What is Cross-Functional Collaboration?

Last Updated: February 15th, 2023
Researched and Written by: Lexi Wood

Cross-functional collaboration occurs when a business takes a group of people from different departments and they form a team to pursue common goals.

There are many benefits to collaborative teamwork, such as process innovation, improved employee engagement, and being exposed to diverse perspectives. However, there are also challenges, like miscommunication, conflicting goals, or misunderstanding others’ roles or responsibilities.

Using this guide, learn how to best implement effective cross-functional teams at your business.

Benefits of Cross-Functional Collaboration

One key benefit of cross-functional collaboration is how it involves everyone in the company’s success, regardless of their job or title. Involving more people, especially those who are more experienced, provides projects with a variety of skill sets to overcome every obstacle.

It also leads to higher employee engagement, as workers can see how their input on a project has a direct result on company performance. In turn, this helps to develop a more positive work environment.

Bringing in different perspectives on a single project leads to better insight into overall performance. The problem is that every department uses its own metrics to measure success.

For instance, the manufacturers might base success on units made while sales focus on products sold. Team members combine their big-picture concepts to form a larger vision of company goals and inform future decision-making to achieve those outcomes.

Collaboration also opens the door to innovation, as employees offer new approaches to problem-solving in different areas. For instance, a marketing team leader can teach the sales department what wording to use on calls to increase sales. And streamlined communication between departments can lead to employee-led learning opportunities.

Benefits in Action: A quality assurance manager going over product reviews might identify a new target demographic that a manufacturer didn’t previously consider, leading to new options in the next generation of products and increased sales opportunities.

Similarly, the sales team might ask the marketing department to focus their marketing campaigns on a specific sector based on feedback they’re getting from potential leads.

Cross-Functional Collaboration of Departments

Challenges of Cross-Functional Collaboration

One major challenge of cross-functional collaboration comes from priority conflicts, since each department will have different ideas of what tasks should take priority. Because everyone on the team has different definitions of success, they need clear guidance on what is truly the most important at any given time in the process.

Miscommunication is another issue, especially when technical jargon comes into play. Everyone will need to use the same terminology to reduce confusion. Next, there’s the issue of who actually does what and how. The bystander effect might cause someone to assume a task is being taken care of by another department if it is not clear who is supposed to be doing what.

While relying on one person for input or approval can delay projects, so can having too many employees involved. Waiting on a response from one department can slow another, and needing signatures from every department can lead to substantial workflow delays.

Finally, there’s human error to consider, which usually results from departments not understanding other departments’ duties and work processes. For instance, an accountant might not question a mistake made on an order form because they assume the experienced manufacturer knows what they’re doing. There may also be employees who prefer the old processes, where employees are kept in separate silos.

Common Challenges: A manufacturer needs a purchase order approved by the accounting department. Unfortunately, the accounting team is busy preparing tax documents for the company and the approval gets delayed, leading to a product shortage since the manufacturer can’t buy supplies necessary to start production.

When to Use Cross-Functional Teams

  • Product development: Gain various viewpoints from different employees to address all concerns and make better products and services.
  • Project management: Use a team to streamline each step of the project to make sure nothing gets overlooked.
  • Event planning: Ensure success by involving multiple departments when planning a special event.
  • Disaster recovery: Bring together a team during/after an emergency situation to mitigate damages as much as possible and begin recovery efforts.

Cross-Functional Collaboration Tips

Effective cross-functional collaboration is possible with the right tools and the right people. Here are some tips to get all the benefits of collaboration while minimizing the challenges:

Gather Necessary Resources

First, it’s important to have the right resources to facilitate collaboration. Business software automates collaboration processes and streamlines interdepartmental communication. Some popular software options include:

Apps like Slack, Zoom, and Microsoft Offices are making team collaboration easier, especially when working with remote teams and organizations. Other useful resources like RACI and PERT charts provide clear lines of communication by showing who is responsible for each task.

PERT Chart Template
PERT charts are one way to coordinate between cross-functional teams.

Establish Leadership Skills

Managers and supervisors of cross-functional teams should use clear structuring to show everyone who is truly in charge of a project and who has final approval on work. They also need to identify who is best suited for each team to encourage collaboration and avoid conflict.

Project managers are useful for establishing continuity and offering a single point of contact between different team members. Ideally, they should document everything from the moment a project starts until it is completed to create a clear roadmap. Later, managers can provide records for potential review.

Build Cooperative Teams

Finally, the team members themselves need to be carefully selected based on how well they can work together. To help overcome a lack of trust between departments, team-building exercises may be necessary to improve relationships.

Looking for tools to automate your cross-functional collaboration? Get free software recommendations from Software Connect.

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