How To Improve Cross-Team Collaboration

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Saphia Lanier
Saphia Lanier

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It’s often said that the greatest asset that a business has is its people. But the truth is, it isn’t that simple. The biggest asset in a business isn’t just its people — it’s people who know how and are willing to work together. 

cross team collaboration

When your teams collaborate well, it makes work easier and work life more enjoyable for everyone.

But what happens when you need teams from different functions to work together? Can they be collaborative too?

If not, then it’s time to build a workplace that focuses on cross-team collaboration. 

What is cross-team collaboration?

Cross-team collaboration is when people from different teams in the same organization work together to achieve a common goal. 

For example, if you work in marketing, you may collaborate with a colleague who works in sales to create a new product launch campaign. In this way, you’re empowered to combine your unique skills and perspectives to create a viable product by working together. 

Cross-team collaboration examples

What does cross-team collaboration look like in the workplace? Here are several examples:

  • A software development team and a quality assurance team working together to ensure a new product is bug-free before launch
  • A marketing team and a design team collaborating on a new ad campaign to promote a product
  • A customer service team and a product development team working together to address customer feedback and improve the product
  • An HR team and a management team collaborating on employee training programs to improve company culture and productivity
  • A finance team and an operations team working together to optimize the supply chain and reduce costs
  • A content creation team and a social media team working together to create engaging social media posts that promote the company’s brand and products
  • A legal team and an operations team collaborating on compliance issues to ensure the company is following all relevant laws and regulations
  • An IT team and a customer service team working together to troubleshoot technical issues that customers are experiencing with the company’s products or services

Company Folders, a company that prints business folders, used cross-team collaboration to create a new set of landing pages with the help of development, content, marketing, and project management teams.

“We used Confluence to create a page requirement document for all the teams,” says Vladimir Gendelman, founder of Company Folders Inc. “Team leaders reviewed, modified, and reassigned the document to other team members, so all teams touched the document and agreed upon the requirements. Each team actively communicated their needs, wants, and expectations using Zoom videoconferencing and Slack messaging.”

Common challenges with cross-team collaboration

Cross-team collaboration sounds great in theory, but how can you make it work in practice? You can start by understanding the challenges that often stand in the way of collaborating across teams. 

Here are some of the most common roadblocks that happen during cross-team collaborations:

  • Communication breakdown: Communication gaps or misunderstandings can lead to delays, mistakes, and conflicts among team members from different departments or functions.
  • Different work styles: Teams may approach work differently, resulting in separate expectations, priorities, and project management styles.
  • Lack of clear leadership: Without clear, strong leadership, cross-functional teams can struggle to align on goals, make decisions, or effectively manage conflicts.
  • Silo mentality: Teams may become siloed, unwilling to collaborate with those outside of their function, leading to tunnel vision and missed opportunities.
  • Resistance to change: Change can be difficult for some people, and cross-functional collaboration demands flexibility, communication, and a willingness to adapt.
  • Defining roles and responsibilities: Teams may struggle to identify clear roles and responsibilities, leading to a lack of accountability and confusion about who should do what.
  • Time-zone differences: Different time zones can make collaboration difficult, leading to communication and decision-making delays and missed deadlines.
  • Limited resources: Teams may have limited resources, such as budget, staffing, or access to tools or technology, making it difficult to collaborate effectively across functions.
  • Cultural differences: Cultural differences can lead to misunderstandings and unproductive collaborations if team members are not aware or sensitive to cultural nuances that exist on other teams — for example, international teams.
  • Lack of trust: Trust is essential for successful cross-team collaboration, but it can take time to develop. 
  • Conflicting priorities: Different teams may have different priorities and goals, leading to conflicts when collaborating on a project. 

Cross-team collaboration best practices

Collaboration isn’t something that happens overnight, especially not in a workplace with multiple departments or functions. So here are best practices to help your teams work better together.

  • Make it easy to communicate: Enabling your teams to communicate efficiently is possible with technology and office space design. For example, you can use Slack channels for collaboration of remote teams, and open office spaces for in-person collaboration.
  • Use the right tools: Software makes it easier for teams to connect, share files, assign tasks, and monitor project progress. Consider using platforms like Asana, Confluence, or Trello. 
  • Establish boundaries: Just because teams can connect with remote tools doesn’t mean they should have 24/7 access. Set rules for days and times to prevent overlap and work-life imbalance. 
  • Focus on relationship-building: Teams work better together when they feel connected. Some companies host virtual or in-person social events to build camaraderie and strengthen relationships.
  • Set clear goals: Without a common goal, teams may have trouble working together and completing projects on time. Use project management tools to define goals so everyone’s on the same page. Tie those goals back to each team’s unique KPIs to make it easier for them to see how their work affects these shared goals.
  • Prioritize diversity: Even if your team has a common goal, they may have different experiences, perspectives, and values. That’s why it’s important to prioritize diversity in your team, and ensure all voices are heard and respected. 
  • Promote accountability: Teamwork only works if everyone’s held accountable for their responsibilities. Otherwise, some will fail to do their part and the rest of the team has to pick up the slack.
  • Celebrate team wins: Whenever your teams achieve goals, celebrate the accomplishment together. It can be heading out to happy hour together (or virtually) or taking a group lunch.
  • Turn failures into lessons: When goals aren’t met or projects go wrong, don’t blame a team or department. Use it as an opportunity to determine what went wrong and how to avoid it in the future.
  • Assign a hierarchy for leadership: Knowing who’s the leader allows teams to go to the right person to resolve problems and answer questions. Ideally, you want a leader or two for cross-functional teams who understand everyone’s roles and the project’s goals.  
  • Get buy-in from management: Cross-team collaboration works better when you have buy-in from the leaders in your business. This way, they can inspire and direct teams to work well together. 

Tools to use for better cross-team collaboration

Having the right tools makes it easier and faster for teams from different departments to work together.

Here’s a list of some of the most popular team collaboration tools:

  1. Asana: A project management tool that helps teams track tasks, deadlines, and progress.
  2. Slack: A communication tool that allows teams to chat, share files, and collaborate in real time.
  3. Trello: A visual project management tool that uses boards, lists, and cards to organize tasks and workflows.
  4. Google Drive: A cloud-based storage and collaboration tool that allows teams to share documents, spreadsheets, and presentations.
  5. Zoom: A videoconferencing tool that allows teams to hold virtual meetings, webinars, and training sessions.
  6. Microsoft Teams: A collaboration platform that combines chat, videoconferencing, file sharing, and project management.
  7. Jira: A project management tool designed for software development teams that helps track bugs, issues, and agile workflows.
  8. Basecamp: A project management tool that helps teams organize tasks, schedules, and communication in one place.
  9. GitHub: A code hosting platform that allows developers to collaborate on projects, review code changes, and manage version control.
  10. Monday.com: A project management tool that offers customizable workflows, task automation, and team collaboration features.

“Many of my employees don’t work in the office, so most of our tools promote well-defined goals and ample communication,” explains Gendelman. “We use Zoom for conferences and meetings and Slack for quick questions and updates between individuals, specific teams, and all employees. Then we use Jira and Confluence for bigger assignments, like project management and documented information.”

How to improve cross-team collaboration

OK, so you’ve implemented all the best practices listed above. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that your efforts will go off without a hitch. You may need to do more to get your teams and management teams on board with cross-functional teamwork. 

Here are additional ways to improve cross-team collaboration in your business:

  • Train managers in cross-team collaboration techniques: Provide managers with the tools and skills to facilitate cross-team collaboration; businesses can improve communication and teamwork across departments.
  • Host team-building activities: Use company events to break down team barriers and foster unity. 
  • Do brainstorming sessions together: Involve members from different teams to allow more diverse and innovative ideas, and to show how to be accepting of others’ concepts.  
  • Offer cross-functional training: Train employees in different departments to help them better understand how their work impacts other teams and to become valuable to other teams’ projects. 
  • Create cross-functional teams: Build teams with members from different departments to encourage collaboration and break down silos.
  • Have regular check-ins and feedback: Have managers and team leaders meet regularly to discuss progress and concerns. And to offer and receive feedback from team members across the company.

“We use pairing and feedback — pairing is part of the Extreme Programming (XP) methodology, which helps our designer, copywriter, and developer teams become agile,” says Gendelman. 

He explains pairing and feedback as consisting of two roles: drivers and navigators.

The driver is the person who writes the code, does the designing, or does the writing. They actively code, design, and write while thinking about structuring those aspects.

As the driver works, the navigator actively reviews and provides feedback, thinks about the overall big picture, and gives guidance on how to move forward. Navigators also research and check documentation during the pairing process. Similarly, feedback is an effective strategy for cross-team collaboration.

“Everything we do goes through at least one round of feedback and sometimes dozens,” continues Gendelman. “Our feedback is provided in various ways, including planned Zoom calls, impromptu Slack huddles, directly on a task on Jira, and, to a lesser extent, email.”

When building collaborative teams, build a system to monitor progress and to provide feedback to ensure ongoing success.

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