Small businesses start with small teams, which makes it easy to collaborate and be “in the know” for every project. But as your company grows, you’ll hire more people for each department, which can lead to breakdowns in communication.
This can lead to inefficiencies and bottlenecks throughout your business, affecting your ability to deliver the best products.
The solution: Operate using a cross-department collaboration model.
What is cross-department collaboration?
Cross-department collaboration is when teams and leaders from multiple departments work together to achieve a common goal. For example, if the business’s goal is to enhance the customer experience, then you’ll have the customer support team working with the product team to improve user issues.
Importance of cross-department collaboration
The simple answer to why cross-department collaboration is critical is because it eliminates and prevents harmful miscommunications. As a company grows, silos form because people stay within their zone.
But this develops blind spots that can create challenges for other departments. For example, keeping sales and product data within the department when it can help the marketing team better understand customers and improve messaging.
Not addressing departmental silos can lead to:
- Lack of communication: No collaboration between departments can lead to mishaps like missed deadlines.
- Customer experience issues: Customer experiences suffer when your teams don’t communicate with one another (e.g., customers re-explaining the same problems to different departments).
- Duplicated tasks: Not knowing what other teams are working on could lead to two departments creating the same project (e.g., presentations, product research).
- Missed company goals: Teams working individually can cause them to be misaligned with each other or the company’s goals.
Benefits of cross-department collaboration
When departments work together, it brings harmony to the workplace, and benefits like:
- Cost savings due to eliminating redundancies, since projects and tasks would be visible to everyone.
- Reduced customer churn as all departments would be aligned on the proper procedures to treat customers.
- Increases knowledge-sharing to ensure every team has the information needed to be productive and meet companywide goals.
- Makes employees feel like they’re a part of something larger with a shared mission.
There are different ways you can get these results. Brad Anderson, founder of digital marketing firm Fruition, had leaders of different departments switch places, which helped each department understand each other better.
Consistency is key to maintaining the benefits of collaboration. At Fruition, Anderson encourages weekly cross-department conversations between peers. For example, a developer will have a call with an SEO specialist. This also builds personal connections across teams.
Examples of cross-department collaboration
There’s no one way to implement cross-department collaboration. It depends on the departments you have, whether they’re remote, and the types of projects or tasks they’d need to collaborate on.
Artifact, a company that helps enterprises forecast customer experiences, uses a collaborative method called “Memos to Demos.”
“Every Monday, cross-functional teams write a memo detailing the customer outcome they aim to demo the following week,” says Nate Sanders, co-founder of Artifact.
They record the risks, knowns, and unknowns related to their work and use the memo as a work journal throughout the week. The following Monday, everyone demonstrates their progress to all the teams.
This allows the teams to stay informed, so they can stay on track and deliver projects weekly.
Matt Benton, CEO of Trenchless Information Center, which provides information about trenchless technologies, uses weekly cross-departmental meetings to discuss the happenings throughout the organization. It aligns everyone and allows them to discuss issues and how to overcome them collaboratively.
“The meetings are also a great way for me as a manager to get feedback from my team members about how we’re doing as a company,” says Benton.
How you choose to encourage cross-department collaboration depends on your company culture. For example, if you have a remote-first company, you can use collaborative tools like Slack and Zoom to have group video calls or have shared channels so everyone can discuss projects and problems that arise.
How to improve cross-department collaboration
To increase cross-department collaboration work in your business, here are a few ideas:
- Schedule regular cross-team meetings to discuss projects, company goals, and ideas (but ensure they’re planned and fruitful, so it doesn’t feel like wasted time).
- Develop a shared space across departments, in person or digitally, using project management and messaging tools.
- Encourage open and collaborative communication between departments by creating a forum everyone can access, see, and discuss.
- Reward teams for working with other departments (e.g., completing a project together earns points toward winning a prize).
- Set clear goals that everyone can work toward together and make clear everyone’s role in making that goal happen.
- Offer webinars, workshops, and training sessions (live or online) to teach teams new skills that can benefit other departments (e.g., having marketing learn UX design to collaborate easier with product teams).
- Host interdepartmental events and activities to encourage team building (e.g., trust-building games or an outing that groups together people from different departments).
- Ask for feedback to understand how departments are getting along, issues that arose, and ideas for improvement (e.g., create a feedback loop with surveys and/or regular check-ins).
- Celebrate when teams accomplish goals to show gratitude for their collaborative success (seeing that it works will make more people commit to it long term).
- Build workflows that foster cross-department collaboration and break down silos (e.g., scheduling feedback from the product team when marketing teams submit materials).
- Develop a single source of truth with up-to-date information about projects, goals, etc., and place these goals somewhere easy to see so no one loses sight of the mission (e.g., pinned in a forum or a document in a shared folder).
Cross-department collaboration activities
You can improve the cross-team collaboration process by trying some fun activities, such as:
- Brainstorming sessions: Bring teams together to work through problems, innovate products and solutions, and develop new ideas.
- Cross-department challenges: Create challenges that require teams to work together to solve them. For example, create a small project all departments must work on within a tight but doable time frame.
- Team-building activities: Get teams out of the office — try something like a retreat or scavenger hunt, to build relationships outside the workplace.
Sajeed Javed, CEO of Vehicles Bro, an informational website about cars, didn’t wait for his teams to collaborate organically.
“I host workshops where different departments showcase their work, which allows for clearer communication between departments,” says Javed.
Gamification is also an effective technique. Vehicles Bro has quarterly award ceremonies to celebrate achievements within the company, and one category is for the best cross-departmental collaborative project.
Deciding how to create a collaborative workplace shouldn’t just be on your shoulders. Get your teams involved by asking what methods, activities, and technologies they feel will enhance collaboration.