The Cross-Functional Collaboration How-to Guide
Regardless of our job function, we all have a desire to make work faster, simpler, and more effective. The problem is, the way we work doesn’t usually reflect that mentality.
In fact, we often do things that are counterproductive to efficiency. One of those things is trying to work in isolation.
This isn’t just about “two heads being better than one” though. The reality is, when we choose to work in a vacuum – either by working on our own or by working in a silo – things take longer. Innovation slows down (or stops altogether), projects hit roadblocks and people get frustrated.
So why don’t we just collaborate more?
For some, it may be a force of habit. But for many, the issue is simply not knowing how to do it right. That’s why we’ve put together a quick guide to help get you started. By following the steps and suggestions below, you’ll have a solid framework in place to successfully collaborate cross-functionally.
Why You Need a Cross-Functional Workflow
Collaborating cross-functionally is about a lot more than periodically getting together to work on a shared project. It’s a complete workflow shift. It requires teams to be in constant communication with each other and to share the responsibility for tasks and projects.
Cross-functional workflows help you accomplish both. They keep departments and teams talking via an open network of communication channels, and they provide you with a logical structure for collaborating on projects. Used correctly, cross-functional workflows can help you ensure that work is done in the most productive way.
How Do You Create a Cross-Functional Workflow?
1. Educate Your Teams
The first step to building a cross-functional workflow is to educate your teams on it. They should understand what it is, how it works, and why your organization needs it. It’s also important to help your employees see the value of this workflow to their specific job function and responsibilities, as it will give them more incentive to actively participate in it.
2. Catch Everyone Up
There’s likely a lot of work being done in your company that your employees don’t know about. This might be because the work is team or department specific, or because you’re battling silos. Either way, you should take some time to catch everyone up to speed on the projects being worked on across the organization. Not only will it help employees gain a deeper appreciation for other departments and teams, but it should also get them thinking about potential opportunities for collaborative processes and projects.
This doesn’t have to happen all at once, though. In fact, it’s often better to stretch out this step over the course of a few weeks or months to avoid overwhelming people. Sometime during this process, you should also remind your teams about your company’s mission, vision, and goals. Doing so will refocus everyone on the big picture and help you kickoff your new workflow, successfully.
3. Make Introductions
Unless you’ve spent lots of time on team-building and cross-functional work before, your employees probably don’t know each other very well. This can be a major barrier to cross-functional collaboration, as familiarity is what breeds trust.
So, be intentional about making connections. Encourage your management teams to get to know each other better and find common ground. Advise them to connect their team members with other employees in the company who can help them solve problems. Any effort you make to introduce employees and build goodwill between them will help you build a solid foundation for your new organizational workflow.
4. Setup a Creative Collaboration Workspace
Your employees can’t effectively communicate, collaborate, share knowledge and manage tasks without the right workspace. Between geographic distances, office arrangements, and separate job functions, it’s impossible.
But creating a workspace that accommodates everyone’s needs, while keeping them in the loop is also incredibly challenging. Rearranging office space isn’t a long-term solution, since people work better in different environments. And it also doesn’t solve the problem of storing and sharing digital assets.
Virtual collaborative workspaces, on the other hand, accomplish both things. Being online, they can be accessed anytime, by anyone, from anywhere – and they allow users to create, organize and store data securely in the cloud.
Frontify is a solid option for businesses who need a single digital platform. With built-in libraries, workspaces, templates and integrations, it’s designed to help collaborative teams create, modify, share, approve and store projects, easily.
5. Establish Communication Best Practices
Once you’ve selected your collaborative workspace and educated your teams, it’s time to lay the ground rules for communication. This is a vital step to cross-functional collaboration, as it can mean the difference between a successful workflow and a workflow that struggles along before petering out.
These rules should include everything from what and how you communicate to when and where you communicate it. For example, you may need to establish best practices that help you strike a balance in the frequency of your communication, as over communicating can be just as bad as under communicating. You may also want to select standard communication channels for your teams. This can be an instant messaging app, department newsletters, or something else entirely. It’s completely up to you.
The idea isn't to make the rules of engagement rigid, but to set up a framework to encourage effective and appreciated communication.
6. Lead by Example
Sometimes the best thing you can do is lead by example. After all, people are more likely to do things if they see others doing them.
However, leading by example isn’t a small undertaking by any means. It requires you to look for and capitalize on opportunities to work in tandem with different departments in your organization. It means looping multiple people in on a project you’re spearheading, and facilitating effective collaboration between them. It also means reaching out to other teams to offer support or ideas.
While leading by example may not guarantee results, it does increase the likelihood that people across your organization will look at cross-functional collaboration more favorably. And as they see what can be accomplished by working together, they may begin to find applications for their own work.
7. Reward Success
The best way to encourage successful processes is to acknowledge and reward it. So, once you’ve set your workflow in motion, keep an eye out for opportunities to praise and reward success. Don’t just focus on the big wins, though. Rewarding quick wins can actually be a great way to boost morale and increase motivation.
Just remember to be thoughtful about the way you reward your teams. While some may like public praise or prizes, others may be more motivated by quiet affirmations. As with the other steps on this list, rewarding success is something that is unique to your company and your employees. So take the time to tailor your reward system to your needs.
At the end of the day, working as a unit can be challenging. But when you set up a structure that works for everyone on your team, you’ll be able to reap the benefits of knowledge sharing, and increase the efficiency of your business operations.