For a company to achieve any goal, everyone involved must stay focused.
Depending on the company, all stakeholders, from the design team, to the engineering department, to the marketing team might need to throw their expertise into the mix.
This type of teamwork is called "cross-functional collaboration," or interdepartmental collaboration, and refers to a company’s different operational areas working together to solve problems and meet deadlines.
With the contributions of every department, diverse perspectives ensure the project runs smoothly and that no details are overlooked.
The 5 benefits of cross-functional collaboration
For any project, cross-functional collaboration means different teams bring their resources and approaches to best execute projects.
Sales and marketing teams always collaborate to understand the customer better. Design and engineering teams work together to ensure the project functions as expected and with a practical design. Even office administrators use this method to optimize appointments, phone calls, and more.
Tapping into the expertise of numerous departments offers many benefits, including:
1. Increased employee engagement
If you work in a department long enough, you may start to notice distance developing between teams. While this distance may help you to concentrate on your work, ultimately, lower levels of engagement with the other employees can create tension, misunderstanding, or a feeling of isolation.
When you combine groups to create a single cross-functional team, you’ll see more teamwork, better brainstorming sessions, and a greater sense of the company’s big picture. All of these elements increase employee engagement, which then increases productivity and job satisfaction.
2. Defined roles and goals
When working in a cross-functional team, understanding both your team's roles and the company's goal is crucial — and often clearer.
This task is the job of the team leader or manager to create a clear and concise plan that every team member contributes to. Open discussions should become regular to gather input on how everyone is performing and progressing.
The assignment will run more smoothly if everyone is comfortable with and confident in their responsibilities.
Related: How to Run a Sprint Review + Template
3. Boosted innovation
Working unbothered at your desk might seem like the secret to productivity, but isolating yourself from others prevents outside opinions and theories, resulting in a lack of innovation.
Plus, a workplace operating without established teams may lead to breakdowns in communication and employees who can’t adapt to new challenges.
Cross-functional collaboration gives each department the opportunity to offer feedback on marketing strategies, draft designs, and product mockups to find the strongest path forward.
4. More streamlined work processes
Employees may not initially respond well to the idea of interdepartmental collaboration. Some members of the team might be resistant to changing their processes.
But the long-term effects of implementing cross-functional collaboration outweigh the stunted productivity you may witness during the adjustment period. Creating a streamlined work process improves communication between teams and helps identify inefficiencies, making it easier to meet deadlines and correct errors.
5. Less micromanagement
Constantly breathing down employees' necks can prevent them from producing quality work and might make them self-conscious about their abilities.
Implementing collective to-do lists or regular morning meetings in this environment can help monitor performance without direct supervision. Team members will be more likely to hold each other accountable for deliverables without manager intervention.
Related: How to Make Daily Stand-up Meetings More Effective
4 Challenges of cross-functional collaboration and how to solve them
Don’t expect your collaboration efforts to work perfectly from Day One. You’ll likely need to guide the team through trust and communication issues as they get used to accommodating various voices and opinions.
Here are some tips for solving the common challenges faced by cross-collaborative teams:
1. Conflicting goals
While collaboration sounds great on paper, people may disagree about what’s most important or how to reach the finish line.
To avoid conflicts, make sure the company's goals are visible to everyone. Set clear expectations in team meetings and demonstrate how they align with the overall mission. When team members disagree, they’ll be able to turn to the bottom line for clarity.
Collaborative tools like MURAL provide a space to clearly outline everything the company is looking to accomplish, allowing everyone to see what they can work on and who’s available to assist.
2. Lack of trust
If you don’t know your new team members, trusting them to do their share might be difficult. At first, it may seem like more time is being spent on resolving disagreements than on actual work.
Trust takes time, so let it come naturally. If possible, start with more straightforward collaborative work and small tasks to help the group acquainted before diving into larger, higher-stakes projects.
If this isn’t an option, one way to build rapport among a team is by running ice breakers. These quick team-building activities can help a cross-functional team get to know each other, build trust, and cultivate psychological safety.
3. Resistance to new working strategies
Changing the status quo is often scary and might seem unnecessary. But maintaining the status quo limits opportunities to increase efficiency and productivity in the office.
Someone stuck in their ways will most likely reject new tools that are forced upon them. Roll out new strategies and workflows slowly so team members can adjust and offer feedback. Their opinions matter, and implementing their feedback will likely optimize new strategies — and put reluctant coworkers at ease.
If you're introducing something like MURAL to the team, use it in a morning meeting to go over the tasks of the day. Allowing others to test it out in low-stakes arenas will make the transition much smoother.
4. Less communication, more misunderstandings
Some team members simply struggle in group settings and prefer to work independently, which runs the risk of creating an impasse in a cross-functional team.
But if you have team members who really benefit from working on their own, increase communication. Frequent check-ins, asynchronous collaboration, and email threads allow them to work on their tasks alone while keeping everyone in the loop about their progress.
Best practices for effective cross-functional collaboration
We’ve gone over the benefits and challenges that come from a cross-functional working environment, but now come the worries about execution.
Is the equipment up to par? Is the plan clear and concise? Are the goals well-established? These are just some of the questions you need to start asking yourself. But implementing these best practices will help you create the most effective cross-functional collaboration plan and avoid hiccups:
Create a collaboration plan
You have to establish a plan before assigning roles or setting deadlines. This plan should take into account the company's objectives, employees' strengths and weaknesses, and future obstacles.
Throughout the collaboration, reference the plan to assess bandwidth, understand roadblocks, and settle disputes over execution.
Use the right technology
In today's high-tech world, it's nearly impossible to find success without the right tools at your disposal. Outline daily tasks and future objectives to know what tools you’ll need to make the cross-functional collaboration workplace successful.
Video conferencing platforms like Zoom and Google Meet help remote teams communicate across time zones and locations, while programs like Slack and WhatsApp keep team members at arm’s reach.
Collaboration platforms like MURAL let you not only organize projects and ideas in one convenient location, but also bring everyone together in a shared digital space. This levels the playing field and ensures broad participation and engagement, which drives productivity and innovation, as well as better team alignment.
Diverse teams mean different perspectives
Diversity in the workplace isn’t just about age, gender, and race. It involves skills, education, and experience. These factors mean teams have the benefit of many new and different perspectives on pressing issues.
Understand that everyone's opinion matters in a cross-functional team setting. A young colleague might see a solution they learned recently in school that an older employee might not notice, while seasoned team members may have encountered the problem before and know what to do to resolve it quickly.
Related: Learn how GitLab involved cross-functional stakeholders to conduct better brainstorming and ideation
Establish and reinforce primary goals
No matter how important your team’s goals are, you must understand that the other teams feel the same. It's not uncommon for your team to have individual objectives that don’t overlap with theirs. Understand that each team’s goals will sometimes come second to the project.
When this happens, return to the original plan of the company. Who's assigned to what job, what are the deadlines, and what’s the top priority? Hold frequent meetings that reiterate these points to avoid misaligned goals and keep everyone on track.
Related: Objectives and Key Results Template
Don't fear feedback
Despite its value, many employees fear criticism. They see it as a sign of failure or a source of embarrassment. But remember, you're still growing, both in the company and in your career.
If someone takes the time to point out how your performance could have been stronger, listen to them. Don’t assume they’re trying to single you out. Constructive feedback will help you and your team improve. Welcome these challenges and insights — this is how you grow.
Collaborate with MURAL
While conflicting goals and trust issues might halt productivity, interdepartmental collaboration optimizes every team’s contributions by playing to their strengths. With the right technology and workflows, team members can reduce menial tasks to create a boost of innovation and employee engagement.
But it all has to start with a plan. If you’re struggling to visualize how your teams will work together, use MURAL’s cross-functional team template as a starting point. Work seamlessly across time zones and departments with our online whiteboards, ensuring no team member slips through the cracks.