5 Ways to Keep Cross-Functional Teams Functioning

cross-functional collaboration

If you've experienced a digital transformation at your company, you know that what matters most isn't technology. What matters most is people. Your team members want to communicate with each other for truly effective collaboration across your workplace.

Since cross-functional collaboration is so essential, you’d think it would be easy for organizations to use their teams to their advantage. So why isn’t that actually happening? And what can you do to fix the problem?

Here are five simple ideas to keep cross-functional teams functioning.

Provide Strong, Accessible Leadership

In an ideal world, cross-functional collaboration would be just that — functional. But it tends to be more dysfunctional than anything else. A Harvard Business Review report found that 75 percent of cross-functional teams fail on at least three of five criteria: 1) meeting a planned budget; 2) staying on schedule; 3) adhering to specifications; 4) meeting customer expectations; and 5) maintaining alignment with the company’s corporate goals.

So why did 75 percent of these teams fail? They didn’t have effective leadership. The same report found that if a cross-functional team project was headed up by an executive or team of leaders from different departments, it had a 76 percent success rate. That’s a huge difference, and one that isn’t entirely surprising.

Strong leadership devoid of micromanagement helps employees feel that they have the support and approval to succeed in their work. Executives and directors should do their best to be available and interested in the goings-on of their employees’ work lives without overstepping bounds.

Facilitate Meaningful Employee Connection

For every organization in every industry, successful cross-functional collaboration does not happen unless all team members trust each other. This trust comes from establishing relationships at work, and even outside of work. Of course, employees don't need to regularly spend time together on weekends to develop trust — they just need to have opportunities to connect on professional and personal levels.

Executives can facilitate meaningful social and workplace connection between employees by having weekly or even daily meetings focused on evaluation of a project’s current status. Not only does this hold every employee accountable, but it also identifies ways team members are excelling at their jobs.

Peer-to-peer feedback is as critical as strong managerial leadership at creating bonds of trust among all team members. Research has shown that this type of recognition can increase employee engagement by 14 percent. Meetings are also an opportunity for team members to “let their hair down” and connect on a person-to-person level.

Keep It All in One Place

Digital transformation is not without its flaws, and ineffective workplace communication is arguably one of the most prominent. Many organizations are frustrated with the abundance of apps and programs that are meant to make communication better, but only make it messier.

Think about it: Does your company use email for communication, messaging apps for company-wide announcements, and various platforms for everything else? Something is bound to get lost along the way, and most of the time, that thing is functionality. In fact, the United States Bureau of Labor suggests that overall workplace productivity has only increased by 1 to 2 percent each year of the tech boom. So why are businesses not thriving along with the increase in workplace tech? They’re simply using way too many platforms.

All organizations can benefit from a platform that combines team-wide communication in one solid place. One of the biggest advantages of digital transformation is that solutions like this already exist. An operational system of record (OSR) breaks down siloes and integrates with most enterprises to connect cross-functional teams. Instead of spreading everything across different platforms, an OSR keeps it all in one place, helping cross-functional teams communicate better and collaborate with digital collaboration tools.

Promote Cross-Functional Learning

Regular employee training and education are extremely important in order for teams to stay up on the latest trends — and to ensure that your organization is offering the most cutting-edge products and services. But for cross-functional teams, continued learning is vital to collaboration and communication.

Each cross-functional team might be made up of employees from different divisions — divisions other team members don’t understand. It’s important for cross-functional teams to learn as much as they can about the other departments they are working with. Understanding these different roles ensures that all team members know how projects are functioning, the value team members offer, and who to go to for help. Cross-functional team members will have a better picture of the entire project as a whole, which can help them in their own roles as well.

It’s also important for executives themselves to learn as much as they can about the various roles of cross-functional team members. No one is an expert in every department in a company, but executives and directors are responsible for managing them. Cross-functional learning can ensure executives understand what team members are bringing to the table — but it can also ensure that executives are holding them accountable for individual roles on a team.

Recognize Superior Work and Project Breakthroughs

In a cross-functional environment, employee feedback is essential. Cross-functional team structures aren’t organized by specific departments, so not all team members know what their coworkers are doing on any given project. Thus, they don’t know how to recognize success. It’s management’s job to step in and give credit where it’s due.

But there’s more to it than simply making employees feel appreciated. Management needs to provide regular feedback, recognizing superior work often. Studies show that employees are two times as likely to be disengaged at work if they are ignored by their manager, but 30 times more likely to be actively engaged when their managers focus on their strengths.

Of course, there’s no one way to give employees feedback — but all types are beneficial for cross-functional collaboration. Whether that includes email feedback, meeting “shoutouts,” or financial incentives, employees want to feel recognized for their hard work, especially from executives.

How can organizations successfully implement modern workforce management practices AND ensure real human collaboration? That’s a challenging question, but most likely, the answer is already right in front of you. Effective communication across all teams — from sales to HR to marketing to finance — can be achieved through industry-standard workforce management technology, learning opportunities, executive feedback and recognition, employee connection, and strong leadership. You just need to establish how to use your resources to your advantage.