How to improve collaboration between cross-functional teams?

A workplace is a beautiful sanctuary. It's a melting pot of people, processes, and technology coming together to work towards a common goal. But when a business grows, there are many moving parts, and they tend to clash and clank frequently.

Cross-functional collaboration is an antidote to that chaos. It helps cross-functional teams build harmony across the organization. The emphasis is on how one function feeds into the other —for example, how marketing contributes to sales and customer success or how customer success offers a feedback loop to the product teams. Sometimes it could be something as simple as creating visibility on the impact of tasks to outcome.

Impact of filler words to sales outcome

With the pandemic putting everyone under a long spell of lockdowns and remote work, cross-team collaboration has become more important than ever. Your sales team, for example, doesn't have the luxury of walking across the hall to talk to their customer success counterparts to discuss the nitigrities of the account handoff process. Your HR team now has to work more tightly with each team to understand their requirements and find good talents for them. Remote cross-functional collaboration has become a decisive factor for business growth.

Lack of cross functional team collaboration often leads to stifled operations and stagnated growth. 

In this post, we will cover the following topics:

  • What is cross-functional collaboration?
  • Challenges in remote cross-functional team/collaboration
  • How to make cross-functional collaboration work?

What is cross-functional collaboration?

Japan can teach us a lot about cross-functional collaboration. A total of 6,852 islands together form the country of Japan—the world's fourth-largest archipelago. Individually, they are just islands—separated by the rough sea and extremely limited in their natural resources. But when they come together—connected by the common languages, bridges, ferries, and underwater cable lines—they share their resources and expand their horizon of opportunities.

Source: Asia Society

Business teams are no different. By default, they are siloed and isolated business islands. More so, in today's remote world. But when you introduce them to the possibility of cross-functional collaboration, they can share important resources, contribute to each other's success and thereby solve even the most pressing business problems.

By definition, cross-functional collaboration is a management technique to bridge the gap across the marketing, sales, product, customer success, human resource, engineering, and finance teams. It's a business culture that revolves around frequent and clear communication across all business units. The more harmonious the relationship between your teams, the better off they are in achieving the collective goal.

Challenges of remote cross-functional team collaboration

It's true—there are practically no downsides to cross-functional team collaboration. But often,  there are many roadblocks to achieving an idle state of collaboration between different functional teams.

Lack of communication

Collaboration without communication is like a crippled mule—it can't move, let alone carry the load. You don't have to go very far to understand how critical this is. Just imagine what a mess it would create for your entire organization in the current times if Slack (or whichever tool you use for team communication) were down for the next 24 hours.

That said, the lack of communication is more of a cultural hindrance than a technological one. For instance, not all teams are forthcoming in sharing their knowledge or even setting clear expectations or SLAs with other teams. Some teams are more oblivious than others to the fact that data from the cross-functional team can skyrocket their progress.

Physical distance

Distance makes the collaboration go asunder. We are witnessing a textbook example of how remote teams can't collaborate as effectively in the age of social distancing. Collaboration is contagious—teams are more cooperative when they share a common workspace. Thankfully, we have plenty of technological solutions to offset the remote collaboration challenges.

Building rapport in remote sales

Misaligned priorities

Collaboration falls apart when teams have conflicting goals and interests. It's one thing for teams to work in silos, but it's destructive for them to be working towards opposite goals.

Marketing, for example, can't just be focused on driving traffic to the website, while the sales team is relying on them for generating high-quality leads. Similarly, customer success can't stop churn if the customer service is obsessed with internal metrics like average first response time or average handle time instead of offering an all-around great customer support.

Trust and resistance

One of the biggest challenges for collaboration is the resistance to change. "We have always done things this way" probably has killed more business opportunities than the buttoned-up approval committees. But let's be honest—it's a normative behavior rather than a conscious bias.

Take lack of trust as an example. Tolero Solutions recently conducted a survey that found that 45% of employees cited a lack of trust in leadership as the biggest challenge to their work performance. The divide widens further when you add other variables to the equation like globally scattered teams, language barriers, and workplace politics.

Making cross-functional collaboration work

The best thing about workplace collaboration is that it is like water—it flows freely, cleans up the siloes thoroughly, and fills the space you put it into. And it starts working when all teams in your organization do it with intention.

1. Create a collaboration plan

Cross-functional collaboration often transcends across teams, processes, and geographical boundaries. However, for it to succeed, you first have to draw up a plan taking stock of the overall context of your organization, the subtle nuances between the teams, and the obstacles that stand in the way.

Think of a collaboration plan as a playbook of sorts. Use it to spell out the areas of business that need more collaboration than others and assign clear team roles and objectives to them. Include clear guidelines on who is accountable and merge processes if it helps two teams get on the same page.

Let's say user onboarding is taking a beating in your organization lately. Your sales rep may assume that they have transitioned the account to customer success, whereas the success and product team are at loggerheads about who owns the process. In such a scenario, a collaboration playbook can clearly define that onboarding belongs to customer success. In the meantime, the product marketing team should work in tandem to make the transition seamless and easier.

Fixing the sales to customer success handoff

Cross-functional team collaboration works best when you give your teams a plan to work with. The rubber meets the road when you build a process-based workflow.

2. Use the right technology

Technology is the linchpin for smooth collaboration. Good technological solutions are especially handy in today's context of remote collaboration challenges. What's in your collaboration tech stack speaks volumes about the quality of teamwork across your company.

At the very least, you will need a combination of the following tools to facilitate genuine collaboration across your teams:

  • Communication tools like Slack or Facebook Workplace to encourage instantaneous as well as asynchronous team conversations.
  • Meeting tools like Zoom, Whereby, or Microsoft Teams to enable remote teams to meet virtually and brainstorm ideas.
  • Conversation intelligence tools like Avoma to record your meetings, get AI-powered notes and transcripts, and gain insights from meetings across the board.

Collaboration levels can depend on the objective —for example, it could be the case of a customer success manager sharing a snippet of their conversation with their customer about a product-related bug or feedback in general. 

  • Cloud storage tools like Google Drive, One Drive, or Dropbox to store, backup, and share important business data.
  • Project management tools like Asana, ClickUp, or BaseCamp for cross-functional teams to keep track of each other's progress and work towards the goal with full transparency.
  • Workflow management apps like Nintex, Zoho Creator, or Wrike to automate approval processes, skip redundancies, and streamline overall efficiency.

3. Standardize processes

We can't stress this enough—collaboration mirrors your organizational culture. It won't work unless you create a culture of trust, knowledge sharing, and "we-feeling." To that end, you have to set up processes that naturally encourage collaboration among your teams.

Another cultural aspect that we see work brilliantly in our experience is —having a culture of transparency. For example, we share all our wins, loss, feedback, and more on our Slack Channels so that the learning from each of our experiences becomes common knowledge across functions. The marketing and sales teams never second guess each other because we are on the same page about an ongoing GTM campaign.

It's a relatively common project management technique to share the progress of your sprint with the entire team. However, you can go the extra mile by establishing other means of radically transparent processes like running company-wide town hall meetings, incentivizing cross-team cooperation, conducting all-hands and anonymous Vox-pop sessions, etc., to make collaboration and communication a natural habit for your teams.

4. Reflect, repeat, and refine

Collaboration isn't some business metric or a one-off project you can automate or measure. Instead, it's a behavioral exercise and a powerful catalyst to your team's success. And it's ever-changing. When you are a 500-person company, collaboration looks different from the time when you were just a five-member garage startup.

A simple habit of creating playlists of meetings or snippets of customer conversations to listen into can go a long way in bringing people across functions on the same page.

You can set up trackers common to your customer success, customer support, and product teams to understand the top reasons for customer churn.

Keep refining your process based on what brings your teams together and what pushes them apart. Take out the friction points from your collaborative process and put the best approaches to practice. 

Most importantly, identify the patterns of good collaboration to maintain the culture as you scale your organization. Encourage everyone in your company to work in close-knit environments and let them have a say in improving the cross-functional communication and collaboration channels. The only word of caution—don't impose too many policies and administrative strategies around cross-team collaboration.

Collaboration is a natural extension of human behavior when you create the right kind of workplace environment. But when you dictate rules and policies around it, collaboration becomes a compromise—a feeling of being forced to work together.

Collaboration bridges all the gaps

Cross-team collaboration is a binding agent that brings teams together and helps them rally for a common cause. Use collaboration to fuel innovation, team productivity, and push the envelope of your organizational success.

And to wrap up the topic of collaboration across your teams—take Avoma for a spin for free and let us know your thoughts.