Cross-functional work: The secret to a collaborative workplace

Fotografia del viso della collaboratrice Sarah LaoyanSarah Laoyan30 dicembre 20223 minuti di lettura
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Cross-functional work is work that teams in different departments complete together within one organization. Cross-functional work is necessary for businesses to work efficiently and achieve their most important projects. But without the right setup, ineffective cross-functional work can create duplicative work or miscommunications. Learn how you can enable more cross-functional work to encourage better team collaboration.

Imagine your team just launched a successful marketing campaign—think about all the different teams that helped to make this campaign a success. All of this work that happened between various departments to get your marketing campaign up and running is known as cross-functional work.

What is cross-functional work?

Cross-functional work is the work that happens between different teams or departments within an organization. Most companies organize teams by the type of work they do—these are known as functional teams. Think: Marketing, Sales, and Engineering. But the most important work isn’t done by just one team. Work happens across different teams and departments. The work you do across different departments is known as cross-functional work.

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What’s the difference between cross-functional teams vs. cross-functional work?

Cross-functional teams and cross-functional work are two parts of the cross-functional puzzle. Cross-functional teams are the people from different departments that are working together to achieve a common goal. This could mean a tiger team of designated liaisons from different departments, or two larger teams working together for a more time bound project. Cross-functional work is the day-to-day activities that cross-functional teams do to accomplish goals. 

Common challenges of working cross-functionally (and how to fix it)

While working cross-functionally provides benefits, it can be challenging to implement. Here are a few issues you may encounter if you’re trying to work cross-functionally, and solutions to resolve them.

Poor communication

Working cross functionally means that your team has to communicate with other teams consistently. Because teams tend to develop their own language and operate in unique ways, it can be challenging to connect and communicate with people outside of your own team.

How to fix it: Early on in the planning process, establish common language and goals so everyone is on the same page. Build a communication plan so everyone knows how information is shared and save it somewhere accessible to all so they can always find it. 

No central system of record

Teams work out of many different documents, files, and messaging platforms. If your team has no central system of record where they store final decisions and contextual information, they might waste time chasing down information. Simple miscommunication, mismatched document versions, and unnecessary status updates are all problems you'll see if there’s no one central location for a cross-functional team to find information. 

How to fix it: Establish a centralized hub where all information relating to a specific project lives. Using a work management platform like Asana, you can build a system of record that’s accessible to everyone on your team. A centralized source of truth helps keep teams organized, establishes a place for communication about a specific project, and provides documentation for the key decisions made.

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Mismatched team priorities

Different teams have different skills, goals, and priorities. This naturally makes it challenging when working with cross-functional partners because each team has their own priorities to consider. Regardless of how many cross-functional partners are working on a project, it’s essential to establish a unified goal that everyone can agree on. If there’s no centralized goal, teams are more likely to push towards what’s beneficial for their own team.

How to fix it: Connect your cross-functional team’s work to higher business goals. Align cross-functional teams by clearly identifying how their work connects back to larger business goals and fits into the bigger picture. It’s important to not only understand how work connects to goals, but also to visualize it. When everyone can see how their work contributes to business goals in real-time, this ensures that everyone is on the same page.

Lack of conflict resolution

Working on a cross-functional team means that you may end up working with someone you’re not familiar with. Effective communication is important, but sometimes communication styles just don’t line up. This can lead to conflicts and issues within a team, and not having any sort of way to resolve this can be detrimental to cross-functional work. 

How to fix it

Problem-solving in a large group of people can be challenging, especially if there’s no one person in charge. Assigning a project leader to help with decision-making and conflict resolution is a good way to prevent conflicts from arising and keep work running smoothly.

Best practices for effective cross-functional collaboration

If you’re looking to encourage more cross-functional collaboration, here are a few best practices you can implement.

  • Assign everyone clear roles. Sometimes cross-functional teams consist entirely of team members of the same level, so there’s no clear indicator of who the team leader is. Use a RACI chart to help keep everyone aligned on what their role is within that specific group, and stick to it.

  • Set manageable project (not team) goals. Efficient cross-functional teams set goals for individual projects. This makes it clear to every team member what the specific goal is that you’re all trying to achieve. Use goal-setting techniques like SMART goals or OKRs to help create realistic goals for your team. Strong goal setting techniques means that team leads have the opportunity to establish concise action plans to achieve those goals. 

  • Establish clear communication practices. Setting clear processes for how your specific cross-functional team will communicate prevents inefficiencies and unnecessary back and forth. Having a centralized space for communication allows your team to minimize chasing the information they need so they can focus on the execution of the project. When working with cross-functional collaborators, establish a communication plan early on in the project planning process.

  • Provide visibility to key stakeholders. Providing visibility to key stakeholders helps minimize the amount of status updates and communication that happens regarding project progress. This allows stakeholders to make adjustments to strategy or monitor work as it happens. Understanding progress in real-time enables teams to stay nimble and pivot strategy if needed.

Cross-functional work is the backbone of complex projects

Efficient cross-functional work is essential for complex and important projects. For organizations to move quickly and effectively, teams need a way to collaborate easily with each other. Cross-functional collaboration takes effort, but taking the time to establish good cross-functional processes improves work for everyone involved.

Connect teams, increase employee engagement, and encourage cross-functional collaboration with a digital work management hub. Learn how to establish a clear system of record with Asana. With Asana, gain real-time insight on the state of your team’s work.

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