How To Improve Cross-Team Collaboration: 13 Experts Weigh Inon 26 August 2022
Teamwork makes the dream work is a popular saying. But it’s a sentiment that’s often easier said than done, especially when it comes to cross-team collaboration.
When teams work across functions, or with partners or clients, there’s added complexity in dealing with people outside your normal team. There are often conflicting ways of working and differing levels of knowledge with cross collaboration. These quickly test the limits of standard collaboration tools and processes used within your team.
So, how do you improve collaboration between teams? We reached out to several collaboration experts across a number of industries to answer this burning question. Read on to learn more about cross collaboration and see the interesting tips they shared on the subject.
What is cross-team collaboration?
Cross collaboration in a business setting is often referred to a few different ways:
- Cross-team collaboration
- Cross-functional collaboration
- Cross-departmental collaboration
The first phrase tends to be the most common and most general of the three, but they all have the same meaning: Cross-team collaboration brings together people with different knowledge and skill sets—often from multiple departments or functional areas—to achieve a shared objective and generate greater value for the organisation than they would working separately.
Benefits Of Cross-Team Collaboration
By fostering and improving cross-team collaboration, you can enjoy several benefits:
- Greater innovation. Employees from different functional areas have unique perspectives and skills. Combining these aspects can often produce new ways of thinking and novel solutions to thorny organisational problems.
- Increased cross-team communication. Departments often work in silos, limiting information to staff members. Working with teams outside the department can help valuable insights circulate throughout the entire organisation.
- Increased agility. When teams stick to their own functional areas, it can be challenging to get higher-level initiatives off the ground. Instilling cross-team collaboration and making broader organisational goals a priority for all departments can help speed these initiatives up.
Examples Of Cross-Team Collaboration
Consider a few examples of cross collaboration across departments in action:
- Sales and marketing. When these two functions work hand in hand, they can generate a lot of value. For instance, since the sales team interacts directly with customers, they can identify key insights such as typical customer objections, common questions about the company’s products and services, and relevant use cases. Marketing can use these insights to better attract prospects.
- Customer service and product development. What better way to improve your product than hearing from the customers who use them? From customer complaints to requests for help in using products, customer service personnel hear it all. They share these insights with the product development team. In turn, the product development team can inform the customer service team about product usage tips and upcoming releases.
- HR and IT. As the business scales, so does the workforce. At some point, the solutions you have in place may not be enough to properly address your workforce’s needs. HR will need to work with IT to build or buy solutions that ensure continued efficiency. For instance, they may build a talent management system to handle their talent pipeline and hone employees’ skills, or they may implement an intranet solution to keep employees across departments on the same page.
Improving Cross-Team Collaboration: Advice From 13 Experts
1. Create key performance indicators.
“As a marketing director, I once found myself feeling like I was partly responsible for how the leads I was helping to generate were getting dropped by the sales team. The strategy to be more constructive about the problem turned out to be some clear KPIs, or key performance indicators, that both teams could agree on that held us both accountable for ‘our side of the street.’
“That way, each month, both teams checked in and reported on the handful of numbers they were responsible for. Sometimes we had to acknowledge our numbers weren't that great, and sometimes they had to acknowledge theirs weren't. With clarity around who's responsible for what, clear check-in times, and specific goals, cross-team collaboration is a lot more productive.”
2. Establish a centralized communication method.
“My number-one tip for improving cross-team collaboration is to make sure there is a centralized way for teams to communicate. Communication is one of the most important parts of any type of cross-team interaction. Without good cross-team communication, collaboration falls apart. For example, being able to share real-time updates on team progress is invaluable. This ultimately allows projects to run smoothly. Software that enables team members to ask questions and post messages is a necessity in this type of endeavor.”
3. Be clear on which tasks require collaboration (and which do not).
“My tip is simple and one many teams surprisingly miss—be super clear about specifically which tasks or initiatives require team collaboration. Before all the trust building and conversations about ways of working, know exactly where you want to focus your collaborative efforts. And, by extension, get clear about which tasks don’t require collaboration or teamwork; put these tasks in the hands of capable individuals and let them get to work.
“Collaboration is more time-consuming, costly, and messy than individual work. Save it for the highest-leverage pieces of work that you are certain will benefit you and your partners. Then, work out the details of your collaboration—things like who will be involved, how often you need to connect, who will own which pieces of the task, etc.”
4. Bring technology into the picture.
“Integrating collaboration software to act as a central hub during the life cycle of a cross-team project is a great way to improve communication and enhance project management and productivity. Centralized information provides real-time visibility for project managers. It also allows progress to be monitored without asking for updates, and enables problems to be identified early on. Working from a single system also makes teams more efficient and accelerates results by reducing rework, removing unnecessary meetings, and shortening planning time.”
Paul Jardine, Technical Lead at English Blind
Can’t seem to get your teams in sync? Ensure they have a centralized hub for all their collaboration activities with Glasscubes, a comprehensive SaaS solution tailored for small and mid-sized businesses.
5. Assign a single point of contact for each team.
“To improve our collaboration with our clients, we always ensure there's only one contact person on both sides. This avoids confusion on different directions from the client, eliminates overlap of tasks, and helps in managing expectations. Of course, both contact persons are expected to consolidate messages from their respective organizations or teams to make the setup effective.”
6. Create a team charter.
“One of the best tips for improving cross-team collaboration at your business is to create what is commonly known as a team charter, which is basically a blueprint for how the team will work together toward achieving its goals.
“A high-quality team charter includes things like the basic purpose of the formation of the team; its objectives, mission, and general goals; and each team member’s responsibilities. It will also state the expectations from the cross-team collaboration, and a schedule for when the teams will meet. The added benefit of this approach is that the creation of the charter also acts as an initial team-building effort.”
7. Inform the team when work is finished.
“Sometimes when we collaborate with others, we forget the simple things, like informing others that you completed your work. Figuring out who’s doing what next becomes more complicated when people aren’t aware that preceding work has been completed.
“So make sure your team knows they need to pass the baton—whether that means updating a task in the project management software, sending their teammate a chat message, or tapping them on the shoulder. The simple act of telling a teammate ‘You’re up next’ promotes accountability, clarifies direction, and lessens team stress.”
8. Have team members share their work.
“You can improve collaboration between teams by having them share their work with one another. Teams collaborate better when they understand each other and have a better idea of what everyone is actually doing. We all have a tendency to underestimate how much effort is involved with work outside of our domain!
“A great way to share work is to make each team member’s daily action list transparent across teams. You can use a whiteboard, chat system, or a designated productivity tool to achieve this. Regular work-in-progress meetings are also a great forum to have team members share their work with the rest of the team. When everyone can see how others are working toward a shared goal, it's much easier to collaborate effectively. This also makes each team member accountable and motivates them to get things done.”
9. Focus on the positive during conflict.
“Conflict is unavoidable with cross-functional project teams. People are accustomed to working in their silos, and coming together with another function can be challenging, especially when those functions operate differently. That’s why our firm continually focuses on cross-collaboration.
“One of our conflict strategies is my 3P Method—pausing to pivot to a positive. We realized we were spending too much time and energy focused on the negatives of the situation, which didn’t help with resolution. Now we acknowledge that a conflict exists and quickly pivot to a positive possibility or a lesson learned, which puts us back on track. We’ve found this strategy quite successful and have also implemented it within our clients’ organizations.”
10. Share progress with stakeholders.
“There’s nothing worse than getting to the end of a project and having key stakeholders say, ‘I wouldn’t have done it that way!’ This is a reminder that collaboration needs to happen not just with team members but also team sponsors and other stakeholders.
“It’s important to share the results outside the core team regularly, especially on larger projects. When a project takes months to complete, you need to keep stakeholders in the loop and give them opportunity to weigh in on progress. For example, we include large, cross-functional products in our weekly meetings with a showcase. This way, we make sure that these projects stay grounded and are fully accepted.”
11. Ensure all team members know how and where they fit in.
“For any project or program to be successful, everyone needs to understand how their efforts contribute to the end goal. Knowing how they fit in enables each team member to have a clear vision of their individual efforts.
In addition, they should feel the importance or weight of their efforts. Sometimes one team or function, such as sales or development, thinks their efforts are the most important. However, it should be made clear that all efforts impact whether and how the goal is achieved. You need to break down these ego barriers so that all functions understand their unique value. This is how you establish the best cross-team collaboration.”
12. Give teams the time and resources to brainstorm, experiment, and fail.
“Cross-collaboration is often best done with a bit of innovation. Team members need time to get their ideas heard by the group. Too often we hear a good idea, focus on it, and put it into play. The problem with this is many other good ideas—or even better ideas—are unspoken because the team didn’t have enough time to express and dissect other ideas. For example, some team members are quieter than others, and having more time to collaborate gives them time to present ideas when they’re ready.
“Teams may also need resources to experiment with. These resources could be more money to buy software, physical resources, or even food and drink for more comfortable meetings. Resources could also be access to staff and leaders outside the core team to get advice and additional feedback from different perspectives. Providing both time and resources will ensure your team members feel valued and listened to, and enable them to better engage with one another.”
13. Use team-building activities to build unity.
“The key to great collaboration is ensuring that all team members are united. Team-building activities are a great way to foster this feeling; they boost rapport and reduce communication barriers.
“Even if you have remote teams, you can do virtual team-building activities to keep everyone connected. From Q&A sessions to participation in multiplayer games, there are a ton of options that could help bring your team together. Then you can benefit from better cross-team communication, improved productivity, and more.”
Simon Elkjær, Chief Marketing Officer at avXperten
3 Ways To Improve Collaboration Using Online Tools
Technology is a key component of collaboration in the modern workplace. Below are a few ways you can use online solutions to improve the practice.
1. Incorporate the tools into your workflow.
Better yet, adjust your workflow to take advantage of the tools. These tools are meant to not only connect team members but also make them more productive. So integrating them into your team’s daily workflow will ensure you get the intended value.
For example, you could bring in a chat tool like Slack for everyday communications between team members. This could work for both real-time chatting and asynchronous messages, such as when two team members don’t have overlapping work hours. Additionally, a video-conference tool like Zoom could work for scheduled meetings.
Google Drive is a popular file-sharing service for many businesses, both small and large. You could provide your team and external parties varying levels of access to files and folders, as well as link directly to files when communicating through Slack. And collaborating on files in Drive ensures your team is always working off the latest version.
Project management tools like Asana and Trello can help your team keep projects on track. Instead of checking in with each team member to see their progress, you can use these tools to check progress of assigned tasks instead. This reduces reporting time for both you and your team and ensures you’re always kept up to date. A quick glance at the dashboard will let you know what areas of the project may require your attention.
You could also turn to Glasscubes for an all-in-one solution that addresses multiple collaboration needs, including communication, file sharing and storage, and project management. It’s a secure tool that even lets you create an unlimited number of customised workspaces for different departments, individual projects, or any number of use cases.
2. Encourage usage of the online tools you deploy.
A tool is only valuable if it’s used. Oftentimes, people resist change and opt to use the tools they know best, such as email. And while there’s still a place for email, online collaboration tools make life easier for every member of the team, especially remote ones.
Additionally, you want to avoid the problems that inspired you to seek out these collaboration tools in the first place. Remember that information easily gets lost or forgotten when not kept in a centralised location.
That’s why it’s imperative you encourage (or even require) that all team members use the tools you’ve selected. Here’s a useful line you can use to get everyone on board: “Remember, team: Information outside of these tools doesn’t exist.”
Also, most online collaboration tools need little to no training, which is one less barrier to user adoption. So if a team member is still turning back to older tools, ask them what they’re having trouble with and either send them links to help resources or give them a one-on-one refresher.
3. Use your collaboration tools for fun activities.
Sometimes your team just needs a mental break from the serious stuff. And you have the tools to make that happen without having to send everyone on a two-week vacation.
For example, try using your communication, file sharing, and project management tools for planning a fun work event (i.e., the “project”), such as an office party. For fully remote teams, you could organise a meetup.
Using the tools we called out earlier, you could create a channel in Slack to brainstorm and talk about party themes. Google Drive could keep associated files organised. And you could use Asana or Trello to assign tasks to people, like getting supplies, ordering food and drinks, and selecting a venue.
Taking this approach has three benefits:
- It gives team members a much-needed distraction to focus on in between more serious work activities.
- It encourages the team to use the tools for personal benefit (i.e., they don’t feel as “forced”), increasing their familiarity with them.
- It fosters collaboration toward a goal that benefits the whole team, which will carry over into other collaborative activities.
Enable cross-collaboration between departments, teams, and other stakeholders with Glasscubes.
Glasscubes is a robust cross-team collaboration solution that ensures your entire organisation is kept in the loop about project updates, revised policies, company announcements, and whatever else you deem important to share with your workforce.
Our solution gives teams like yours the ability to stay in the loop on the latest updates, and share what’s most important—all while keeping work moving efficiently. From task management to communication to file sharing, our platform helps you stay in touch and on top of things all in one place.
Use threaded discussions to keep conversations in context, whether discussions deal with client tasks or important project files. And speaking of files, share them to your heart’s content—with team members, your clients, your suppliers, and so on.
With Glasscubes, you can:
- Store and share files in a secure location, complete with automatic version control. You can even create approval workflows and view clear audit trails of user actions.
- Assign and manage tasks for different members of the team, and track them to completion.
- Create customised workspaces for each project team in your portfolio. Team members can share resources and communicate with one another in their specific workspace, and you can access them all for easy oversight.
Want to see how organisations like yours have improved their cross-functional collaboration using our solution? Check out these Glasscubes case studies.