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How to make cross-functional collaboration a reality

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Every day, you plug away at your to-do list. You attend meetings, give presentations and complete tasks large and small. But do you really understand how all your hard work contributes to the bigger picture? Do you have insight into what people on other teams are doing? Did you even get to see the final version of the project you worked so hard on?

If the answers are “no” then you’re a victim of business silos.

Silos have become a dirty word in the business world—and with good reason. Disconnected communication and disparate systems prevent teams from coming together and discovering new ideas. Marketing, sales, product development, and other functions, work separately on their own projects. They rarely speak to each other, which increases the likelihood that they’re working on redundant tasks, addressing outdated objectives, and completing projects late.

These deep, cultural issues plague many businesses: Fortune 500 companies lose about $31.5 billion per year by failing to share knowledge. This lack of communication across functions not only costs money but inhibits the transparency and alignment needed to create more agile and innovative businesses.

Some businesses are attempting to demolish the barriers between business units by adopting team-based models—where people from different teams and seniority levels come together to focus on specific projects (some organizations even integrate teams cross-company). Team-based working helps improve communication, as it brings together people with different skills and expertise to address specific goals. The end result is improved idea creation and problem solving.

But companies embracing this new method are struggling to break free from their old ways. Although 65% of organizations do some cross-functional work, most of their day-to-day is done within functional boundaries, according to Deloitte research. Only 53% of the companies embracing cross-functional, team-based working have seen a significant improvement in performance. But what about the other 47% of companies? Why have they seen minimal to no improvement in results?

Perhaps it’s because 75% of cross-functional teams are dysfunctional in at least three of these five categories: Meeting a planned budget, staying on schedule, adhering to specifications, meeting customer expectations, and maintaining alignment with the company’s corporate goals, according to the Harvard Business Review.

If you look inside the four walls of your business, you may find disjointed processes and poor communication running rampant. Your leadership team may be investing in new tech tools designed to eliminate silos—but without making foundational changes to the way your teams work, you won’t be able to truly see increased efficiency, productivity and innovation. Ready for a better way? Follow these best practices.

5 Ways to Truly Embrace Cross-Functional Collaboration

Every business is different, and their approaches to cross-functional collaboration will vary. However, there are five core steps that all companies can follow in order to see the most value from their new processes.

1. Assess your culture.

Does your culture reward collaboration? If not, you’re doing something wrong. Highly engaging leaders focus on “fostering a culture of collaboration,” according to The Conference Board. And that collaboration is critical to creating an agile business where people on different teams work together to meet core objectives and discover new opportunities to differentiate.

Cross-Functional Collaboration

2. Practice what you preach.

Hey managers: If you want your teams to truly collaborate across functional lines, you need to practice what you preach. If you’re like 61% of leaders, however, you likely don’t collaborate with your peers regularly. C-suite executives and senior leadership must emerge from their own worlds and responsibilities to connect with their peers. Take the time to hold discussions with people across the organization about performance, goals, and ways to uncover new opportunities for collaboration. You’ll be happy you did.

3. Develop clear roles and shared objectives.

As functional silos are eliminated, some teams struggle to establish roles and responsibilities. Worst of all, they don’t have a clear vision of how these roles come together to reach larger company objectives. To fix that, get your team rallying around a central vision. Different teams can use that vision to guide them into developing measurable tasks and sub-goals. Representation from sales, product, marketing, design and other areas can then converge and communicate to identify key tasks for their teams. Through ongoing communication, cooperation and collaboration, they can all contribute to a larger, overarching goal.

4. Rethink employee rewards and recognition.

If you want employees to change the way they work, you’d better reward them for it. Give them a revamped list of key performance indicators (KPIs) based on team goals or larger organizational goals. But a word of caution: few people are likely to work together if they’re solely being measured and evaluated based on their individual job performance. That’s what most companies (55%) are still doing, according to Deloitte. Take cues from the 28% of companies that are reviewing employees based on measurable team metrics. Managers, work closely with HR to reframe the review process, focusing less on individual task completion and more on broader team performance.

5. Provide the right tools.

Now it’s time to empower them with the right team management tools. You very likely have several tech solutions designed to help your teams communicate in real time, collaborate on tasks and share documents and information. From email to Slack to point project management apps, these disconnected tools often create more headaches—especially if improved cross-functional alignment is the goal. A digital work management solution acts as a centralized hub for all team-based work. Workflows are developed for specific teams and projects, and can be further customized based on specific tasks and checkpoints. This makes completing tasks and tracking deadlines much easier, and allows all team members to equally contribute to conversations and review cycles.

Companies that truly want to see cross-functional alignment must rethink the way their teams set goals and measure results. Most of all, they must completely reimagine the way they communicate and collaborate, supporting anytime, anywhere working that boosts productivity and inspires innovation. A digital work management solution can help you achieve all of this, and more.

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