from diverse backgrounds also encourages people to jump on the larger business goals. On the other hand, working in separate groups can lead to tunnel vision, leaving employees and department feeling isolated. Sometimes, this can result in unhealthy competition between teams or colleagues. Alternatively, it can result in employees disengaging from the company altogether.
Employees who don't work well with other people are more likely to create duplicated or misaligned work. Struggling to communicate with teammates can result in less informed decisions that can hurt people across the entire company.
Bring in frontline workers.
Frontline workers are typically disconnected from their in-office colleagues, and there's quite a large communication gap between the two groups. For example, according to recent data, around 90% of managers used email to keep in touch with co-workers during the pandemic's peak. Only around 25% of deskless managers did the same. In fact, more than half of frontline workers used applications on their personal devices to communicate. This is an unaligned approach that keeps business leaders from communicating with their frontline team and doesn't allow those workers the ability to reply to company communications.
As companies continue to adapt to ongoing workforce challenges, they'll need to zero in on their business communication strategies and ensure everyone - including the frontline team - gets clear messaging and communication. When deskless workers are included as part of the team, it can help reinforce company values and raise team spirit. It also opens up the dialogue and allows deskless workers to share their opinions on new processes, enabling companies to make better decisions and be more adaptable.
Developing cross-functional teams
Cross-functional teams can improve results, but how can you create the perfect team? Should there be a leader? How frequently should the team meet? When choosing the best combination of co-workers for projects, there are several things to think about. While there isn't one right answer for all businesses or every project, it's critical you consider any complications or downfalls before they negatively impact performance.
How does cross-team collaboration differ from regular collaboration?
Collaborating is commonplace inside teams, so what's different when developing a cross-functional team? There are two primary differentiation aspects.
How you build your team
Traditional departments are typically structured around staff experience. You have everyone from junior to executive, and these titles and terms help us understand a person's abilities as they relate to their role. Cross-functional teams often form organically and combine members from several different departments to include a broader range of skills.
Although standard teams have people with varying experience, most people usually operate at the same level. However, in a cross-functional team, a more junior employee might supervise a group, including team members with greater experience.
How you work with your team
Working this way often challenges conventional ways of working. Unconventional ideas and new techniques can lead to unexpected outcomes that wouldn't have been possible without cross-team collaboration. With different perspectives, the entire team can see a more complete range of solutions.
In general, the usual approval process is also bypassed in cross-team situations. In addition, problem-solving is usually more comprehensive, and mistakes are caught earlier in the process because there's such a diverse mix of skills overseeing and working on the project.
What downfalls stop cross-team collaboration from being successful?
Cross-functional teams usually suffer from the same pitfalls as conventional teams. The best way to prevent your efforts from failing is to identify weaknesses and potential trouble spots to prepare for the obstacles that may arise.
Lack of trust
When teams don't have a relationship prior to the project, especially when the teams are working remotely, it can be challenging to build camaraderie and trust.
When team members don't know each other, a fear of confrontation can keep the team from debating ideas. Alternatively, the teams might clash over miscommunications.
Many cross-functional team members will still have responsibilities in their standard roles. They'll be required to balance their everyday duties with the new assignment. If there's too much on the worker's plate, this can lead to commitment issues. Then, if the team doesn't trust everyone's commitment level, it can negatively impact the entire project.
If communication problems exist within the team, some members might pin poor performance on the team members they don't have prior relationships with. When there's a blame game, it can be hard to achieve any results or maintain employee productivity.
Ignoring the results
Ultimately, cross-functional teams have to consider the bigger picture. Emphasizing one-off tasks can pull focus from where it's supposed to go, and the overall efficacy can suffer.
The advantages of cross-team collaboration
If you can overcome (or avoid) the potential downfalls, cross-functional teams can provide several advantages.
Progress can stall when companies function in silos. Think about how frustrating it is to try and find an answer only to be transferred from one department to the next. It's time-consuming and aggravating. On the other hand, imagine trying to find an answer and getting one right away because the entire team is skilled in your issue.
Each department offers unique perspectives. For example, someone from accounting will likely consider the financial elements of a decision. A person from HR is likely to consider how that same decision might impact the employees. When you combine department and strengths, you can get all sides of an issue and get a robust perspective on any issue.
More innovation and creativity
Cross-functional teams are generally more creative than department-based teams. With a combination of skills, teams can challenge the status quo. They often share ideas and problem-solve issues before work has even started.
Improved employee engagement
Healthy collaboration with new members is a terrific way to boost employee engagement. When people are able to connect with more of their colleagues, it can make them feel more connected to the company as a whole. They also might learn some new skills, and upskilling is a popular employee engagement strategy.
8 best practices for cross-team collaboration
Here are eight best practices for starting cross-team collaboration in your company.
Get senior management on board.
Get the help of department heads to get your collaboration efforts off the ground.
Choose the best collaboration tools.
Make sure you have the right tools for your team to communicate and collaborate effectively, whether they're frontline workers, in-office employees or working remotely.
Plan for face-to-face chats
When possible, encourage some face-to-face interaction, either in-person or via video chat, because it's a great way to build trust quickly.
Choose your team thoughtfully.
You want to make sure you build the best team. Think about their skills as well as their chemistry. Choosing a leader is also worth considering.
Have a kick-off meeting
To make everyone comfortable, start with a meeting with everyone. It should be informational but should also open a dialogue between all participants.
Manage the progress
Determine when and how team members should share progress updates with each other. For example, should they be task-based or time-based?
Make meetings matter
Meetings can kill time. Make sure you have a clear meeting strategy in place for how to organize and manage meetings for the team, so things stay organized and timely.
Everyone should know what decisions they're allowed to make on their own and when they should get a second opinion. Having a clear decision-making process set up will help ensure ongoing success and accountability.