Cross functional collaboration is an important aspect of creating company culture and a sense of unity beyond the office building. As the all star Quarterback Tom Brady once said if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
This quote can have a different meaning for everyone but in the workplace, it’s pretty clear. Getting work done on your own can produce some results more quickly. However, if you want to get more done, you really it is necessary to have cross functional collaboration and teamwork effectiveness.
As more of the world start working remotely, we’re introduced to new ways of working together. One of the things you should try in your (remote) work approach is cross-functional collaboration.
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What is cross-functional collaboration?
Put simply, cross-functional collaboration means putting together people from different departments and areas to work together on a single project. For example, marketing and sales teams, product and design teams, customer support and development, etc.
This type of collaboration can happen organically when a member of one team reaches out to another team – e.g. someone in marketing asking for the latest sales data. It can also happen intentionally when the management asks two departments to work on a project together.
While organic collaboration is great, it is rarely systematic and doesn’t last long enough for both groups to really get a feel for what everyone else is working on.
If you belong to the first group that only collaborates with other teams when necessary, you may want to change your approach. Intentional cross-functional collaboration can greatly benefit any company – and here are some ways how.
1. You get to question and change old ideas
If you’ve been working in one department for a long time, you probably developed a certain set of habits and you have a structure for doing your common activities. For example, you’ll have 5 key steps for developing a marketing strategy or testing a new sales tactic.
This is good in the sense that you have a standard operating procedure for your tasks and you’ll rarely miss a thing. The problem is, this forces you to think and do things in a certain way and you’ll have a hard time forcing yourself to use a different approach. After all, why change something if it isn’t broken?
When you work in a cross-functional setting, you’ll have a fresh set of eyes looking over the way you do things. For example, sales joining the customer support team for a project could mean a completely new way to approaching customer calls.
Different departments have different angles of looking at your product, your existing workflows, your customer base and your business in general. Another department may have a completely different pain point that yours can solve quite easily.
Not only that, but you also open up the opportunity to hear people with different backgrounds that you usually don’t collaborate with. Another person may have invaluable marketing experience that could greatly contribute to your team.
For this purpose, it’s crucial to have an open mind and listen to new ideas presented by different team members.
2. You learn Cross Functional Collaboration
If you were to ask the average salesperson what SEO is and what a backlink means for their company, they would most likely have no idea. And you can’t blame them – why would a sales professional know something which is unrelated to their job?
When we last worked together in a cross-functional way, we sat and explained the basics of SEO to our sales team. Technically, they didn’t need it to do their job, but it helped greatly, for one major reason.
They understood what success means for SEO as a strategy and they understood how customers came to us through this channel. They understood that someone who comes through SEO took at least 3-4 touchpoints and articles to get to the sales team and it became clearer to them how to treat these leads.
On the other side, we showed the marketing team the process it takes to close just a single sale. When you’re selling SaaS software in a B2B setting, it’s not a matter of clicking and purchasing an item. We sell software to big teams (sometimes with hundreds of people) and every sales decision takes a long time and has to go through several stakeholders.
The end result is that everyone had a better understanding of what it takes for the other team to succeed. In this way, they get to see how everyone contributes to achieving the common company goals, be it revenue or something else.
3. You become more empathetic
Have you ever had a situation where you would wonder what in the world another team was doing with their time at work? For example, I worked in various marketing teams across the world and I always wondered why sales were so slow with closing deals with the leads we sent them. I was convinced we did solid work and sent them information that could have converted even the most hardcore non-believers.
That was until I spent a week in sales. When I got to see the sales department at work, I realized that even with the best marketing materials, they had their own unique set of challenges they needed to overcome.
Cold calling is hell. When I realized that 9 times out of 10, you’ll get a “no” in the best case, I felt sorry for sales. On top of that, the sales cycle took way too long and getting sales from one lead that we gave them took about a month.
It made me realize that you need to have empathy for people working in other departments because they could be struggling with problems that you can’t see from the outside.
Another interesting thing happened. When we set up cross-functional teams, we had to have someone who managed the joint team. We didn’t want to assign managers from the existing teams, so we picked people from the participating teams to manage the process, the workflow, the meetings, and report on results.
This is where empathy really came into play. When someone who spends most of their time executing steps into a manager role, they get to see how managing people, tasks and projects is not easy by any means.
4. You trust people more
Let’s get back to the previous example. As you work in marketing, you send off leads to the sales team and they close a small portion of them. You get irritated because all of your hard work goes down the drain and you have no clue whether the other team is working hard or not.
And the worst of all is, both teams look bad and you feel like it’s not your fault.
With cross-functional collaboration, you get to experience the good and bad sides of working in a different department. As a result, you start trusting your teammates more because you’ve been through their struggles and you’ve seen what it takes to get real work done.
The grass is always greener on the other side and other people’s work always seems easy until you get to experience it yourself. When you get to see someone roll up their sleeves and get down to work in an area where they excel, you tend to trust them more.
5. Building a team spirit
As many of us are now over a year into working remotely, you probably feel the disconnect in your teams. Especially if you’re used to working from an office, you now see and hear fewer people than ever before. When we were all in one shared office, you at least had a chance to run into someone from a different team, as you get to and from work, head off for lunch, grab a coffee, etc.
When you work remotely, you rarely get to communicate with people outside of your team and form a sense of community in your workplace. For example, our marketing team usually communicates internally without reaching out to many other departments.
When we put them together on a project with customer support and sales, it was a completely different story. They would have daily standup meetings where people from different departments (not just managers) would have to present their progress and discuss future directions.
This type of collaboration helps to build your team in two ways. First, it strengthens communication and forces people to leave their comfort zone and talk to others. Second, it makes the entire company realize that no matter what team they are working on, they all have one common goal.
This is actually a good practice for cross-functional collaboration. Instead of two or more separate teams working on different goals, assign one common goal for all of them. For example, improving the conversion rate from sales calls or reducing the number of customer support requests. That way, it will be easier to track the success of your initiative and both teams will feel like they’re doing a job together.
6. Cross functional collaboration creates opportunities for internal mobility
When people think of changing a position in their company, they usually think of a promotion. However, there are also lateral moves – when someone goes to a different department within the same company because they find the position more suitable and simply enjoy it more.
With cross-functional collaboration, you’ll have diverse teams working with each other, and people from your team might just find out that they enjoy a different kind of work than what they are used to.
Lateral moves are great for a variety of reasons. First off, when someone moves to a different department, you don’t have to onboard and train them as much, compared to a completely new hire. They know the company inside and out and they require less hand-holding compared to someone who’s fresh in your team.
Moreover, they will be passionate about the role more than someone who’s joining just to get a paycheck. They will also be grateful for the chance because it’s really difficult to completely change the direction of your career if you have to apply for a position in sales and you’re coming from a customer support background, for example.
After two of our cross-functional workshops, we had someone who enjoyed the idea of doing marketing so much that they went to being a marketing manager after two years in sales.
7. Improving each others’ work improves cross functional collaboration
It would seem logical that introducing a customer support team in a sales environment would make the sales team drop their performance. With so many new faces around and people doing things that are completely new to them, you would expect the entire team’s productivity to plummet.
In reality, the complete opposite happens. The last time we ran a cross-functional workshop, we had our sales and customer support together to close the loop and give our customers what they really need instead of selling the wrong values.
Instead of slowing each other down, the two teams helped each other greatly. Customer support explained that people who complained to them most times faced the same issues – they had issues using the product and finding the features they need.
Both teams figured out that the problem was in the documentation and the way the product was presented. First, they sat down to work on our help center and improved it. Then they worked with the marketing team to adjust the copy on our landing pages.
As a result, not one but three teams had an easier time doing their job and the customers were much more satisfied.
For innovation to work, make sure to encourage new ideas and don’t just ask people to get their job done and go home. If someone has a suggestion on how to make things faster, cheaper or more efficient, take your time to hear them out.
Cross-functional collaboration is a practice that every company should use, regardless of the size and their method of work. There are no downsides to it and you’ll be able to improve work for all the teams involved and you’ll be able to help more customers and close more sales. And with so many great ways to communicate nowadays, even remote teams can enjoy cross-functional collaboration with ease.