4 Tips for Successful Cross-Team Collaboration
With more employees working remotely, collaboration takes on increased importance. We can’t rely on casual encounters with coworkers or being able to tap on someone’s shoulder to ask them a question. At the same time, companies are adapting to unprecedented circumstances and may need to quickly form task forces or ad hoc teams to face these new challenges.
Before the recent shift to remote work, cross-team collaboration was already one of the hottest trends in business. The World Economic Forum called partnership the business trend to watch. Collaboration and partnership are increasingly important in today’s interconnected business world.
What exactly is driving the need to collaborate with those outside your company, department, or division? Business has been transforming due to globalization, partnerships, and expectations that employees take a multi-disciplinary approach. For example, marketers are expected to be creative when thinking of campaigns but analytical when measuring their impact. The agile approach to work also pulls together people with different skills and backgrounds and encourages them to prioritize and discuss their work as a group on a regular basis.
Many industries are prioritizing innovation and growth with an eye on cost-containment. These priorities and the need for speed make collaboration and partnership a great option to rapidly explore new things. Collaboration is also one of the top skills Google identified in all its most effective managers, signaling its importance to the rest of the business world. In short, we are better together rather than working things out alone in today’s rapid-fire environments.
What is cross-team collaboration?
According to the World Economic Forum, cross-team collaboration involves harnessing “the power of partnership to better serve mutual customers or to address an urgent need, with more expediency and efficiency than either individual entity could do alone.” While the specifics may vary, for most companies, cross-team collaboration is a temporary grouping of people from across a variety of teams in an organization who are asked to work on a specific objective for the company (in addition to their regular duties.)
Companies use this construct to leverage skills, resources, and expertise on behalf of a specific hypothesis or problem. For example: to explore an idea for a new product or to create a better process within an organization. Often the results of a project implemented by a cross-team collaboration will determine if there is merit in fully funding or supporting a concept or idea going forward.
In my course, Taking the Pain Out of Collaboration: Tips & Best Practices, I take the fear and anxiety out of cross-team collaboration. In this post, I’ll be sharing four tips for successful cross-team collaboration at your company.
4 tips for successful cross-team collaboration
1. Define the desired outcome and a project timeline
Whether you’re considering participating in a cross-team collaboration yourself or would like to encourage your employees to do so, it’s important to clearly define the problem, the desired outcome, and the timeline for the collaborative project.
Start by defining the problem. Why is this a project that requires a special team? Remember that participants will need to take time away from their regular duties to participate, so there should be a compelling reason for putting together a cross-team group in the first place.
Let’s say a team is considering a new line of business for the company. Perhaps instead of finding a way to make money for your company with the new line of business, the team may find a way of saving money by changing existing processes. Or they may determine that a proposed project could make money, but it wouldn’t be worth pursuing for a particular reason. These are all perfectly valid outcomes, but the team needs to understand this is the case at the outset.
Finally, it’s important to set a clear timeline for the collaboration. It can be difficult to get people to sign on if the project is ongoing and open-ended, but if there’s a clear timeline, they’ll be more likely to participate.
Having a clear vision of the problem, your desired outcome, and the timeline will make the following steps flow much more smoothly.
2. Create a strong team culture for your project
A smooth and productive operation is always built on a healthy team culture — grounded in direct communication, trust, and respect. A bond between the participants creates cohesion and cooperation, two important qualities in a productive team.
But let’s face it, working outside your regular team is both exciting and stressful. The people may be unfamiliar and the work you are doing is probably taking you and the company into new territories.
Taking steps to define the culture you want to have as a group will create a smoother experience for all. Team culture is the system of beliefs, values, and assumptions that guide team behavior. You will need to transform a bunch of people from different departments into a true team.
No doubt, different team members have their own perspectives — that is in part why they’ve been brought together. The expectation is that the group’s diversity will help reveal blind spots along the way, and therefore drive better results.
The fastest way to cultivate a healthy team culture is by creating a group alliance. You can achieve this by hosting a 20-minute discussion with all participants.
When creating a group alliance, all team members should be encouraged to provide suggestions for these three questions:
- What kind of atmosphere do we want as a group?
- What do we want to do when things get tough?
- How will we hold ourselves accountable to this work and our group?
Ideas from the group alliance meeting should be captured on a whiteboard or other space that is visible to all participants. The suggestions will become part of the operating agreement for the group and set an agenda for the type of culture the team wants for itself.
3. Communicate consistently and clearly
We’ve already covered that participating in cross-team collaboration involves asking people to take on additional duties and take time out of their busy workdays. One of the ways to ensure participating is productive and beneficial to everyone involved is to define the ground rules of this temporary team, as we touched on in the previous section. This may largely fall on the leader, but all participants can take responsibility, too.
Consider, for example, how your team will communicate and store information. This is especially important when working with a distributed team. You want to have a central place where you store all relevant notes and resources so it’s easy for team members and stakeholders to access what they need.
Take time to answer the following questions:
- Where can participants share their research or access the work done by others?
- Who does the team report to?
- Who is ultimately invested in their research and findings?
I think of it as the leader creating a container. This defines what the group is doing and how they do it, ensuring they have structure and consistency.
4. Highlight the career-building benefits and rewards of participating
There are a number of benefits in participating in cross-team collaboration: on an individual level, it gives employees visibility into the company’s strategy and a broader understanding of the business. For individual contributors or new managers, participating allows them to preview what their future will be like when they get promoted since generally the further people move up in an organization, the bigger and wider of a view they get.
Plus, participating in cross-team collaboration is essentially a way to network within your organization. Companies will rarely tell employees to go spend time networking during the middle of the workday, but this is essentially what’s happening whenever someone is participating in a cross-team collaboration.
People may be hesitant to join a cross-team collaboration because they fear taking on extra work. And it’s true — participating in a cross-team project will almost certainly be more work and it’s rare for companies to offer extra monetary compensation for participating. But I believe that saying no because of the fear of taking on more work is a very short-sighted way of looking at this. Participating can be a really powerful, game-changing experience for anyone who wants to grow professionally. Make sure employees know about the benefits when they’re invited to participate.
The goal of my course is to give everyone the confidence that they can participate in cross-team collaboration. There’s no need to be intimidated — anyone who’s open-minded and curious has what it takes to be a productive member of a cross-team collaboration. To learn more ways of making the most of cross-team collaboration, check out my course Taking the Pain Out of Collaboration: Tips & Best Practices.
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