4 Best Practices for Better Cross-Functional Alignment
May 3, 2023
Before Neil Armstrong could set foot on the moon and deliver his legendary line — “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” — over 400,000 people worked to make that historical moment happen.
The teams behind Apollo 11’s success were experts in different fields, ranging from mechanical engineering to physics to chemistry. But they were able to build a successful spacecraft thanks to their ability to align and work together.
Growing a company is a little like building a spaceship. Everyone has an expertise, and every team has a strength, but it’s by combining them that we get real innovation.
Aligned cross-functional teams work through projects with quality outputs and higher rates of success. This is thanks to supportive management practices like goal setting, clear communication, resource sharing, and collaborative tools that help cross-functional teams to work successfully together.
1. Set goals as the North Star for the project’s direction
Clear goal alignment helps cross-functional teams work together. With a united vision, teams gain an understanding of project directions and needs. And for that, you need SMART goals.
SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) lead teams toward the same objective. They provide a clear roadmap for success and help to build consensus and unite teams to work toward the same objective. They centralize team efforts and combine knowledge with one purpose, allowing teams to understand how their actions affect the overall project quality.
For example, imagine you’re planning a website redesign. The goal of the project is to make the website more educational. You’ll need the web development team to work with the marketing team and product team.
By understanding the goal, the marketing team can provide insight into common search queries and competitor differentiation. The product team can share information about the product that’ll interest customers. Both of these departments can communicate with the web development team to create a website that meets customer needs for education on product features.
Tips for setting clear OKRs and goals across functional teams
When it comes to goal setting, aligning teams on a common vision can be tricky. After all, product expertise and team needs vary greatly.
To get your teams on the same page:
Communicate the “why” behind the project: This will help teams understand why the project is important and how their joint collaboration will work.
Include all teams in the project planning process: This will empower everyone to understand the project’s scope, responsibilities, and objectives.
Ask teams for their expertise and thoughts: Team members’ expertise and knowledge might identify areas that could be problematic or improved. And it’ll achieve buy-in for teams to work together.
Set goals together: Once teams understand the project, they need to set goals together. By having different team inputs, you’ll get a full picture of what can be accomplished.
Quickly align on goals with a project north star template
Use the Project North Star template to align your team around a project’s goals, team roles, and other essential details to improve team alignment and facilitate project coordination.
2. Keep communication transparent and consistent
Clear communication helps teams avoid misunderstanding and loss of information. When employees are consistently informed, they’re nearly five times more likely to increase productivity.
In contrast, miscommunication and lack of information make it hard for cross-functional teams to work together.
Consistent communication helps teams tap into collective pools of knowledge and solve problems together. And a constant flow of information avoids information silos that could later affect the quality of a project.
Tips to improve communication between teams
To improve communication between cross-functional teams, establish guidelines for:
Public communication channels: Use open, asynchronous communication tools like Slack. This allows teams to constantly stay on the pulse of a project and jump into the conversation when problems arise.
Regular meetings: Schedule regular meetings at every milestone of a project. The idea is to make sure the project is still on track and that both teams understand how to work together on their upcoming project tasks.
Daily updates: Each team should publicly update the cross-functional teams on their current tasks. That way, everyone knows what is being done and what can be expected from them.
Communication with team leads: Keep team leads in constant, relevant communication — talk about achievements and struggles. This will help your managers direct their teams to solutions.
Video messages: Get teams comfortable with using video to communicate. Each team will have its own expertise, and video is a format that anyone can use to make communication more clear, especially in remote environments. Not only is video a great way to document progress, but it also humanizes the project process across teams.
In practice, these tips help information spread through cross-functional teams. For example, imagine a public Slack channel sharing analytics and data information. Here, an analyst can share a video about a trend they’ve found in customer journeys throughout the website. The video gives developers insight into what website features to improve or the copywriting team ideas to improve their CTA content.
Centralized resources allow cross-functional teams to save time digging up information, help develop projects from the same resources, and remove the risk of each team coming up with its own interpretation of information.
Centralizing information in a single source of truth helps to break down information silos by giving everyone access to the same material. This shared access also improves collaboration because teams can enhance resources with their knowledge to give everyone a fuller understanding.
For example, imagine a web team struggling to understand a brand’s core audience. Without shared resources, they’d have a limited understanding of the brand’s approach. But if the marketing team shares their brand and persona research, the web team would have a better understanding of how to create the perfect website.
Tips to improve resource sharing across teams
Resource sharing has come a long way from the ol’ email attachment. Here are some helpful tips to encourage knowledge sharing across your team:
Use a centralized knowledge source: Keep all company information and documents under a shared drive, like Google Drive, or Confluence. That way, teams can easily find the information they’re looking for.
Share access: Keep documents accessible for anyone who needs them. This avoids teams having to wait for access to view or edit a document.
In practice, these tips help teams streamline information flows and avoid delays. For example, imagine an app development team and marketing team working together to make the homepage of a delivery app. Thanks to centralized resources, the marketing team has access to the dev team’s homepage layout. This allows them to create a copy for the allocated homepage space.
4. Use frameworks to create and standardize processes
Creating new processes and systems may cause some uncomfortable growing pains for cross-functional teams, but using templates can speed up innovation and create better processes.
Think of new cross-functional processes as creating neural pathways in the brain:
Just as practicing a specific skill over and over again strengthens the neural pathways in our brain, following standardized processes repeatedly strengthens the operational pathways within an organization. Over time, these pathways become more efficient, reliable, and resistant to errors, just as strengthened neural pathways allow us to perform a task more effectively and accurately.
Using a template is like mapping out a new pathway. It provides the direction and initial blueprint for a team to follow, reducing trial and error in the early stages of a new workflow.
For new cross-functional workflows, create a diagram that effectively visualizes how each team member contributes to the final outcome. Over time, the team will better understand how to pass off work and communicate roadblocks, making the process more efficient overall.
A framework for standardizing processes across functional teams
For teams to align, you need a culture of collaboration
Team alignment doesn’t just come out of nowhere. Your team needs to own their role in the project and feel supported.
In other words, you need to build a culture that lives and breathes collaboration, one that has cross-functional alignment in its DNA. You want to create an environment where employees feel empowered to collaborate with others and comfortable with stepping outside their “lane” to improve project quality.