Cross-functional collaboration: why we struggle with it and what to do (2022)

Given the amount of technology built to improve team communication, collaboration across teams should be easier than ever. We can instantly contact coworkers with Slack. We can share documents across the globe with Google Drive. We can assign tasks and collaborate on projects in Asana. However, introducing new software to your team isn’t always enough. You likely have other, more interpersonal, barriers to overcome as well.

At InVision, for example, collaboration tools play a key role in coordinating work between the product and marketing teams. However, they also emphasize the importance of constant communication, clear delegation of responsibilities, and company-wide knowledge of upcoming product launches. All of these ingredients feed into their ability to successfully collaborate across multiple teams—and their marketing campaigns are stronger for it.

When you lack of clarity of purpose, it becomes apparent when you try to break out of your silo to collaborate—and then hit a wall.

Learning to collaborate with team members in different departments can unlock opportunities for companies to do their best possible work. So why do we fight it? And why do we have a hard time facilitating it even when we all agree we want it? Below, you’ll find 5 common barriers to collaboration across teams, departments, and functions—along with solutions for each.

5 tips to improve collaboration across teams

Put simply, cross-functional collaboration is when people from different teams or functions (marketing, sales, engineering, HR) within a company join forces to work on a common goal, project, or responsibility.

It can be anything from day-to-day responsibilities, like customer support and marketing teaming up on social media, to one-off projects, like sales and product developing a new, customer-converting feature. However, making it happen—not to mention making it work work—isn’t always easy.

1. The teams involved have conflicting goals—or no goals at all

Have you ever tried to involve another team in a project, only to hear them say “that’s not a priority for us”? It can feel maddening if you know it will directly impact revenue, gain a significant number of new customers, fix a huge technical debt, or otherwise positively impact your business.

(Video) 6 Tips for Successful Cross-Functional Collaboration | Fellow.app

In this case, you and the team at hand likely lack alignment on goals. Or worse, you don’t know the goals of your team or company.

When you lackclarity of purpose, it becomes apparent when you try to break out of your silo to collaborate—and then hit a wall.

Solution: align on goals and share them with everyone

Encourage senior leaders to make your company goals publicly visible so everyone, not just the leadership team, knows your company’s priorities. If you’re an individual contributor, make sure you know how your projects ladder up to broader goals (you can use the pyramid of clarity to help map this out) and communicate which goal your initiative supports with collaborators.

Cross-functional collaboration: why we struggle with it and what to do (1)

If you’re using Asana, create a project that lists out all of your company goals and objectives. Share it with your entire company so that every team—from accounting to sales—understands the bigger picture. You can use comment-only access to make sure it’s visible, but not editable, by everyone. For more detailed instructions, read our guide article on creating a company goals and milestones project in Asana.

2. You’re not aware of other teams’ projects and initiatives

Some of the best collaborations I’ve worked on started when another co-worker turned to me and said, “Hey, such-and-such team is working on XYZ. Did you know about that?”

You’ve likely experienced this, too. Organic collaborations are only the tip of the iceberg. Think of how many more opportunities we can uncover by actively communicating our work with each other.

(Video) Effective Cross-functional Collaboration

Solution: share upcoming work within and outside your department

Not knowing what your co-workers are doing creates a barrier to effective collaboration, but it doesn’t have to. To solve for this, regularly share a summary of your team’s upcoming work to your entire company or create a place where others can easily discover this information.

Cross-team communication has the potential to unlock some of our best work, to uncover insights we never knew we needed, and to take our project outcomes from decent to exceptional.

Just be mindful of noise. While it’s good to have an idea of what each team in your company is doing, every person doesn’t need to know about every little Tweet, bug fix, or customer support case. Keep your sharing brief but give co-workers a destination they can go to (like an Asana project) if they want to learn more.

Cross-functional collaboration: why we struggle with it and what to do (2)

In Asana, use status updates to give all of your project followers a quick update on progress and upcoming work. For larger initiatives, create a summary and share it out as a team or staff-wide conversation. Include links to relevant tasks and projects and invite teammates to join a project if they can contribute.

3. You don’t understand your coworkers’ roles, responsibilities, or jargon

Once, I listened to a co-worker give the same update in our weekly team meeting for two months straight. I didn’t think it was relevant to my work. That is, until I saw the final result and realized we had just missed a really good opportunity to collaborate. Had we talked through it in more detail, we could have found ways to reduce duplicate work and shorten her project timeline.

Often, this “missed connection” happens at work because we:

(Video) How To Avoid Conflict on a Cross-Functional Team - The Tarp Story (LIVE)

  1. don’t fully understood the other’s role or responsibilities
  2. use jargon and nomenclature that’s not easily understood by a broader audience

Fortunately, awareness is the first step to breaking down this barrier.

Solution: learn who does what and how to speak their language

Whenever you can, get to know your co-workers, their working styles, and ask them detailed questions about what they’re working on. In larger companies, facilitate learning opportunities, like random 1-1s or company-wide “show and tells” where people can present things they built, launched, or worked on.

At Asana, we do this by assigning areas of responsibilities (AoRs) to each employee and keeping a running list of all AoRs and their owners. It helps everyone know exactly who does what.

4. Taking on another project seems too time-consuming

This is probably the most common scenario: You invite a team or teammate to collaborate on something with you. They’re interested, but don’t have time. Maybe they agree to help out but “next month” or “next quarter.” Eventually, your project gets pushed back indefinitely and you’ve given up all hopes of it ever getting done.

The problem is, getting involved in a new project often seems like a daunting, time-consuming task —even if it’s actually a much smaller task.

Solution: Present a clear proposal, timeline, and estimated time commitment

Before you even ask your co-worker to help out on a new project, take time to estimate how long the project will take. Buffer in extra time for your project if you can. Then, outline the co-worker’s role and estimated time commitment. If they have a clearer understanding of what you need from them and how long it will take, the barrier to pitching in becomes smaller.

Cross-functional collaboration: why we struggle with it and what to do (3)

(Video) Self-organized, cross-functional teams - Explanation video

In Asana, create a project and add a description and due dates to tasks. Assign tasks within your project to individual teammates. Then, use custom fields to add an estimated time commitment. When you assign out tasks, your co-workers will have a much clearer understanding of what they need to do, by when, and how long it will take.

5. There’s reluctance to adopt new ways of working

“Habits are your brain’s version of autopilot,” writes Stephanie Vozza on Fast Company. In the workplace, this often translates into reluctance towards adopting a new tool, method, or way of working. It’s the if-it’s-not-broken-why-fix-it mentality. And we all know habits are hard to break.

Unfortunately, staying within our habits ignores opportunities to work more efficiently, save time, and get ahead of the curve. (Just think of the advantage early email adopters had over their email-less counterparts!) And who doesn’t want to get more time in their day?

Solution: Introduce a new tool or habit slowly

If you’re introducing something new—whether it’s a new process or tool—to your team, let people ease into new processes. “What I’ve found is not to push a major process overhaul [when training new people on using Asana],” says Asana community member, Caisha. “Start with a simple project, like a meeting agenda or an event. Ideally it’s something that many people in the department, regardless of focus, will need to know about or be involved in.”

It’s also a good idea to have a point person, or champion, who gently reminds people “Hey, remember that new process we’re following?” Or “Hey, could you put this in Asana?” to help others adopt a new way of working.

Cross-functional collaboration: why we struggle with it and what to do (4)

If you’re just starting to use Asana with your team, use integrations like the Gmail add-on to help people smoothly transition from communicating via email to collaborating in Asana.

(Video) Create a High-Performance Culture with Cross-Functional Teams

Start collaborating with teammates

With effective collaboration, you can unlock some of your team’s best work, uncover insights you never knew you needed, and take your project outcomes from decent to exceptional. But facilitating collaboration doesn’t come challenge-free. It takes work. It’s up to you to decide if you’re going to let barriers trap you in a silo, or break them down.

FAQs

How do you solve cross-functional collaboration? ›

Lack of cross functional team collaboration often leads to stifled operations and stagnated growth.
...
Making cross-functional collaboration work
  1. Create a collaboration plan. ...
  2. Use the right technology. ...
  3. Standardize processes. ...
  4. Reflect, repeat, and refine.

Can you give an example of cross-functional work you have done? ›

Examples of cross-functional improvement projects include: Sales and marketing working together to improve the process of handing off leads. Manufacturing floor managers and procurement staff making improvements to reduce inventory or ensure part availability.

Why is cross-functional collaboration important? ›

Promotes a more creative and innovative work environment

Cross-functional teams encourage ideas from all corners, leading to greater creativity and innovation.

What are the benefits and challenges of cross team working? ›

When cross-functional teams work together, they feel more connected, particularly across different departments. When team members feel connected, have common goals and trust one another, they are also better at problem-solving and conflict resolution.

Why do cross functional teams fail? ›

Cross-functional teams often fail because the organization lacks a systemic approach. Teams are hurt by unclear governance, by a lack of accountability, by goals that lack specificity, and by organizations' failure to prioritize the success of cross-functional projects.

What is the key to working cross functionally with success? ›

Communication is the Key to Cross-Functional Success

Connecting the tools that align with the ways that people naturally communicate and learn gives everyone a chance to contribute and increases the likelihood of success for each cross-functional contributor.

What are the three main roles that you would find in a cross-functional team? ›

Communication, collaboration, coordination: The 3 Cs guiding successful cross-functional teams.

What is a cross-functional team and give an example of one in action? ›

A cross-functional team is a set of people with different skill sets, responsibilities and disciplines who work together to perform specific tasks. An example is a firefighting crew.

How do you know when a collaboration was successful? ›

Signs of Effective Collaboration

Everyone has a sense of shared goals and objectives. The company is moving ahead with new and promising ideas. There's collective celebration over successes, including those of individual team members and the company.

What competencies are needed in a cross-functional team? ›

Cross-functional team leadership creates extra demand on those skills, or requires them to be used in unique ways.
  • Creating mutual understanding. ...
  • Excellent communication. ...
  • Project management. ...
  • Decision-making. ...
  • Clear goals. ...
  • Conflict resolution. ...
  • Problem-solving. ...
  • Team building.

How do you increase cross collaboration? ›

8 Ways to Improve Cross-Team Collaboration
  1. 8 Easy Ways to Improve Cross-Team Collaboration. ...
  2. Set clear goals. ...
  3. Encourage open communication and feedback. ...
  4. Use an intuitive tool. ...
  5. Encourage creativity and openness. ...
  6. Set clear expectations and roles. ...
  7. Celebrate successes and learn from missteps.
11 Nov 2021

What happens if there is no cross-team collaboration? ›

It takes a lot of work to achieve fruitful cross-functional collaboration. But if you don't put in the effort, you risk creating misalignment in goals, information silos, and a lack of clarity that will frustrate even the most loyal and skilful employees.

What are the consequences of poor collaborative working? ›

Lack of collaboration will often lead to a disengaged and unaccountable workforce, which will naturally result in a lot of wasted time.

What are the best practices for overcoming barriers to cross-functional collaboration? ›

10 cross-functional collaboration best practices
  • Promote diversity. ...
  • Strong demonstration of leadership. ...
  • Unlock the power of shared knowledge. ...
  • Leverage technology. ...
  • Set team goals. ...
  • Appreciate project milestones. ...
  • Track KPIs. ...
  • Promote transparency.
23 Jun 2020

How do you help a failing team? ›

How to Help Your Team Bounce Back from Failure
  1. What the Experts Say. It's often harder to lead a team past a failure than it is to help one person. ...
  2. First, take control of your own emotions. ...
  3. Give them space. ...
  4. Be clear about what went wrong. ...
  5. But don't point fingers. ...
  6. Shift the mood. ...
  7. Tell a story. ...
  8. Encourage collaboration.
27 Feb 2015

What are the limitations of functional team? ›

Even so, the very nature of cross-functional teams can be disadvantageous and cause a team to fail.
  • Poor Customer Service. ...
  • Coordination and Skills Issues. ...
  • Temporary Nature. ...
  • High Expectations. ...
  • Lack of Communication.

What is the most common impediment to communication in cross-functional teams? ›

Answer: What is the most common impediment to communication in cross - functional teams Inadequate compensation.

What are the five key concepts of successful collaboration? ›

The 5 Rules of Effective Collaboration
  • Get Aligned. This critical piece is about ensuring everyone on the team understands why cracking the challenge matters and the size of the opportunity ahead. ...
  • Get Structure. ...
  • Get Diverse. ...
  • Get Active. ...
  • Get Human.
23 Mar 2018

What is a cross-functional strategy? ›

Cross-functional collaboration is about mutual commitment toward common goals and the joint effort necessary to achieve them. It is in every business leader's best interest to lay the foundation for a united approach to innovation and improvement.

What are cross-functional skills? ›

In other words, a cross-functional skill candidate is a person who has mastered one or more related skills or technologies but also has a grasp of other technology/skills.

How do you structure a cross-functional team? ›

Developing cross-functional teams
  1. Identify the skills and expertise needed. ...
  2. Choose the right personalities. ...
  3. Select quality leadership. ...
  4. Clarify each team member's purpose. ...
  5. Develop a team charter. ...
  6. Set a clear budget. ...
  7. Create project schedules. ...
  8. Establish lines of communication.

What styles and qualities make someone a suitable team leader of a cross-functional team? ›

9 Key Leadership Characteristics for Cross-Functional Teams
  • 1) Excellent Communication. ...
  • 2) Thorough Organization. ...
  • 3) Clarity. ...
  • 4) Mutual Understanding. ...
  • 5) Individual Attention. ...
  • 6) Conflict Resolution. ...
  • Improve Your Coaching Style. ...
  • 7) Strong Bonds.

Which of the following would be a benefit of a cross-functional team? ›

One great benefit of cross-functional collaboration is allowing individual employees to lead the project. Every employee can have their chance to develop their leadership skills on a temporary team, encouraging them to adapt their communication, collaboration, and conflict management styles to the needs of their team.

Which behavior indicates a team is cross-functional? ›

Agile Teams are Cross-Functional

They can: Define – Independently elaborate and design features and stories to accomplish their mission. Build – Contain all skills necessary to create the artifacts to meet their mission. Test – Ensure an artifact's quality and performance.

What does working with cross-functional teams mean? ›

What is a cross-functional team? A cross-functional team is a group of people with a variety of expertise who come together to achieve a common goal. It typically includes employees from all levels of an organization.

What makes a good collaboration? ›

According to Head of Strategic Sales Maggie Peressini, good collaboration is “when everyone is focused and working on the same outcome.” Whether you're “looped in” or “working in lockstep” or “aligned towards end goals”, good collaboration requires that everyone know who's responsible for what, when it's being done, ...

What is the key for effective collaboration? ›

Effective collaboration is more likely in situations where there is (pre-existing) trust, respect, honesty and openness in relationships. Where levels of trust are not strong other elements in this model may need to be further emphasised. Right skills, knowledge, behaviours and support structures.

What makes a good team collaboration? ›

Collaboration is most effective when leaders are open about their plans and expectations and consistent in their messaging to both in-person and remote teams. The more informed everyone is, the better team collaboration will be.

What is a key characteristics of a cross-functional team? ›

Key leadership characteristics to managing a cross-functional team. Excellent Communication. Thorough Organization. Clarity. Mutual Understanding.

How do you get multiple cross-functional teams to work together? ›

Strategies to Develop Cross-Functional Teams
  1. Assemble the Right Team. There are a set of skills that are required to have an effective cross-functional team. ...
  2. Have a Leader. ...
  3. Clearly Defined Goals. ...
  4. Shared Success. ...
  5. Communication. ...
  6. Constantly Reevaluate.
22 Feb 2018

How can I improve my collaboration skills at work? ›

How to build collaboration skills in the workplace
  1. Make your company goals and vision clear. ...
  2. Set clear expectations. ...
  3. Clarify roles per person and team. ...
  4. Work with people's strengths. ...
  5. Conduct regular team-building retreats. ...
  6. Create a culture of communication. ...
  7. Equip teams with the right tools and software. ...
  8. Invest in automation.
4 Mar 2020

How do you become a strong collaborator? ›

In the spirit of collaboration and workplace solidarity, here are six ways to be a better collaborator in the workplace.
  1. Lead With Respect. ...
  2. Be A Caring Collaborator. ...
  3. Set Realistic Expectations. ...
  4. Take Responsibility In Failure. ...
  5. Plan To Win With The Right Attitude. ...
  6. Kindness Goes A Long Way.
28 Dec 2020

How can I improve my teamwork skills? ›

How To Improve Teamwork Skills
  1. Know Your Goal. People in teams are working towards a common goal. ...
  2. Clarify Your Roles. Within a team, everyone should also understand their responsibilities. ...
  3. Positive Mindset. ...
  4. Manage Time Efficiently. ...
  5. Share Enthusiasm. ...
  6. Exercise Together. ...
  7. Establish Team Rules And Purpose. ...
  8. Do Not Complain.

How do you ensure cross-functional team effectiveness? ›

How Do You Develop Cross Functional Collaboration?
  1. Begins With the Team Leader. ...
  2. Have Clear Decision-Making.
  3. Resource the Team with Subject Matter Experts, too. ...
  4. Developing Agile Teams. ...
  5. Define roles and responsibilities as clearly as possible. ...
  6. Implement a core-team model for the Cross Functional team.

What is an example of measuring progress for a cross-functional team? ›

0 / 1 point Learning what makes team members feel supported and giving positive feedback Defining key items and encouraging team members to ask questions Setting up effective tools so the team can easily work together Recording milestones and documenting when tasks.

What is the most common impediment to communication in cross functional teams? ›

Answer: What is the most common impediment to communication in cross - functional teams Inadequate compensation.

What is an example of a cross-functional team? ›

A cross-functional team is a set of people with different skill sets, responsibilities and disciplines who work together to perform specific tasks. An example is a firefighting crew.

What are the best practices for overcoming barriers to cross-functional collaboration? ›

10 cross-functional collaboration best practices
  • Promote diversity. ...
  • Strong demonstration of leadership. ...
  • Unlock the power of shared knowledge. ...
  • Leverage technology. ...
  • Set team goals. ...
  • Appreciate project milestones. ...
  • Track KPIs. ...
  • Promote transparency.
23 Jun 2020

How do you encourage cross functional teams? ›

Best Practices for Developing Efficient Cross-Functional Teams
  1. Build a team identity.
  2. Encourage regular communication.
  3. Demystify the decision-making process.
  4. Get manager buy-in.
  5. Bring in the right team members.
  6. Have a kick-off meeting.
  7. Vote on even/overstatements.
  8. Draft decision-making processes together.
6 Jul 2021

How do you understand cross-functional communication? ›

At a fundamental level, Cross-Functional Communication is the same as Empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Within Customer Success, your ability to be empathetic is tied to your understanding of two interrelated sets of goals.

Which communication is known as cross-functional communication? ›

- If you work for a large organization, then you might run into the challenge of communicating in a cross-functional team. A cross-functional team is a group of employees from different functional areas working together to deliver a common product.

What is the key to working cross functionally with success? ›

Communication is the Key to Cross-Functional Success

Connecting the tools that align with the ways that people naturally communicate and learn gives everyone a chance to contribute and increases the likelihood of success for each cross-functional contributor.

What are the three main roles that you would find in a cross-functional team? ›

Communication, collaboration, coordination: The 3 Cs guiding successful cross-functional teams.

What makes collaboration difficult? ›

But collaboration can get complicated quickly; partners are often in separate locations and balancing individual priorities, which can make it difficult to share ideas and resources, manage deadlines and remain focused on a shared goal.

Why do cross-functional teams fail? ›

Cross-functional teams often fail because the organization lacks a systemic approach. Teams are hurt by unclear governance, by a lack of accountability, by goals that lack specificity, and by organizations' failure to prioritize the success of cross-functional projects.

How do you overcome lack of collaboration? ›

Overcoming barriers to collaboration
  1. Prioritise a high value activity to collaborate on. Firstly, identify what you want to achieve; then make it specific. ...
  2. Get feedback from those involved and identify potential barriers. ...
  3. Provide clarity and try and remove any barriers before you start. ...
  4. Get started. ...
  5. Iterate as you go.
8 Jun 2021

What are the barriers to cross organizational collaboration? ›

Common Barriers to Collaboration
  • A lack of respect and trust.
  • Different mindsets.
  • Poor listening skills.
  • Knowledge deficits.
  • A lack of alignment around goals.
  • Internal competitiveness.
  • Information hoarding.
  • Organizational silos.
9 Oct 2017

What makes cross-functional teams successful? ›

To make these cross-functional efforts successful, executives need to assign an accountable leader to every project. This person will make key decisions, keep the team aligned, and coordinate with senior management. Each project should also have clearly established goals, resources, and deadlines.

How do you increase cross collaboration? ›

8 Ways to Improve Cross-Team Collaboration
  1. 8 Easy Ways to Improve Cross-Team Collaboration. ...
  2. Set clear goals. ...
  3. Encourage open communication and feedback. ...
  4. Use an intuitive tool. ...
  5. Encourage creativity and openness. ...
  6. Set clear expectations and roles. ...
  7. Celebrate successes and learn from missteps.
11 Nov 2021

Videos

1. Cross-Functional Teams
(Stanford Graduate School of Business)
2. Best Practice in Creating Cross-Functional Teams
(BCODN)
3. How to Help your Teams Become Cross-Functional | Scrum Masters | Agile Coach
(BeingAgile Consulting)
4. Essential Roles of the Cross-Functional Testing Team
(Testing Theory)
5. 2. Trusting Teams | THE 5 PRACTICES
(Simon Sinek)
6. Answering Amazon Interview Question: Do you collaborate well? (team communication & negotiation)
(Dan Croitor)

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