Best Practices

Cross-Functional Collaboration: What Is It & How to Improve It

Jonathan Friedman
May 19, 2021
Cross-Functional Collaboration: What Is It & How to Improve It

Imagine this: every team in your business is thriving. Everyone works independently and as a team. Cross-functional collaboration is seamless, and each person is lending their expertise as needed.


Only in your dreams, right? Well, it was until you came here.

We have everything you need to know about cross-team collaboration and how your team can improve it. A successful cross-functional collaboration framework is an essential part of any business.

If you keep reading, you'll know the tricks and secrets that will make your dream of clear team-to-team communication a reality.

Below is everything we will cover. Feel free to skip ahead.

What is cross-functional collaboration?

Cross-functional collaboration refers to when several departments or teams within a company work on a project collectively. Because these departments and teams have different specialties and purposes, each team (and each individual) likely has a role to play.

With any project, clear communication is vital. However, projects that involve cross-team or cross-functional collaboration take more from each team member.

Why is cross-functional collaboration challenging?

You'd think that bringing people together from any of the departments within the company would be simple. Everyone has the same goals: complete the project and improve the company.

However, because each department has different personal beliefs and priorities, team collaboration is more challenging.

Let's think about this some more.

If you have a team made up of a designer, a public relations specialist, and an engineer, they're all going to have different priorities for the project at hand. The designer is likely going to care about how to product or service looks. The public relations specialist is probably going to care about how the company announces the product or service. With this, the engineer is going to care about how the product or service works.

Everyone is going about it at different angles. But, it isn't a lost cause.

Some challenges come with grouping different departments together, but there is also a solution for every challenge.

7 Cross-functional collaboration challenges and solutions

If you're looking to get the most out of cross-functional collaboration, you need to get ready to face and defeat all of the challenges that come with it.

As long as you've got a game plan, your team will be able to work together quickly. Let's make sure that you have a solution for every challenge.

Cross-functional collaboration challenges

Challenge #1: Team members have conflicting goals

It's common for team members to argue about goals and expectations. As we discussed, every person has their agenda and responsibilities. However, the team as a whole should have the same goals.

If you find that your team members are arguing about their goals, you need to align them.

Solution #1: Align the team's goals and share them

Every team needs to have goals to work from. The best way to combat conflicting goals is by bringing everyone together to form better goals for the entire group. We recommend that align the entire project team on goals and objectives with a project charter.

Then, everyone should share the goals so that everyone is on the same page.

By ensuring that everyone understands and agrees to the goals set forth, your team will work more cohesively. Plus, they'll be more motivated to meet goals that they care about.

Challenge #2: Team members don't communicate

Communication is necessary when collaborating cross-functionally, but it's also tricky. This is especially true if you're at the height of your workflow.

If you find that your team members aren't taking the time to discuss updates, wants, and needs with one another, you need to get this under control as soon as possible. Without clear communication, you could be sacrificing projects, clients, and sales.

Solution #2: Make communicating easier

Communication is necessary, but it's also tricky. This is especially true if you're at the height of your workflow.

No one wants to go out of their way to communicate with everyone else. This is why you need automated checklists, easy communication methods, and everything in between.

To get your team's communication under control, you need automated project tracking. This gives every team member a real-time view of how the project is coming along. Once a team member finishes a part of the project, the automated tracking system marks it off for everyone to see.

In terms of communication, you should make sure that your team has a designated space. Whether that's through your work email, a platform like Google Teams, or some other group means, you need to pick somewhere that's easy to access and easy to use.

If your team members can't access the space easily or understand the software, they're less likely to use it.

Before starting your project, you should also set expectations for communication. For example, you may want every team member to check in weekly.

Let your team members know this initially and send a reminder message using the platform you chose for communication. Your team members will generally be communicating in no time.

Challenge #3: Team members don't understand what their responsibilities are

Once you've formed your team and defined your project, you might not have cleared up the expectations for each team member. This leaves the team members confused about what exactly they need to accomplish.

If your team members don't know their specific role when it comes to completing the project at hand, they're going to be less likely to step into the project with excitement. They might not do anything unless you're directing them towards the tasks they need to complete. 

Solution #3: Organize individual tasks

The point of putting a team together is to bring together unique perspectives and allow people of different skill sets to complete a project together. However, because everyone has their own sets of skills, there are tasks that individual team members need to complete on their own.

By organizing individual tasks, you'll make it easier for every team member to understand what you're expecting from them. Once they have a list of everything that they need to do, they can't claim that they don't know what you want from them.

Plus, having a list of tasks is the best way to ensure that everyone is on the same page. For instance, you might give a list of to-dos every week. Let's say that you set the expectation that everyone completes the plan by the end of the week.

Setting these specific goals and sharing them with the individual team members will up your team's productivity and efficiency. Now that they understand your expectations, they're going to be able to meet (and exceed) your expectations.

Challenge #4: Team members don't know the other team members' roles

Now that everyone knows their tasks and understands what they're supposed to do, you're good, right? Wrong.

With cross-functional collaboration, it's not enough for your team members to understand what they're completing. They also need to understand what everyone else is doing.


By this, we mean that every single team member needs to know and understand what every other team member is responsible for.

Why? Well, if one team member runs into an issue, they'll know whom to go to resolve the issue. If they have a question, they know whom to contact.

Solution #4: Get to know one another

Before you start a project with a new team, you need to make sure that everyone knows one another. We're not talking about basic introductions or ice breakers.

You want to make sure that everyone knows even more than the basics:

These are the basics that you should cover when your team begins working with one another. Without this, your team members aren't going to know which designer to talk to or who the designer is.

Once they have an idea of everyone's general role within the group, it's time to be completely transparent. Everyone should be able to see everyone else's tasks. Specifically, they should be able to see the complete list of project tasks, whom you've assigned to complete each task, and whether that individual or group of individuals has completed the task yet.

Keeping things transparent with every individual also holds every team member accountable for their role within the project.

That's why you need project management software. This kind of platform can help you optimize cross-functional collaboration by organizing all of the information you need to see and share for each project you're working on or planning to work on.


Challenge #5: Team members think projects are daunting

Big projects are scary. When you announce a new project, venture, or another event, some employees cringe. 

Some people find an extensive list of tasks to be daunting. They see an empty progress bar and shutter.

Rather than that list or bar motivating them, it's almost like they're stunned in place. They don't want to get things done because they don't know where to start or don't understand what you expect of them.

This slows down efficiency and could lead to the team completing the project late.

Even if the thought of completing a big project only affects of few members of the team, the team as a whole is likely to fall back. Let's talk about how to get on top of this before the project is put in jeopardy.

Solution #5: Plan out every detail

We suggest that you plan every single step of the project out in detail. It may sound more daunting to do this than get started with the project, but hear us out.

Even if a project isn't big and scary, it's beneficial to map the process out. Whether you come to a point where you're not sure what's next or you hit a roadblock that causes you to restart, your timeline and detailed plan will be there. The plan will help you with the following questions:

A project timeline holds anything and everything that an employee would need to know about the project. It gives time details, budgeting details, task details, employee details, and more.

If any employee has any questions about the project, the timeline should have it.

To get started with your project's timeline, you need to break every step down for your employees. You might need to start with outreach about the project. This could be your list of to-dos for the beginning of the project:

Whatever your detailed list is, make it exactly that: detailed. 

See our post about creating OKRs for more examples of how to set clear goals.

Challenge #6: Team members refuse to learn

Whether it's because your team members feel uninspired or burnt out, the lack of urge to learn is never good. If you're worried that your team members are falling into this rut, you need to address the problem quickly.

Not only does this damage the efficiency of the project. It also hurts the relationships between team members. 

Solution #6: Introduce new concepts and skills slowly

One of the primary reasons people are reluctant to learn is shocking them with too much information. Revealing too many things at once can lead to poor decision-making. In turn, your project is put in jeopardy.

To tackle this problem, you need to make sure that you're introducing new concepts and skills slowly. Don't expect your team members to take on a unique style of working in a day.

It's going to take time to learn the habits and methods of other departments and specialties.

If you want to make the learning more fun (and quicker), you could try to have people from different departments shadow one another. Alternatively, you could have opposites from your teams shadow one another.

For example, you might have the finance manager shadow someone in the design department or vice versa. Even following a different individual around for the day can expand your mind and make your thought processes more flexible to new styles.

Challenge #7: Teams are working on projects that don't matter

When we say that the project doesn't matter, we're referring to the fact that it doesn't matter to the team members. Whether it's because they aren't passionate about the subject or aren't enjoying the process, it's common to have some unpopular projects.

The worst part about it is that unpopular projects don't make team members passionate. Without passion, the project will likely go off track or fail altogether.

You have to figure out how to get the team to care.

Solution #7: Define and explain the importance of every project 

Some managers and bosses assign projects without giving their team any reason for the project's existence. The team isn't given any reason why they need to work on the project.

It would be best if you changed this.

Be honest and transparent with your team about why you created the project, why you assigned this project to this specific team, and your goal in completing the project. The more open communication you have, the more likely it is that your team will have the drive to get through the project successfully.

What are some benefits of cross-team collaboration?

So, why would you want to spend all of your time trying to get different departments to cooperate? What makes situating all of these solutions worth it?

Well, the truth is that cross-functional collaboration comes with more benefits than challenges. By getting through all the tough spots, you can come out with a beautiful outcome.

Not everything comes easy, especially those things worth having.

Cross-functional collaboration benefits

1. Cross-functional collaboration may lead to more innovation

By bringing several different types of personalities together, you're pushing your employees into mental and creative spaces that they've never been in. New people are going to drive their minds into processes that they've never tried.

The product of all of this chaos is innovation. The team members will push one another to come up with bigger and better ideas that lift production and improve the company as a whole.

It may not happen overnight, but you will see a shift in the way that your employees are thinking after collaborating with other employees from different departments. There may be some friction at first, but your employees will likely learn and grow from these interactions.

2. Cross-functional collaboration may increase efficiency

Once you've gotten past all of the challenges that come with cross-functional collaboration, you'll find that your company is moves more efficiently than ever. Teamwork is meant to make projects and other processes move faster.

However, you'll only see this acceleration if your team learns how to divide their work and complete their tasks quickly and accurately. This requires respect, planning, drive, and discipline.

The more that your team works together, the more you'll see their workflow evolve. The team members will start working like a well-oiled machine quickly.

3. Cross-functional collaboration may make workers more involved

As your team members become closer, you'll find that each member may become more involved in the work that they're doing. There's something about the accountability and comradery that pulls people into the work they're doing.

If you were worried about engagement before, you wouldn't have to worry anymore.

Cross-functional collaboration pushes your employees to be more eager when it comes to taking on new projects. Plus, team members will cheer one another on and make each other try new things.

Creating collaborative teams also makes sense of community and friendship inside of the workspace.

4. Cross-functional collaboration may be more attractive to potential employees

Motivated and professional job prospects find companies with a cross-functional collaboration framework more attractive. This means that they're more likely to interview for these companies and choose them over others.

If your company builds in a cross-functional team collaboration effort, you're going to attract top talent. This is primarily from employees in younger generations with newer ideas.

5. Cross-functional collaboration may improve company capabilities

By working as a team, your employees are going to be able to do much more than they would've been able to do individually. This means that your company as a whole can take on more projects. Plus, you can handle more challenging projects.

If your company takes on more projects in number and difficulty, you'll find that your company's reach will stretch. This means more sales, more customers, and more profits.

6. Cross-functional collaboration may involve outreach

Organizational collaboration doesn't just come from within an organization. It can also apply to individuals and teams outside of an organization.

Reaching out to your customers, partners, and vendors for their input is one of the smartest decisions your company can make. Getting opinions and ideas directly from the people whom your product or service impacts is the best way to make progress.

They can give you ideas that no employee could ever think of. This is because they're on the other end of the equation.

They use your product or service. They know what goes right and wrong. Therefore, they can give you more feedback than anyone else.

Conclusion

Establishing and continuing with cross-functional collaboration isn't easy. Your team is always going to be adjusting, learning, and growing. However, a solid foundation is the best way to launch a successful program.

If you're looking for a tool that will take your projects to the next level and help you complete everything we talked about in this article, we suggest that you check out TrueNxus.

Our project planning platform will help you improve your team's collaboration.