Cross functionnal collaboration
Collaboration

A guide to successful cross-functional collaboration

Learn how to break down silos in your company and improve cross-functional collaboration, no matter where your team is located.

By the team at SlackJanuary 2nd, 2024

Cross-functional collaboration is how different teams or departments work together to get things done. It’s the engine companies run on, and sets successful ones apart from the rest.

So what can you do to improve cross-functional team collaboration? In this article, we’ll break down how cross-functional collaboration works, why it’s so hard and how you can do it effectively. And for Slack users, we’ll share best practices for using Slack to keep cross-functional teams aligned and working smoothly.

Tips for improving cross-functional collaboration

When teams are distributed across different locations, they need to collaborate closely to avoid information silos. If information is not shared effectively, it can lead to duplicate efforts, conflicting information and data discrepancies. Cross-functional collaboration helps prevent these issues by keeping everyone aligned. Well-executed collaboration improves productivity, trust and information transparency.

Have a big-picture plan with as many specifics as possible

Organizational expert Ron Ashkenas is a big proponent of coming to the table with a detailed roadmap and the goal of keeping both team leaders and team members aligned as they work together.

“Map out the end-to-end work that you think will be needed to get the outcome you want,” Ashkenas writes. “What will your team be responsible for? What will you need from other teams in the organization? As you create this map, sketch out the possible sequencing of activities and timing that might be required. You want to create an explicit framework that will serve as a collaboration contract.”

That way, he says, “when people know what’s needed, in what form, and by when, they can then tell you whether it’s possible or not, and then you can have a real dialogue about what can be done.”

Double-check the group’s mindset

Are you sure the people involved in cross-functional collaboration and the decision-making process are the right thinkers for the job? Diverse groups tend to work more effectively because they bring a wider variety of ideas to the table.

If your projects are being overseen by homogeneous groups—even if each team member is a high performer individually—they’re more likely to quickly agree on a solution than they are to tease out the best solutions.

Add checkpoints to stay on track

Just because teams are interacting well and sharing information frequently doesn’t mean they’re truly collaborating. Without an agreed-upon timeline and dedicated check-ins along the way, cross-functional collaboration is liable to begin and end merely with a friendly rapport.

“Most managers are cooperative, friendly and willing to share information,” writes Ashkenas. “But what they lack is the ability and flexibility to align their goals and resources with others in real time.”

Leaders should share plans with the team and give members the opportunity to actively opt in to the roadmap and, if necessary, revise the plan using the team’s input. While confident leadership is crucial, achieving consensus at the start is just as necessary to give cross-functional teams a sense of structure, accountability and actionable purpose.

Once the plan is ratified, make sure that teams are holding to it. Implement a digital project management tool to ensure that individual tasks aren’t simply being handed off until they’re forgotten.

Also, empower leaders whenever possible to share resources, not just information. Have them schedule follow-ups on their assigned action items at regular intervals. Delineating between information-sharing meetings and decision-making meetings might help teams continue thinking structurally.

Respect individual group sovereignty

In the Harvard Business Review, researcher Lisa B. Kwan says one of the biggest threats to effective cross-functional collaboration is simpler than you’d expect. Essentially, throwing a bunch of teams together and expecting each to give up their autonomy and authority makes them defensive and prone to self-siloing.

To counteract this, Kwan suggests watching out for warning signs ranging from unusually slow response times to overt power plays. Anticipate and compensate for how each team might react to sacrificing their authority or autonomy by:

  • Reinforcing the team’s identity. Show members you see them. Know exactly what they do and why they’re integral to the organization’s daily functions, and make sure they know the higher-ups recognize this.
  • Reaffirming the team’s legitimacy. Publicly reiterate the team’s value to the wider organization and make sure members receive credit for the parts of the final product that fall in their area of expertise.
  • Reasserting the team’s control. Ensure that each team has oversight and final say over their subject matter within the larger cross-functional group.

Toss out the shorthand and jargon

When differing minds come to the table for cross-functional collaboration, communication and problem-solving styles may clash. That’s why it’s important to discourage “implicit” communication habits early and often.

Make communication explicit wherever possible, both in digital project management systems and in person, from decision-making processes to meeting agendas. The less shorthand your cross-functional teams are using, the less exposed they’ll be to communication missteps that could bring the whole operation to a skidding halt.

When in doubt, incentivize

A McKinsey case study suggests that incentive alignment—that is, educating team members about the benefits of actively participating in cross-functional collaboration—is key in realizing the success of cross-functional projects. Call it the Pizza Party Rule: When people know what’s in it for them—like when your elementary school teacher promised the class a pizza party for perfect attendance—they’re more likely to take the initiative to run their own internal diagnostics and bring big projects to fruition without top-down monitoring.

Streamline cross-functional collaboration with Slack

Collaboration becomes seamless when your people, tools and apps all work in the same place—Slack. Let’s break it down:

Bring teams together in channels

Slack brings together people from different teams in dedicated spaces called channels. This is where people share ideas, review information and documents, and align on decisions that move work forward.

We encourage work to be done in public channels to promote transparency and inclusivity, and naming channels in an obvious way, like #company-announcements. However, there are certainly times when projects or conversations need to be done in private, so you can make a channel private as well.

Extend collaboration beyond your organization

Channels aren’t limited to collaborating with people within your organization. Slack Connect lets you collaborate with external organizations, partners and even customers to make sure everyone is aligned. And you can rest assured that Slack Connect meets our highest security standards.

Sharing relevant channels with your clients in one Slack workspace can move deals along faster. For instance, Crema, a Missouri-based digital product agency, collaborates with its clients by connecting in channels at every step of the mobile-app and website-development process. The ability to collaborate through Slack helps Crema work with clients to make faster decisions and, as a result, execute faster.

Integrate all your data sources to remove information silos

According to our 2023 State of Work report, a survey of more than 18,000 desk workers around the world, workers who feel less productive say a key barrier is switching between disconnected apps. To help our users reduce this friction, Slack integrates with more than 2,600 vetted apps through our App Directory.

This means that teams can use their tech stack within Slack. When it comes to cross-functional projects such as swarming, an incident manager can quickly pull in relevant people from Customer Success, Engineering and Sales into a channel to review data together.

Cross-functional collaboration improves productivity

The global workforce makes information silos more counterproductive than ever. Instead, create collaborative cross-functional teams. Start by defining what cross-functional collaboration looks like for your company. Then use powerful communication tools like Slack to share information efficiently with channels and to automate workflows, improve collaboration with integrations, and involve partners and customers.

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