Excellent team communication and collaboration are the ultimate aims of every company. With remote work flourishing, we face 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.
Cross-functional collaboration in a never-normal world is a strategic focus for executives tasked with greater collaboration across functional boundaries and reducing waste and costs.
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 significantly influences 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 and performing 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.
Advantages Of Practicing Cross-Team Communication
A cross-functional team that frequently communicates has many other concrete advantages: elevated team productivity, fast delivery of 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 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 a Gallup report, 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 cooperated 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 can 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.
Challenges Of Cross-Team Communication
According to 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 must work together on a mutual goal, not 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.
How To Improve Cross-Team Communication
Excellent communication between cross-functional team members is vital for successfully completing any project. There are many ways to drive solid cross-functional cooperation. Some of them include the following:
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 without 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 include 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, 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 and Cross-Functional Communication
One of the brightest examples of implementing cross-functional communication and its benefits is doubtlessly Apple. A Harvard Business Review article How 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 explained 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 of 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.
There is no perfect recipe for business success, but some outstanding companies adopting cross-functional work tell 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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