How to Collaborate with Cross-Functional Teams in the Workplace

A cross-functional team can bring together people and departments that are as different as parts of a body. Accounting is inward-facing, whereas marketing is outward-facing; R&D is focused on change, whereas legal is focused on stability.

Yet in a cross-functional team, each seemingly unrelated part must work together, just like the eye and foot work together to help a person walk. And actually, all these different parts of the business need each other. One can’t survive without the other, just as the brain can’t survive without the heart. Without R&D, legal would have nothing to work on, for example.

In a cross-functional team, each member should respect the input of every other. Even if they have different approaches, ideas, and needs, they should learn to value each other and the ideas each person brings to the table. In fact, collaborating with cross-functional teams can build greater unity and understanding across the organization.

What Does Cross-Functional Collaboration Mean?

A cross-functional team might come together to handle a daily duty, a project, or a major goal. The team might do anything from posting on social media to developing a new product line.

The trick is ensuring that cross-functional team members will actually collaborate and not be at odds with each other. But what is the best way to do this? Using technology to collaborate isn’t a standalone solution because software won’t automatically overcome any differences that may exist between team members.

Discussing why cross-functional collaboration is important is the first step. Your team and organization need to understand and believe in the value of cross-functional teamwork. Ideally, team members will see for themselves that cross-functional teams can coordinate the talents, insights, expertise, and perspectives of different employees to produce greater results than any of them could achieve in separate departments.

Why Do Cross-Functional Teams Fail?

What are the common pitfalls associated with cross-functional teams? Here are three:

  1. Lack of Goal Clarity: Employees from different departments may be without goals or have goals that appear opposed to each other, which leads to confusion, a lack of energy, and disorganization.
  2. Resistance to Change: Team members may not want to work in new ways or create new habits. They may not realize the time savings they could gain through efficient new methods.
  3. Lack of Full Disclosure: Most departments don’t know in detail what their neighbors are working on. A large data dump is needed at the beginning of a collaboration to find the best points of intersection between initiatives.

If you can anticipate these issues, you can avoid or overcome them. And if these are the problems, you can already imagine some of the solutions, which usually involve better communication and more training.

What Are Five Strategies for Effective Collaboration?

Many organizations use cross-functional teams to get input about feasibility and marketability from several departments when designing new product lines. You may have been on good cross-functional teams yourself. But what makes them work?

1. Forging Human Connections

Team members need time to get to know each other and build trust. They might even need to overcome social awkwardness and shyness. Here are a few methods to try:

  • Start every meeting with an icebreaker.
  • Have team members meet and talk through video meetings if they are geographically dispersed.
  • Make a booklet that includes a bio of each member, including a picture, work expertise, and appropriate personal details.
  • Create games and events that help team members bond with people from other departments. (Some games, like trivia or charades, work even over video calls.)

2. Owning the Work

key characteristics of cross-functional teamsThere’s an enormous difference between being forced to collaborate and choosing to collaborate. Discuss organizational goals to be sure that team members believe that only their team has the right mix of abilities to accomplish their special objective.

Ensure, also, that they understand that their team alone owns their goal. It isn’t owned by one favored department. No, everyone on the team—no matter their home department—has equal voice and ownership over the team goal.

3. Getting an Executive Advocate

Cross-functional team failures are often due to lack of executive support. As your team is forming, make sure a major executive is leading it and supporting it. He or she should regularly come to at least some team meetings and be available at certain times to answer questions.

4. Using a Project-Management Tool

The devil is in the details for cross-functional teams. You can avoid a great deal of confusion, wasted time, and data loss by keeping all electronic team collaboration within a single software tool. Assign tasks and delegate sub-tasks through the tool, allowing everyone to see the whole picture and the team’s progress. Keep all comments and documents housed within that tool.

5. Opting Out

Realize that collaboration with cross-functional teams is not appropriate for every project. Some situations can be handled with greater efficiency or expertise when one department is allowed to make its own decisions.

Be More Effective

What are the key characteristics of cross-functional teams? Your team should be more effective than a single department could be at solving problems, creating innovations, and looking forward. The team doesn’t have to be as polished or pretty as an established department, but it should be effective. If you accomplish your goal together, you have succeeded.

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CMOE Team

CMOE’s Design Team is comprised of individuals with diverse and complementary strengths, talents, education, and experience who have come together to bring a unique service to CMOE’s clients. Our team has a rich depth of knowledge, holding advanced degrees in areas such as business management, psychology, communication, human resource management, organizational development, and sociology.