Cross-functional collaboration: Common challenges and tips to make it happen
Cross-functional collaboration is a crucial indicator of your company’s ability to work together on a common goal.
It’s an essential factor to consider whenever there is teamwork, a crucial practice for organizations that want to break down silos and motivate their departments and teams to collaborate instead of competing.
Optimization of an organization’s ability and its workforce to cross-functionally work together will offer you a competitive advantage and increase the organization’s productivity.
What is a cross-functional team?
Cross-functional collaboration is increasingly applied in today’s business world. When you have a cross-functional team, it’s possible to solve multiple challenges using different technologies and concepts.
A cross-functional team consists of people with various professional backgrounds who come together to work on specific projects. More often than not, the cross-functional collaboration is on a project-per-project basis with relatively strict deadlines. The idea is to use experts from their fields to apply their knowledge, experience and efforts to achieve the desired result.
Cross-functional teams are hierarchy-free, diverse and perform collaborative and advanced tasks faster than a regular team.
That said, a cross-functional team is one that:
- Is self-sufficient as a whole
- Every team member has the knowledge and skills to do their part in the project
- Another member of the team can complement each member’s specialty
Do the team members have to know how to do everything? Of course not! The entire team is the one responsible for the result and not the individuals.
Managing cross-functional teams is not an easy task; project managers have to step up in this case and utilize their skills and available tools to foster motivation, proper communication, and efficient cross-functional collaboration.
How to manage cross-functional teams?
It’s essential to remember that it’s not possible to manage cross-functional teams directly; instead, they are directed indirectly. This is precisely why it’s crucial to do the recruiting process and create cross-functional teams with special care and attention. In the end, the way their communication skills are improved (apart from their skillset) will prove vital for the project’s success.
Of course, project managers still hold an essential role as it’s their responsibility to make sure that all potential conflicts and discussions are settled politely and adequately; otherwise, the disagreements can affect the final result considerably and lead to missed deadlines.
The biggest challenges of cross-functional team collaboration include:
- Employee engagement
- Conflict resolution
- Transparent communication
- Collaboration software
This can be solved with efficient project management that’s constantly on top of the entire cross-team collaboration at every project stage.
The benefits of cross-functional team collaboration
More creativity means better insight
Cross-functional collaboration is a relatively essential effective solution in terms of crafting more creative ideas as a group. The concept of having different departments and experts in their respective fields as a part of cross-functional teams allows them all to make the most out of their unique skillset and provide fresh perspectives.
In that sense, one of the main benefits of cross-functional teams involves using new insights and creative solutions that will be further utilized to improve the entire development process.
Also, it’s worth noting that when different team members work as a whole, combining their skillsets, the process of arriving at the ideal solution will also become faster.
Employee engagement boost
One of the most significant issues of modern-day businesses is the consistent decline in employee engagement. It’s only logical that this affects the entire organizational productivity.
Changing the approach to team-oriented structures and building cross-functional teams can lead to a considerable workplace dynamic betterment. It’s crucial, though, that the team members can always count on project management as a strong leader.
Spurring innovative ideas
Utilizing cross-functional teams leads to the best of both worlds when it comes to productivity and innovation.
Team members are encouraged to share their knowledge and insights, which allows the entire organization to differentiate itself from its competition. The concept of “thinking outside the box” goes hand in hand with cross-functional teams and provides better opportunities for successful end results.
Exercising communication skills
Effective communication is key to completing projects successfully. However, the matter of communication can easily make or break entire teams. In that sense, communicating clearly and straightforwardly allows the team members of cross-functional teams to share their ideas openly.
The most significant benefit of cross-functional team collaboration is overcoming the struggles and weaknesses of every team member. Each person can get constructive feedback and come to a mutual understanding with colleagues.
Developing management skills
Thanks to the cross-team collaboration, it’s possible to hone in on the management skills as well.
Those in the role of project managers will have to develop new skill sets to manage people with different backgrounds and expertise, manage conflict resolution and bring all of their varying work styles to uniform fruition.
Break stereotypes and benefit from diversity
Cross-functional teams also get to learn more about the strengths of other teams and departments. For instance, putting together people from the tech and non-tech fields allows both of those groups to understand and utilize the knowledge of each other fully.
Everyone focuses on one goal through mutual respect and understanding, which effectively breaks many typical business stereotypes. Moreover, thanks to the natural diversity within cross-functional teams, both the organization and the team members can benefit from it.
Build a strong team spirit
This particular kind of teamwork presents a fantastic opportunity for everyone involved in growing reliance and taking up more significant challenges in a less stressful fashion. Through their constant collaboration and communication, it’s possible to create the ultimate team spirit.
How to develop cross-functional teams
Start by assembling the right team
Before anything else, make sure to define the specific kind of experts that a particular project may need so that team leaders can work with the most qualified people who can offer their insights and innovative perspectives in a relevant manner.
Also, pay attention to the communication skills of potential team members.
Establish and maintain proper processes
To have successful cross-functional teams, make sure that every team member clearly understands their role and responsibilities. Thorough planning and task distribution are essential in this case.
This should also help you avoid the issue of having one member doing unchecked tasks independently of everyone else.
Make sure there’s a leader
Efficient project management is key to leading cross-functional teams to success. That said, appoint a project manager who will act as a leader for the cross-functional projects.
Even though the individuals in the team should have their autonomy, it’s still beneficial to have assistance and delegate tasks or respond to questions.
Set clearly defined goals
Before the project starts, it’s crucial to define the ultimate objective and the steps that need to be taken to get there.
If the project itself lacks the needed context, some team members can be at risk of misinterpreting their roles and/or tasks.
Organize regular team building activities
Keep in mind that people within the cross-functional teams are not very likely to have worked together before. That said, planning and organizing suitable team-building activities would do them well in breaking down negative power dynamics and simply encouraging better relationships.
Share the success
The success of the project can be viewed as a success of the team. Don’t hesitate to emphasize the importance of every member and the roles that resulted in this success.
Thanks to the individual contribution, teamwork could be successful in the first place.
Use available communication channels and project management tools to facilitate information exchange. Each member should trust everyone else on the team, which is crucial for open discussions and motivation.
Remember to push regular screenings and assessments for every stage of the project. This will allow the cross-functional team members to reappraise their tasks and strategies accordingly.
To let cross-functional teams work their magic, you have to remember that all team members have to make the decisions. Some independence in this regard is necessary to maximize the available solutions.
Employing the problem-solving skills of cross-functional teams will create an opportunity for innovative solutions, customer satisfaction and project success.
It’s essential to make the most out of available channels and tools to manage the team relationship properly and facilitate internal and external communication.
The team leader is the one to coordinate the team’s activities, provide assistance when necessary, delegate the tasks accordingly, monitor and manage daily processes and keep track of everything and everyone. However, the critical interaction should be between the team members themselves; this particular type of non-directive management has shown to be pivotal for maximal success and effectiveness.