Uniting Teams Across Functions: Overcoming Challenges in Cross-Functional Team Collaboration
Updated on Feb 6th, 2023
In today’s fast-paced and competitive business environment, cross-functional teams—groups made up of individuals from different departments or functional areas working together on a specific project or goal—are an increasingly popular organizational structure. Even though it offers many rewards, cross-functional collaboration can also pose challenges for team members and managers. In this blog post, we will discuss how to improve collaboration among members of cross-functional teams.
What Is Cross-Functional Team Collaboration?
Cross-functional teams involve people from different departments or areas of expertise working together on a specific project. Cross-functional teams are formed to tackle complex problems and take advantage of the unique skills and expertise that different members can offer. This leads to more innovative solutions that otherwise might not be possible if all tasks were handled by one individual or group within an organization.
However, effective cross-functional collaboration is not always easy. The success of a cross-functional team hinges on clear communication, alignment of objectives, and a culture in which trust and respect are paramount. Without these elements, the team is likely to struggle with achieving its goals—and may even experience conflict or miscommunication.
The Challenges of Cross-Functional Team Collaboration
One of the biggest challenges to successful cross-functional team collaboration is differences in roles and responsibilities across members. The team may be at different levels in their careers and bring varying expertise to the table, leading to confusion or frustration. People may work, communicate, and problem-solve differently—leading to misunderstandings and decision fatigue.
Miscommunication is another factor that can cause problems in cross-functional teams. Without clear and consistent communication, team members may misinterpret each other’s actions or intentions—which can lead to delays and conflicts.
Working together on a cross-functional team can be difficult, especially when setting goals. Team members may have different goals, making it hard for everyone to agree on the project. This can cause confusion and lack of direction—which is bad for performance.
⭐ According to a survey, a majority of executives and employees (86%) attribute workplace failures to inadequate collaboration or communication.
Best Practices for Improving Cross-Functional Team Collaboration
To overcome the challenges of cross-functional team collaboration, managers and team members must take proactive steps to improve communication, alignment, and trust. Some best practices for improving cross-functional team collaboration include:
Clearly Define Roles and Responsibilities for Each Team Member
To ensure that team members are working together efficiently, managers should create a detailed project plan and break it down into individual tasks for each person. With a clear and comprehensive project plan, team members will better understand the roles they play in completing their project.
Managers should give their team members all the resources and help that they need to get the job done on schedule. This gives team members a chance to discuss issues or problems they may have so that the problem can be addressed and resolved.
It is important for team members to understand how their role affects the rest of the group—and vice versa. Managers should explain to team members the overall goals and objectives of a project, as well as how each person’s specific role plays contributes toward these. If team members understand how their individual roles contribute to the larger project, they will be more motivated and invested in achieving its objective.
Establish Regular Communication Channels and Meetings
Regular team meetings keep project members informed and allow them to discuss issues or concerns. During these meetings, each member can discuss what they have been working on and identify any obstacles that may be slowing progress down.
Group chat platforms, such as Spike Groups or Microsoft Teams, can be used for real-time communication and can be helpful for quick questions or updates that do not require a full team meeting but can rely on real-time collaboration.
Establishing a clear communication protocol is essential so that team members know how and when to communicate with each other. For example, they should be aware of who to contact with specific questions or concerns—and what the expected response time is.
Encourage Open and Honest Communication
Open and honest communication is crucial for improving cross-functional team collaboration. It allows team members to express their ideas, concerns, and feedback freely and without fear of negative consequences. This type of communication creates a positive and inclusive work environment where everyone’s contributions are valued and respected.
To foster a culture of open and honest communication, managers should lead by example. They should encourage team members to speak up and share their ideas and opinions. Managers should also create an environment where team members feel comfortable raising issues or concerns without fear of negative consequences.
Foster a Culture of Trust and Respect
Encouraging open and honest communication is one way to foster a culture of trust and respect, but it is not the only way. Recognizing and rewarding team members for their contributions is another important aspect of building trust and respect among team members. Recognition can be formal, such as the employee of the month program or bonus awards.
Effective teams are composed of members with diverse skill sets. While not every team member needs to excel in both technical and social areas, the team as a whole should have a balance of both. A diversity of knowledge, perspectives, and backgrounds, including age, gender, and ethnicity, can foster creativity and prevent groupthink. By creating a workplace where everyone feels included, valued, and supported, team members will be more motivated and engaged, which will ultimately lead to better cross-functional team collaboration.
⭐ Research indicates that a large percentage (92%) of millennials consider recognition and appreciation from their peers important.
Implement Tools and Technologies to Facilitate Collaboration for Improving Cross-Functional Team Collaboration
While technology can help improve cross-functional team collaboration, it is possible to use too many tools and hinder collaboration. When teams use various tools to communicate, collaborate and share information—all with varying degrees of success—it can be hard for members to keep track of everything. This leads not only to confusion but also delays and misunderstandings, which negatively impact the team’s performance.
A tool that combines multiple tools into a single workspace is one of the best technology tools for improving cross-functional team collaboration. For example, Spike is a collaboration workspace that combines email, group chat, and collaboration into one single platform that works on Mac, PC, iPhone, Android, or even the web. Live video meetings with screen sharing are also supported. This enables teams from different departments to collaborate, share information, and work together more effectively.
Cross functional teams use case:
Yan Sim manages supply chain operations with a large at-home try-on program and distribution network, he manages many coordinated efforts.
Yan works cross-functionally with different stakeholders and teams to push forward projects and initiatives, and email is usually the platform to do so.
Making operations seem seamless takes a lot of behind-the-scenes work. Waiting for responses and managing processes keep Yan busy. He uses Spike’s real time email, clean format, and useful features as a productivity app.
Read more about Yan Sim which manages supply chain operations for Warby Parker that handles projects with Spike.
What Prevents Cross Functional Teams to Struggle?
Crossfunctional Units Have Conflicting Goals or No Goals Set
When departments within an organization are more concerned with their own individual goals and tasks more than the company goals, cross-functional collaboration issues will arise. What’s even worse is when a department isn’t even aware of the overall organizational goals, though. A key task for company leaders is to ensure that each department’s goals align with overall company goals. If goals are in alignment in each department, then everyone will be working towards it.
Lack of Organizational Awareness of Other Teams Projects and Initiatives
Another aspect of cross-functional collaboration that can often derail a project or a team is when different departments are not aware of each other’s projects and initiatives. Suppose the engineering team decides to work on a big new project related to a major company product. In that case, they might not realize the marketing team is also working on a bigger project related to overall company messaging. The engineering department will try to include the marketing department in the new release without realizing they are in the middle of their own project with its own deadlines and goals.
A solution here is for the company leaders to develop a system to keep other departments aware of what major projects are occurring in the organization at any given time. This awareness information could be on a company Wiki or simply shared at all-hands meetings so the company is aware of what’s going on in each department.
Cross-Functional Units Don’t Understand Other Roles, Responsibilities, or Jargon
Every department thinks what they’re working on at the moment is the most important thing at the company. The engineering department believes the product wouldn’t work without them. They’re correct. The accounting department believes no one would get paid without them. They’re correct. The marketing team says that no one would understand the product without them. They’re correct. The sales department says that no one would buy the product without them. They’re also correct.
Each department is merely a piece of the overall pie. When organizations struggle to understand the value each department brings to the equation, cross-functional collaboration tends to break down. When it breaks down, teams become even more siloed and start focusing only on their own goals and objectives.
Company leaders need to focus their communication on explaining each department’s role in the success of the company. When an organization understands what each department is working on, their responsibilities, and how they are achieving those goals, everyone will be more likely to be more collaborative among the entire company.
Fear That a Cross-Functional Team Project Will be Too Time-Consuming
A common problem in an organization is when departments and teams don’t use cross-functional collaboration methods. They’d rather work on their own projects than be involved in ones that require the entire company to work together towards a common goal. The problem with this thinking is that it assumes no other department can contribute towards tasks and give ideas that can improve what your department can produce.
In this situation, senior leaders will be required to bridge the gap between these departments and set a new vision for them. There are people in organizations that are so tunnel vision that they cannot see the forest for the trees, meaning they so focused on the singular role that they miss out on what the entire organization is doing as a whole. When senior management gets involved in vision casting, these departments will understand that their role is a just one cog in a much bigger wheel.
Wrap-Up on Improving Cross-Functional Team Collaboration
A cross-functional team brings together a wide variety of knowledge, skills, and ideas, but effective collaboration is not always easy. Clear communication, alignment on goals, and trust are essential to success.
When you’re working with a cross-functional team, it’s important to remember that each person brings a unique perspective and set of experiences. The team needs to be able to clearly communicate what they are trying to achieve so that everyone has a shared understanding of the purpose and goals. To manage cross-functional teams whose members have diverse backgrounds, managers must take proactive steps to communicate and build trust.
Some best practices include: clearly defining roles and responsibilities for each team member, establishing regular communication channels and meetings, encouraging open and honest communication, fostering a culture of trust and respect, and implementing tools and technologies to facilitate collaboration. These tips are meant to provide a framework for improving your own team. Take what you’ve learned and apply it personally, rather than trying to implement the ideas directly onto others.
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