Inspiration, innovation, and organization – these are the by-products of cross-functional collaboration when it’s done right.
So it’s no wonder that modern businesses like Google, Netflix, and Amazon are turning to cross-team collaboration as they forego the tradition of siloed departments.
Cross-functional collaboration happens when a group of people, each with unique expertise, come together to achieve a common goal. When teams from different departments collaborate, it brings a global perspective to your organization. That explains why many businesses are willing to invest in online collaboration tools in hopes that these will bring value to their processes and projects.
Uniting people with different areas of expertise leads to deeper insights and fresh perspectives. This can also result in faster innovation and more “out of the box” solutions, giving your business a considerable market advantage over the competition.
The good news is that modern technology is built to improve communication, and there are many apps and tools out there that facilitate cross-team collaboration. For example, it’s now possible to manage and connect with large teams with Slack or share documents with remote coworkers with Google Drive – just two of the many ways technology has made collaboration easier and more efficient.
However, introducing new tools and software to a workforce is never easy. Sometimes, other more interpersonal barriers such as miscommunication and inefficiency must be overcome before your cross-functional teams can be truly functional. Let’s explore why cross-team collaboration is so critical for distributed teams and learn more about the various approaches you can take to leverage it effectively.
Cross-functional collaboration for distributed teams
Human beings are social animals, and we crave connection and collaboration in our personal and professional lives. That should make it easy to create teams even if they are geographically apart. But despite our innate nature, it is often challenging to set up a collaborative work environment among distributed teams. That’s why businesses invest in collaboration and remote work software tools to facilitate productivity and cohesiveness.
More people are opting for these solutions because despite its challenges, remote work is great for businesses and the people working for them. Eighty-five percent of remote workers appreciate the greater flexibility and the fact that they can make their own hours and live a balanced life.
Now, it’s essential to equip these remote workers with the necessary communication tools so they can be more fruitful in their endeavors, interact with each other regularly, share updates on projects, and conduct meetings online.
10 cross-functional collaboration best practices
Now that we have a clear understanding and appreciation of what cross-functional collaboration means for businesses, let’s look at ways to make it work for you.
1. Promote diversity
Selecting team members from different backgrounds sets the stage for effective cross-functional collaboration. That’s because various ethnicities and professional backgrounds, locations, and genders can make teams more insightful and diverse in thought, skill, and leadership style.
Studies suggest that the more diverse your team is, the more effective their decision-making process will be as they process information in different ways. Working with a non-homogenous group of people compels them to overcome their biases and gain different perspectives about the problem, benefiting the organization as a whole. Once you assemble a diverse team, it is imperative to make each of them feel equally important and included.
At the same time, you have to be conscious of the seniority and expertise of your team members while selecting the demographics of your teams. This will allow you to create a team that’s equipped with unique skill sets and different life experiences. In general, the most effective cross-functional teams can assess problems from every angle and devise solutions to solve them successfully.
2. Strong demonstration of leadership
The leader of a cross-functional team makes sure that the benefits derived from the group far outweigh the risks of bringing it together. Additionally, they hold everyone on the team accountable for the work they do and their other contributions. This is why it is important to find someone who will not only be willing to lead the team but also inspires confidence and respect among the team members.
It’s also important to note here that the best leaders are effective communicators who are in tune with the organization’s goals and project initiatives. They can easily motivate their team members, keep them on track, and assist in the proper functioning of the distributed team.
3. Unlock the power of shared knowledge
To successfully complete cross-functional projects, the team may need to get in touch with people who know more about a particular product or process. Encourage your team to take the initiative and get in touch with experts who are willing to share their knowledge. But then also make sure that everyone in the group contributes their expertise to the dilemma as well. That’s the whole point of bringing together a diverse set of individuals, after all.
Unwillingness to share knowledge comes at a high cost and can be a waste of your company’s precious resources. So make sure your cross-functional team can quickly bring together their unique insights to solve pertinent problems. After all, the goal of a cross-functional team is to encourage the sharing of knowledge. These insights often justify the effort put into bringing a diverse team together to work on a project.
4. Leverage technology
As mentioned earlier, many businesses are investing in collaboration tools or communication software to improve remote teamwork between their employees. These tools are created to make life easier for distributed teams wherever they are in the world.
Many organizations are also building centralized virtual databases that store important work-related information and documentation in one place. This data can then be made available to all the employees of your organization. Tools like cloud-based software and apps give employees access to their work when they are based out of remote locations. They also facilitate real-time updates and communication.
Since distributed teams are not located in the same geographical location, you’ll need workflow collaboration tools that allow the teams to communicate in real-time, share relevant documents and build reliable channels to discuss cross-functional projects with each other. Instead of traveling for meetings, technology now allows you to meet up at a moment’s notice, collaborate, and even get the insights of experts on the project – all with the help of the right app or software.
5. Set team goals
It’s only natural that the members of a cross-functional team have different agendas, motivations, and perspectives. But if their personal goals conflict with each other, it may have a considerable impact on that team’s performance as a whole. That’s why it’s important to have a goal-setting exercise where they come together as a team, find a middle ground, and learn to cooperate and collaborate.
When you bring together a distributed team, inform them why they have been chosen to work together, what the project is, and what objectives they are supposed to accomplish. Also, set up a process that helps them clarify their approach and measure their progress toward these goals. Establishing such goals will lay the groundwork for future collaboration, communication, and reliability among your remote team members.
6. Appreciate project milestones
Rewarding milestones helps foster a team spirit by allowing everyone to observe and appreciate each other’s achievements. Being recognized for their efforts can help boost morale and increase productivity.
Team members often gauge their importance to an organization and how they fit into the big picture by how they are valued for the work that they do. Appreciating their efforts can help them gain more confidence, which will result in their increased input in project discussions.
Moreover, in a cross-functional environment, not all team members are familiar with their coworkers and their accolades. Providing feedback and recognizing their work in front of all other remote team members is a must for the organization’s management and leaders.
Studies suggest that employees who are ignored by their managers are two times more likely to feel disengaged from their work, but they are 30 times more likely to be highly focused when the manager focuses on their strengths. This recognition can be in the form of email feedback, financial incentives like bonuses, or shout-outs during a remote meeting.
7. Track KPIs
Cross-functional teams are also responsible for delivering on the organization’s objectives. Their performance should be measured against key performance indicators (KPIs) to assess their progress and hold them accountable for their efforts.
These KPIs can be derived from employee surveys that provide you with an expansive view of the distributed team’s culture dynamics, performance, and processes. These surveys can also be used in setting milestones to ensure the effectiveness of the team. You can even assess the results regularly to determine the progress made and see if anything is holding the team back from success.
Moreover, client surveys are also an important KPI that can be used by remote team members to identify and improve their processes in case they are not able to bring about the expected results. These evaluation-based surveys provide the groundwork for organizing and improving training and onboarding programs and enable the team members to achieve their goals.
8. Promote transparency
To ensure the success of your company’s cross-functional collaboration, you need to promote transparent communication among the team members. This is vital because remote teams face immense challenges in collaboration and communication that can sometimes lead to mistakes, confusion, and unnecessary conflict.
Even if we set the distance factor aside, departmental issues usually inhibit a smooth flow of communication, making it difficult for team members to get their hands on the information and resources they require. That’s why it is crucial to ensure transparency by setting clear guidelines that facilitate communication and ensure all team members are always on the same page.
9. Build trust and reliability
Trust is an essential component of a distributed team that’s relying on its members to execute cross-functional projects effectively. If they can’t trust each other, they can’t be productive together – it’s as simple as that. A dysfunctional team is uninterested in the project at hand because they’d rather put their energy into unhealthy competition and animosity.
If the members are skeptical about their teammates coming through on their responsibilities, it can be difficult for your team to accomplish its goals. Moreover, since these members possess different personalities, temperaments, and skill sets, it can be difficult for them to cooperate.
Here’s the deal: building trust and credibility in a cross-functional team can take some time and effort, but it’s certainly not impossible. You need to employ specific strategies such as face-to-face meetings, pairing members on certain projects, and celebrate their success as a group.
Encourage your team to be vocal about their concerns and assure them that any and all issues will be addressed appropriately. This will give them the confidence to confide in their management and each other should any issues arise.
10. Centralize communication on projects
An effective way of keeping your remote team focused on your project goals is with the help of project management apps that enable them to communicate with each other in a centralized virtual location. These apps give team members an easy way to discuss their concerns, ask questions, and share updates on projects.
These communication tools are often highly secure, customizable, and give you complete access to control all levels of information available to each team member. Moreover, centralizing communication allows members to collaborate or hold meetings in a dedicated location or portal. This fosters an environment of camaraderie and cross-functional communication that helps the remote employees remain connected with each other.
Cross-functional teams are equipped with diverse skill sets, expertise, and perspectives. But for effective collaboration, an organization must build trust and accountability while rewarding them for their efforts.
Despite the various challenges remote teams face, you can easily promote a culture of transparent communication through effective collaboration strategies. The tactics discussed above will help you to eliminate the challenges faced by distributed teams when they are working from far off locations.
Creating such teams is essential as they provide your organization with the ability to scale productivity and grow in real-time with satisfied and dedicated employees who are focused on achieving the company’s goals and objectives.
Keep your remote teams fully engaged and thriving in a collaborative, distributed environment. Check out G2's remote work hub for more tips on successful cross-functional collaboration for your team!
Ian Haynes is a content marketing specialist and has deployed over 500 pages of content as a copywriter for businesses of all sizes. He believes that for people to truly value your business and brand, your content needs to do much more than just inform; it needs to attract, engage, and convert.