86% of employees and executives cite lack of collaboration or ineffective communication as the main causes of workplace failures. We shouldn’t be alarmed by this statistic.
Think about it, for any project to be successful, it requires strong communication and collaboration from all teams. For example, a construction project for a client requires people from design, purchasing, engineering, maintenance, and contract staff to work together. The current, complex business environment also propagates one thing — communication and collaboration is key.
Interdepartmental collaboration and communication do a lot more than just delivering successful projects. Actually, as per GoRemotely, 75% of the current workforce prioritizes collaboration in the work environment.
But how can you increase collaboration and communication? This article explains the benefits of interdepartmental collaboration and provides concrete strategies you can implement in your organization.
The concept of interdepartmental collaboration, also known as cross-departmental/cross-functional collaboration, involves individuals or teams from different departments working together towards shared objectives. It includes the breakdown of departmental silos and encourages cross-functional communication and cooperation. However, it is more than just working together. Cross-functional collaboration pertains to sharing a vision, having mutual respect, and an understanding of everyone’s role in a project.
Strong cross-departmental collaboration and communication are witnessed when there is free-flowing sharing of knowledge, information, and resources. There is no hiding or “holding on” to knowledge and expertise because everyone understands that helping each other out will lead to the betterment of the firm.
Here’s a good example of interdepartmental collaboration:
A company is launching a new model of a high-end mixer. The marketing and design group has taken feedback from the customers and informed the design team about which features should be included in the latest model. The designers design the product and submit this to the engineering and purchasing team ensuring that these design features are feasible and within budget. The manufacturing team oversees the actual production of the product. The quality group tests the upgrades and finally, the sales and marketing team reaches out to the customers for the latest launch.
High-performing interdepartmental collaborative teams share several key elements that contribute to their success:
Collaborative teams have a lot of trust and respect for one another. They not only believe each member is competent and brings a lot to the table, but they value each other's contributions. Members treat each other with dignity and consideration. This mutual respect and trust creates a positive and supportive work environment where team members feel comfortable sharing ideas and taking risks.
The beauty of collaborative teams is that they bring together people with different perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds. This diversity of experience and thought helps to generate new ideas, solve problems creatively, and make better decisions.
Successful cross departmental teams also exhibit high levels of autonomy. Because of their respect and trust, team members aren’t micro-managing each other. Each person takes ownership of their work. This autonomy also enables people to showcase their expertise.
Collaborative teams have a clear understanding of their goals and objectives. They are aligned on what they are trying to achieve and why it is important. This shared understanding helps to focus everyone's efforts and makes it easier to measure success.
Strong and supportive leadership is another common trait in high-performing collaborative teams. They have leaders that not only lead by example but ones that are easy to communicate with. These leaders encourage the sharing of experiences and best practices. They also create a vision for the teams, facilitate communication, and help to resolve conflicts.
Consulting giant Deloitte states that interdepartmental collaboration and communication increase company profits and foster growth. However, cross-departmental collaboration also can spur innovation, improve employee morale and job satisfaction, and increase productivity. Let’s understand the advantages of interdepartmental collaboration and communication in more depth.
When departments operate independently, it can result in a lack of understanding, miscommunication, and individualized thinking that doesn’t look at the interests of the entire organization. When individual departments make decisions, it might not be the right one. The sharing of knowledge, practices, and experiences opens itself for better-informed decisions.
When people of varying backgrounds and expertise come together, they can pool their knowledge, skill, and experience to tackle problems and innovate. The exposure to different perspectives can lead to the resolution of challenges and obstacles that perhaps would have been difficult if one was operating in a silo.
Furthermore, the diverse approaches and schools of thought sparks innovation and creativity. This can result in the development of cutting-edge products, services, and processes that give the organization a competitive advantage.
When different departments work together they can increase efficiency and effectiveness in the workplace. For instance, in a software company, the app development, sales, and customer support teams work together. The development team can enhance the software and thus boost customer satisfaction by incorporating insights and feedback from customers. All these efforts lead to better user experience, increased customer satisfaction, and more sales.
Communication and collaboration reduce duplication of effort and save time as it streamline processes. This also reduces costs and improves efficiency and productivity.
Currently, employees spend 50% of their time collaborating with others in the workplace. We can foresee this trend to increase as more companies understand the benefits of it and through the advancement of technology.
When people realize they can achieve greater results by working together towards a unified goal, they automatically feel connected and united. It creates a joyful working culture where there is better decision-making, more communication, and support.
People get to learn from each other and improve their own performance. This again yields a positive impact on their job satisfaction and engagement.
Also, the nature of cross-departmental collaboration gives employees more opportunities to understand each other’s perception. When people work together to overcome a challenge, they bond over a unique experience and become vested in each other’s well-being and progress. This strengthens the unity among employees.
Cross-departmental collaboration breaks down departmental communication silos and hierarchies. When done right, it eases communication and tension between departments. Furthermore, when collaboration is supported with a project or resource management software where people can see how their tasks are interdependent, it lends itself to generating trust and transparency.
eRS is a holistic employee management software that allows you to get more done.
There are challenges to overcome before your interdepartmental collaboration can blossom and increase revenue. Common barriers to creating a culture of communication and collaboration are:
Structural issues impact cross-departmental communication and collaboration. Rigid, top-down reporting structures prohibit the free transfer of knowledge and sharing of ideas and best practices. When employees are confined to their respective departments and have limited interaction with other teams or need permission to do so, it becomes challenging to foster collaboration and build relationships.
An authoritative culture where decision-making is solely in the hands of a few managers can make employees less inclined to share and innovate because they might feel as if their ideas aren’t important. When employees sense a lack of value or acknowledgment for their ideas and contributions, their involvement in interdepartmental initiatives decreases.
It’s easy to focus on personal or just departmental goals as those are known. More emphasis is usually placed on these goals as well. However, just valuing team goals or personal goals takes away from people looking at broader company goals. Most employees aren’t aware of the larger goals and how their personal or departmental objective aligns with them. This hinders collaboration.
Different teams tend to have their jargon, collaboration tools, and practices. This makes it difficult to share information. The presence of information silos greatly hampers effective cross-team collaboration. Sometimes technology can also create these barriers as only certain departments have access to particular information and they hoard that information as a power play.
Change is hard to accept, even more so when people are used to doing things a certain way. The mindset of “why change what is working” is also harmful. Any change is initially met with resistance if it’s imposed and not explained. The notion of change also makes people uncomfortable for several reasons; for instance, the novelty of something new can impact their job security and stability.
If you don’t know someone, you would find it difficult to trust them, wouldn’t you? The same case can be made for people in different departments. Trust takes time and requires support from leadership and enough opportunities for people from various teams to interact.
Trust can be established by having a few ice-breaker activities with people from separate teams. Also, project managers should assign straightforward collaborative work and small tasks to help people from various groups get acquainted before jumping into larger, higher-stakes projects.
When executed properly, cross-departmental collaboration can change your company’s culture for the better. Here are some easy-to-implement ways to improve cross-departmental communication and collaboration. These tips don’t require major changes and provide immediate results.
The company's goals are visible to everyone. Upper management needs to set clear expectations in team meetings and demonstrate to different teams how their department and individual goals align with the overall mission. When team members disagree, they’ll be able to turn to the bottom line for clarity. This increases clarity around goals and nurtures a positive change in your organizational culture.
Design opportunities for teams to be composed of people from different departments and experiences. Also, implement flexible reporting lines that allow employees to report to multiple supervisors or managers who oversee interdepartmental projects. Another way to create a fluid structure is to not create a top-down hierarchy or organizational chart.
Cross-departmental collaboration will improve when there is support from the leadership. They need to lead by example. When upper management is willing to collaborate and be part of cross-functional teams, they are setting a precedent for all to follow.
Executives should have an open-door policy and be visible to the employees. Managers can be approachable by having their office doors open, welcoming to new ideas and initiatives, and sometimes ready for a chat that is non-work related. They should also be leading initiatives where they are reaching out to members of different teams and communicating the benefits of sharing expert knowledge. By consistently demonstrating such collaboration behavior they are setting a positive environment for interdepartmental communication.
There is technology that can help you foster collaboration and open communication. These platforms not only standardize and remove departmental information silos and processes but also build transparency across the company. Other benefits of leveraging technology for purposes of collaboration include:
The right technology can help you quickly identify bottlenecks and take proactive steps to keep projects on track. For instance, using resource management tools like eRS will help a manager not only identify the right resources (even if they are from different departments) for a task, but they can also see which resources might be overburdened. Managers can step in and ease their workload.
Open office spaces without designated cubicles are known for being more conducive to collaboration. Create spaces that allow for an open flow of ideas, creativity, informal chats, and the building of relationships. Instead of having designated departments, design an office that has long, open tables with little or no separation that can accommodate members from several different teams. Also, keep the partition low and moveable. Another benefit of open workspaces is that they reduce real-estate expenses.
Another quick way to get people to collaborate is to offer incentives in terms of rewards and recognition. When people are recognized for their efforts, ideas, and contributions in a cross-functional team, they are more likely to keep working in those scenarios. Positive rewards and recognition also show that teamwork is valued and appreciated within the company. This will encourage more collaboration and communication. However, do keep in mind that the reward and recognition for people taking initiative and working effectively in cross-departmental teams should be of value. Also, the criteria for getting these rewards should be clear and consistent.
Make it a priority for teams to consistently share their goals and progress. This can be done by hosting weekly meetings with people from different teams. Each department shares what they are working on. Other teams can identify areas where the goals might intersect and they can help out.
In addition to having meetings about work goals, it would be beneficial to include some team-building activities or games. Building a collaborative culture and community takes time. Efforts should be made consistently, week after week before results are actually shown.
Sharing feedback allows different teams to learn from each other and improve their own performance. It also leads to a better understanding of each other’s work processes, challenges, and goals. Constructive feedback can also spark innovation and creativity. Teams might be able to devise a solution that wouldn’t have been possible without the input of cross-departmental teams.
The key to using feedback to encourage collaboration is by ensuring the feedback channels and process are fair and straightforward. Initially, clear guidelines should be provided on how and what type of feedback will be accepted. There should also be a channel for how feedback can be delivered — during meetings or via an online form.
Examples of cross-departmental feedback could be the sales team providing tips on how the customer service team can sell or upsell products. Or a customer service team providing feedback on customer issues and complaints to the product design team.
A quick way to encourage collaboration is to offer training opportunities that encourage employees from different departments to learn about each other's roles and responsibilities. For instance, the marketing team can hold a “get to know our day” for the manufacturing team. On this day the manufacturing team shadows and learns about the functions and challenges of the marketing team. The next month, the roles can be reversed and the marketing team gets on the floor with the manufacturing team. Such cross-training initiatives can help to break down silos and build understanding.
In addition to cross-departmental training, it’s advantageous to provide general training on the benefits of collaboration and communication. Additionally, there might also be certain skill gaps among employees that hinder collaboration. Managers or the human resource department can identify areas that require extra support and provide tailored training and support. Emotional Intelligence, networking, or teamwork could be some topics that require additional training.
Trust is based on many factors, including integrity, ethics, and competence. To generate trust and empathy, the organization should show the employees all the things they are doing to ensure integrity and transparency. This could be in the form of policies, procedures, training, or even technology. But remember to follow through on all of this, especially policies and procedures with consistent practice. That is what cultivates trust and a sense of psychological well-being.
By implementing these strategies, organizations can create a more collaborative workplace where teams from different departments work together effectively to achieve common goals. This can lead to increased innovation, improved efficiency, and better decision-making.
By embracing cross-functional collaboration, your organization can achieve continuous improvement and measurable change.When there is no cross-functional collaboration, teams may suffer from tunnel vision and stagnation. However, there are ways to avoid this. Drive collaboration, innovation, and efficiency with eRS.
eRS is a complete, cloud-based resource management solution that will provide visual data on work progress, resource availability, and project interdependencies. Through the software, all resources can see the tasks they are responsible for and how that align with the larger goal.