Winning strategies to enable cross-team collaboration

By Randi Sherman

6 min read

Winning strategies to enable cross-team collaboration
Illustration by Maya Ramadhina

Cross-team collaboration supports innovation and benefits organizations by leveraging every employee skill available to them. However, simply because you have cross-functional teams doesn’t mean they will succeed. An effective cross-departmental collaboration strategy must prioritize accountability and clear governance to ensure alignment with company and project goals. In other words, employees must work well together and clearly understand their roles and responsibilities for the initiative to thrive. 

The benefits of effective collaboration are well-known: improved productivity, employee happiness, retention, accelerated time-to-value, and innovation. But you can’t just throw a bunch of talent into the deep end and expect them to figure it out. Some will, but the results may not be as good as they could be. 

With proper leadership, oversight, and strategy, cross-team collaboration can help a company grow and improve collaboration between departments from the inside out, and that’s what we’ll discuss today. 

Understanding Cross-Team Collaboration

A cross-functional team is one in which employees from different departments, functions, or teams come together to focus on a common goal or project. Examples include sales and marketing, marketing and finance, finance and administration, HR and IT, product development and sales, or any combination of the above. 

There is little doubt that every facet of a company’s operations depends on what others bring to the table. Often, teams are challenged to accomplish their goals without much back and forth, but when all aspects of a project are covered by individual expertise, the onus is not just on one person to get things done. 

When team members can focus on what they do best and rely on others to do the same, the puzzle comes together quite neatly. Add in the right communication tools and governance, and you have a recipe for cross-department collaboration success.

Bring your people together

Preparing for collaboration

As with most team initiatives, you must set yourself up for success. Here are the first steps to lay the groundwork for cross-department collaboration. 

Identify the purpose and goals. 

Cross-functional teams should have clearly defined goals to work toward. Establishing these criteria will also inform decisions about who should be on the team. Start by listing the skills and aptitudes needed to drive success through every step of the process. 

Select the right teams and members.

Leveraging your skills-based list, appoint team members that align with your functional needs. 

Establish clear communication channels.

As some team members may be working remotely, it’s critical to establish guidelines around communication from the outset. Having a centralized platform to track progress, connect with team members, and access content is essential. 

Building a Collaborative Environment

Creating a culture of trust and openness is critical to success in a collaborative team. Once team members understand the overarching goals and their responsibility in achieving project success, they can better focus on what they do best and rely on others to do the same. 

Diversity and inclusion should be stressed within the team dynamic, and team members must be open to feedback and consider other points of view. Team leaders must prioritize active listening and empathy and be able to inspire others to approach communication with the same care and understanding. 

Establishing effective communication

Choose the right communication tools to support your cross-functional teams. Consider where they are working (i.e. if they are working remotely or in the office), how they connect, and their level of comfort with using a communication platform. 

Barriers to success can occur when you have competent employees who aren’t tech-savvy or incapable of managing tools, and this should be a consideration when you assign teams, as everyone should be on a level playing field. 

Set up regular check-ins and meetings to monitor team progress and gauge whether any barriers hinder their success. Ideally, you will want to use a centralized platform, like Jostle, where you can integrate all the tools and content the team needs to succeed. 

Defining roles and responsibilities

Once you’ve established your team and provided the tools to be productive, you’ll need to clarify roles and expectations. It’s crucial to divide the workload fairly to avoid bottlenecks and burnout.

Assigning task ownership and accountability is critical as it lets each member know what they (and others) are responsible for, what aspects of the projects they have a say in, and what they need to rely on other teams or individuals to provide, ensuring alignment with overall objectives. 

Improving collaboration between departments

Empowering your team to work together creates a sense of ownership, individually and within the group. For example, it should be encouraged if your team feels they need to brainstorm with another department to gain insight into a project. Doing so helps teams thrive, reinforcing the thought that their ideas and efforts have meaning and strengthening inter-departmental bonds. 

Establishing a system or process for accomplishing the above will support buy-in and empower teams to think outside the box, seek guidance, and ask for input when needed. As a result, you’ll have fewer “stuck” moments and ensure the project moves forward with minimal friction. 

Additionally, establishing a central database for project-related content and supporting data is helpful as it breaks down informational silos that might impede progress.

Resolving conflicts and challenges

Conflict will sometimes arise, but there are many things team leaders can do to mitigate and minimize the impact. 

Misunderstandings can often happen due to ineffective communication, so establishing clear protocols and tools to support frictionless comms is essential from the outset. 

Strong personalities and opinions can also be an issue. Acknowledging and respectfully dealing with disputes will help team members learn and improve and may prevent lingering negative impacts. Active listening, empathy, and inviting ideas for solutions are all excellent ways to approach resolution. 

To avoid a repeat performance, evaluate and adapt to ensure continuous improvement. Surveys, tracking key performance indicators (KPIs), and soliciting feedback are all viable ways to accomplish this goal. 

Measuring and evaluating collaboration

We mentioned KPIs in the previous section, but what should you be measuring to evaluate the success of cross-team and inter-team collaboration? 

The KPIs you choose to measure should align with project and organizational objectives. Some examples could be platform or resource utilization, tasks completed, project cycle time, errors, time estimated vs. time worked, on-time completion rate, feedback, and employee satisfaction. 

Most of these KPIs can be tracked through the platform dashboard, both as team and individual metrics. Periodic surveys and check-ins are recommended to gauge satisfaction and enable continuous improvement. When using a tool like Jostle, survey tools can be integrated into the platform, making it easy to collect and view data in context with the other KPIs you choose. 

Final thoughts on cross-functional team success

In conclusion, the benefits of cross-functional teams are undeniable. Effective collaboration across teams breaks down departmental silos and allows companies to apply specific skills and diverse viewpoints to help accomplish organizational goals. 

The success of cross-team collaboration hinges on strategy. Though the skills and aptitudes of individual team members might be ideal, simply putting them together does not always produce the desired result. 

The onus is on management and leadership to provide the right tools, guidance, and strategies to help people thrive in their roles and within their teams. Jostle provides teams with the foundations cross-functional teams need to thrive. 


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Randi Sherman

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