They say variety is the spice of life - and that’s a mantra that can be applied to anything; nutrition, fitness, your social life, your not-so-social life (Netflix). But have you ever considered how this ethos can benefit your work life? Whether you work alone or in a team, bringing varied expertise onto a shared project won’t just keep you on your toes, it’ll guarantee an end result bursting with creativity. Now, more than ever, this approach is crucial to keeping ahead of the curve - so here’s how your company can harness cross-cultural collaboration and use it to their advantage.
What is cross-functional collaboration?
Do you remember the time Bill Gates reinvented toilets? In 2011 Bill and Melinda Gates set their sights on finding a way to give safe, affordable sanitation to the 2.5 billion people who lived without it. The technical and design aspects of the challenge were unprecedented - which is why Bill and Melinda decided they would open it up to the world. In doing so, they harnessed the creativity and innovation of thousands of multi-disciplinary inventors, all applying their unique and specialised knowledge to solving one problem.
This is the very same ethos used in cross-functional collaboration in the workplace. It’s when different people with different roles and functions within a business come together to work on a specific project to achieve a specific goal.
Combining various expertise to create something special
Those motivational phrases you often hear in team-building activities might seem cheesy - but they’re still true. Team work makes the dream work, for example, or stronger together. Companies are bursting at the seams with talent, and although these people thrive in their own departments, they can really demonstrate their abilities when placed on a variety of projects.
Combining expertise across departments to work on a single project won’t just empower the individual, but will strengthen the team and guarantee the best results. Sure, we can all create a masterpiece on our own, but even Michelangelo needed help to paint the Sistine Chapel. Now imagine if several multi-disciplinary Michelangelo’s applied all their energy to one shared goal. The result will be magic.
Without cross-functionality, your team may be lagging
If you’re yet to implement cross-functional initiatives, your team may struggle to keep up with competitors. Introducing a culture of cross-functionality allows departments to align their goals to create shared purposes that benefit the entire company. Plus, according to Harvard Business Review, companies that struggle to differentiate themselves could benefit from a little more cross-functionality action. Here’s why.
Without a cross-functional culture, the only team to understand the intricacies of a specific project will be the one that worked on it. Without cross-functionality, information and knowledge won’t be shared with other teams. Additionally, departments won’t understand each other’s roles, responsibilities or jargon making it more likely for miscommunications and mistakes to occur.
Lack of trust
By fostering a culture of cross-functionality you’re actually fostering a culture of trust. Keeping departments separate will isolate teams, while introducing members across departments and encouraging them to work together will build relationships that span the company.
Even if your entire company is working on a project, each department will have varying goals and motives they’re aiming for. When you introduce cross-functionality, the departments can align and the project will come together in a way that benefits every department. It’ll be as though every team has their own personal cheerleader!
The 5 benefits of cross-functional collaboration
Cross-functional collaboration does more than just connect teams and departments - it creates a working culture of trust, collaboration and creativity. Here are a few reasons why cross-functional collaboration will be a win/win/win situation for your company:
1. Faster to the finish line
When people across departments work together they build healthy relationships that make completing a project more efficient and (hopefully) more enjoyable.
2. Better end products
When engineers put their heads together with software developers who then call on the expertise of marketers, a product is created that serves the needs of the consumer in a totally holistic way.
3. More creativity
Creativity is fuelled by versatility. With a cross-functional approach, developers can feel inspired by suggestions from marketers or information from engineers that, in turn, drives them to build a product that truly pushes creative boundaries.
4. Organic cohesion
Employees can learn from each other through cross-functional collaboration so your team will grow together, picking up new skills to add to their repertoire along the way.
5. Introduce new ways of working
When members of different departments work together, they’re more likely to take new tools and ideas back to their own departments to use. A head of department is more receptive to introducing new procedures that have already been tried and tested by a team member.
How to improve cross-functional collaboration within your team
Introducing a culture of cross-functional collaboration takes a helluva lot of leadership skills due to the mixture of people and disciplines being managed. People don’t always love change, so here’s how you can do it in a way that makes everybody happy - even the developers!
Have a clear team lead
Make sure you have an effective communicator at the forefront of your project that has a clear sense of what the project and team need to achieve. This person should be an Aslan of sorts, a Winston Churchill, if you will, who can nurture a culture of independence and flexibility while ensuring a focus on the end goal.
Coming in thick and fast with the Narnia references, make sure your team knows that there’s some Turkish Delight at the end of this tunnel. Leaders should set goals and incentives that motivate the team to get to the finish line, whether that’s with a big delivery of chocolate biscuits or a shameless, show-off, company-wide presentation once the project is delivered. With an aligned incentive, everyone will be working towards a common goal that benefits the whole company.
Leverage collaboration tools
When you sync up teams across departments you don’t just merge skill sets, you merge tools and collaborative techniques. To improve cross-functional collaboration within your team, make sure you take full advantage of the opportunity to introduce new tools and collaborative ways of working to complete your project quickly and effectively - and don’t be afraid to get creative!
Introduce team-building events
Don’t underestimate the power of a good old team building event when it comes to creating cohesion. You can take the group out for after-work drinks or set aside an in-house afternoon - either way, encouraging the team to feel comfortable with each other will be hugely beneficial in the long-run.
7 tools devs (and everyone else) can use to collaborate
So you’ve decided to take this opportunity to introduce some awesome collaborative tools to your team - but which ones make the most sense for your project? From instant messaging services to online whiteboards, here are a few collaborative techniques that will set you up for success.
A project management tool to monitor deadlines, to-do lists and calendars
A collaborative platform that encourages visibility and collective coding
Online whiteboarding for collaborative and centralized working
For free video conferencing
For instant messaging, file transfers and handy message search
A group and private chat platform with a shared inbox
A space for developers to share, educate and inspire
There’s no end to the benefits of cross-functional collaboration, and there’s no strict blueprint either. It can come in the form of a sales manager asking a marketing manager for support in finding new leads, or it could come in the form of a high-profile, multi-disciplinary project with several people brought together to work on a shared goal. Whatever the form, this style of working will benefit every department, every individual and, ultimately, the entire business.