The Benefits of Cross-Team Communication

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Team Communication and Collabration

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Excellent team communication and collaboration is the ultimate aim of every company. With remote work flourishing, we are dealing with more challenges, as we are not sharing the offices with our teammates. Effective interaction between the employees and different departments is more critical than ever before. Establishing and nurturing cross-functional collaboration is a perfect way to foster innovative approaches and benefit from the diverse skill set of workers.

According to Accenture, cross-functional collaboration “must be a central organizational imperative for companies in a post-COVID-19, never-normal world and a strategic focus for executives tasked with sustaining digital transformation efforts.” They pointed out that, when executed effectively, greater collaboration across functional boundaries can reduce waste and costs and earn measurable financial returns.

In this article, we will define cross-functional teams and cross-functional communication. After that, we will cover the advantages and challenges of such teams, give you advice on improving cross-team communication, and provide examples of cross-functional teams in some prominent companies.

What is Cross-Team Communication?

Cross-team communication means that different teams collaborate on joint projects or have the same goal. When organized properly, this type of collaboration leads to innovative solutions, as people from various domains of expertise bring their knowledge and experience together.

Cross-team communication is a process that happens in cross-team or cross-functional teams. A cross-functional team comprises people with different expertise working toward a mutual goal. It may include people from various departments, but members may also come from outside the organization. They could be key customers, suppliers, etc.

Why Do We Need Cross-Team Communication?

As Steve Jobs once emphasized, “One person never does great things in business. A team of people does them”. In line with that, many people are involved in developing a product or a service.

For instance, if our company is developing an app, then the marketing, sales, design, and IT departments should work together — because every department has a significant influence on the app’s success on the market. Their collaboration is the key to a successful launch, as every department has a vital role in doing things the right way.

In contrast, imagine developers creating an app without consulting UI/UX designers or the marketing team who performs comprehensive market and competitor research. Applications focused only on functionality without considering the importance of user experience are likely to fail, no matter how great they are.

After all, nowadays, not being user-friendly is unacceptable. Moreover, without market and competitor research, the company would risk launching a product nobody wants.

Cross team Communication Model

Advantages Of Practicing Cross-Team Communication

A cross-functional team that frequently communicates has many other concrete advantages: elevated team productivity, fast delivery of the solutions, increased employee engagement and team spirit, improved communication skills of the team members, better management skills, and better problem-solving. Let’s look at each point in more detail.

1. Elevated team productivity

One of the biggest strengths of cross-functional team communication is that people from different teams share their best practices, thoughts, and knowledge. Different perspectives often lead to great ideas, innovations, and increased productivity. We all know Apple products, don’t we? They are a product of many discussions across various departments, highly successful and innovative.

2. Fast delivery

Cross-functional teams have different skill sets, enabling them to deliver solutions more quickly. Having more productive teams who can provide things rapidly without decreasing the quality of the final solution is highly beneficial for every type of business. And, having these teams communicate regularly can only speed up the processes without jeopardizing their quality.

3. Increased employee engagement and team spirit

According to Gallup’s report, State of global workplace 2021, employee engagement is dismally low globally. Only 20% of employees are engaged at work. This disengagement creates a drag on productivity, innovation, and organizational change. Currently, 36% of US employees are engaged in their work and workplace.

Employees who used to cross-functional work rise above their self-interests and cooperate with their colleagues to achieve organizational goals. They are more engaged than those who work only with people from their department.

4. Improved communication skills

Clear, frequent, and concise communication is vital when interacting with people from different niches. After all, everyone on the team must understand you. Team members in cross-functional teams have a chance to brush up on their communication skills, discuss problems with other experts, and learn from them.

Communication skills are one of the most in-demand soft skills, and being a part of a cross-functional team is a valuable experience that could help you elevate these skills.

5. Better management skills

Being a diverse team member plays a huge part in developing our management skills. Various professionals working together learn about flexibility and effective communication, which helps them improve how they face challenges. Better management skills are valuable for almost any work position.

6. Better problem-solving

Experts from different backgrounds can provide a fresh perspective and improve problem-solving. Maybe we cannot even see a potential problem, but our teammates can. IT and design teams, for instance, often have different perspectives on things, but together they can come to great ideas and improve app functionality.

Cross Team Collaboration

Challenges Of Cross-Team Communication

According to one Harvard Business Review research, cross-functional teams often fail because their organizations lack a systematic approach to work. They specify that these teams are often hurt by unclear governance, a lack of accountability, goals that lack specificity, and the organizations’ failures to prioritize cross-functional projects.

But let’s highlight the other factors that could lead to cross-functional communication failure and explain why this may happen.

1. Poor communication in general

As cross-functional teams require quality communication between departments, communication problems may occur. For example, experts often use professional jargon when communicating. That could be problematic and may lead to misunderstandings.

Communication between various departments could also be poor due to the lack of proper communication tools. Communication has to be centralized, clear, and timely. One tip: You should have frequent cross-functional meetings to check on project goals and milestones.

2. Misaligned priorities across departments

Experts from different areas have to work together on the mutual goal, not to put their department’s goals above cross-functional work. If you work on multiple projects, which is perfectly normal, you have to dedicate your time and effort to each of them. When two or more teams collaborate on an initiative, their team leaders could meet and discuss their vision and strategy to achieve the cross-functional team’s goals.

3. No connection between team members

Communication with various teams can be very different from the one you experience with your colleagues, with whom you likely spend eight hours a day. If team members don’t know each other and come from the same cross-functional team, they feel disconnected. That could significantly impact their collaboration.

However, a cross-functional team could connect better through frequent meetings. It is also an excellent idea to organize an after-work activity for the team to bond. Great options are online team-building activities, like virtual team-building bingo parties or anything else you find interesting.

Management Team Collaboration

How To Improve Cross-Team Communication

Excellent communication between the cross-functional team members is vital for the successful completion of any project. There are many ways to drive solid cross-functional cooperation. Some of them include:

1. Assembling your team carefully

It is crucial to choose team members based on the skills needed for the project and their ability to work as a part of the team. The winning cross-functional team consists of both doers and organizers.

You also have to choose a team leader carefully. You should select someone comfortable assigning tasks to people with more experience, as cross-functional teams usually have management roles within their departments.

2. Incorporating technology into the process

Teams can communicate more effectively if they are not wasting their time on numerous emails or phone calls. Therefore, many companies utilize business messaging apps to communicate productively and mitigate the risk of not noticing high-priority emails.

Probably the most well-known app is Slack, but many great alternatives are available on the market. Pumble is the best Slack alternative as it replaces email and enables collaborating with your co-workers more efficiently, offering unlimited users, message history, and a free forever plan. If Slack annoys you — you should try it. Unlike Slack, you can keep Pumble and all the data on your private server for maximum privacy and security.

3. Scheduling regular check-in meetings

Organizing regular meetings with clear and consistent agendas is necessary to keep a project on track. The agenda should consist of project updates, team member concerns, evaluation of what is already done, and plans for the next steps.

Examples of Cross-Team Communication

Many prominent companies embrace cross-functional teams. A Harvard Business Review article highlighted some of them, such as Frito-Lay’s, IKEA, and Apple:

  • Frito-Lay’s direct-store delivery capability is an example of a cross-functional team where IT, marketing, logistics, distribution, and financial analysis work together.
  • In IKEA, design, sourcing, manufacturing, shipping, and customer insight departments work together on a product design process.
  • Apple product and user interface design combine customer insight, marketing, engineering, manufacturing, and distribution.

According to HBR,  these teams work collaboratively rather than sequentially — which is part of their success. In addition, two other prominent companies excel at cross-team communication: Apple and Netflix.

Apple Team Collaboration

Apple and Cross-Functional Communication

One of the brightest examples of implementing cross-functional communication and its benefits is doubtlessly Apple. A Harvard Business Review articleHow Apple is organized for innovation introduces us to the organization of one of the leading tech companies.

We find out that in Apple, top experts learn from their colleagues. They state how Apple has hundreds of specialist teams across the company, dozens of which may be needed for even one key component of a new product offering.

As an example, the article mentioned the dual-lens camera with portrait mode. The camera required the collaboration of no fewer than 40 specialist teams, i.e., people in charge of silicon design, camera software, reliability engineering, motion sensor hardware, video engineering, core motion, and camera sensor design, together with many others. They stated that no function is responsible for a product or a service on its own.

How expertise sharing is vital for this tech giant, we can learn from its website: “At Apple, collaboration is more than simply working together — it means passionate, collaborative debate. People on retail, hardware or marketing teams may focus on different issues. Still, the principles of respectful, honest discussion remain the same: we advocate ideas, contest points of view and ultimately build on each other’s thinking to come up with the best solution.”

Netflix Employees Love Working Cross-Functionally

Another company that adopts cross-functional teams is Netflix. Netflix posted a video on its YouTube channel where employees explain the advantages of working in cross-functional teams. Their testimonials are the best indicator of how good cross-functional work can be for business.

Lina Brounéus, currently Director Film Acquisitions EMEA, thinks that working cross-functionally, you can learn so many various things from your team. You can also learn from experiences that you might see from other regions or the work of other teams.

Rene Rummel-Mergeryan, currently Director of Business Development EMEA, likes how the teams are working together and actively sharing all the information. He adds that everyone can look into anything, comment, and give their viewpoints on these topics.

Georgia Hume, Coordinator, Physical Production – Original Series, UK, considers one-on-ones her favorite part of the culture. Being able to sit down with someone who is an expert in their field and ask them openly what they do is something she appreciates.

Conclusion

There is no perfect recipe for business success, but some outstanding companies adopt cross-functional work tells us that something about such work must be good.

Cross-functional teams have multiple benefits. These teams are more productive, better at problem-solving, and finish assignments faster and of higher quality. Cross-functional team members possess better management skills and interacting with different experts also improves their communication skills.

If you opt for such a team, make sure that your team members also have a great business chat app to communicate more effectively and be encouraged to share their expertise and grow with your company. There is no business without people — every great business story starts with a great team.

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Marija Kojic
Marija Kojic
Marija Kojic is a productivity writer who's always researching various productivity techniques and time management tips to find the best ones to write about. She can often be found testing and writing about apps meant to enhance the workflow of freelancers, remote workers, and regular employees. Appeared in G2 Crowd Learning Hub, The Good Men Project, and Pick the Brain, among other places.
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