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Introducing cross-functional collaboration: Why it pays off!

6 min read

Cross-functional collaboration is the opposite of silo thinking. If your team works cross-functionally, it consists of employees with different fields of specialism and expertise. This means that all the necessary experts work in one team and can handle projects independently. In this article, we will show you the benefits of cross-functional collaboration for individual teams or entire companies and how you can successfully overcome the challenges of introducing it.

What are the benefits of cross-functional collaboration?

Cross-functional collaboration can be designed for the long term or practised for a limited period of time. In both cases, all team members work towards a common goal with their different competences and skills and can therefore achieve the goal more quickly and easily. But what advantages does cross-functional collaboration offer your team in detail?

1. Agility

In traditional project management, project progress is linked to the successful completion of intermediate steps or sub-projects. In order to achieve this, the respective specialised teams must deliver results. If a task is not completed according to plan, this often slows down the other teams and the project plan is delayed.
In a cross-functional team, each member is a specialist in their own field as well. However, as the team members also have knowledge from other specialist areas and are always in close contact, they can react flexibly to absences e. g. due to illness. If an employee is absent, this does not necessarily mean a standstill. The closely networked team finds alternatives to the original plan more easily.

2. Direct knowledge transfer & communication

With cross-functional collaboration, employees are in close contact with each other in their day-to-day work. This makes coordination processes straightforward and decision paths short. Your team can share information on project progress, current challenges or technical knowledge directly with each other without losing time.

3. Seamless collaboration

In cross-functional teams, all employees are involved in the project right from the start and therefore always have the big picture in mind. The tasks of the various specialist areas also interlock right from the start and are not only put together at the end from individual results to form an overall result. This makes it easier to create a holistic solution that can be described as "well-rounded".

4. Shared responsibility

If several specialised teams work together, one of the teams can easily blame another department if delays occur or the overall goal is jeopardised. However, if the success of the project or the achievement of goals is in the hands of a cross-functional team, the team members share responsibility for success or failure.

5. Stronger employee loyalty

In a cross-functional team, employees do not feel isolated or limited to their specialism, but much more as part of the overall task. On the one hand, they experience a stronger sense of community in their self-sufficient team. On the other hand, the networked structure of the various departments offers the opportunity to learn more about the company as a whole. This makes it easier for your employees to identify with the organisation, which can strengthen employee loyalty.

6. Development of a "T-Shaped-Skill-Set"

The continuous exchange between employees from different specialist areas not only promotes mutual understanding. Team members are also acquiring more and more "non-specialist" skills and are thus becoming generalists to a certain extent. The "T" in T-Shaped-Skill-Set also stands for this development: the vertical bar represents specialised knowledge, while the horizontal bar represents broad-based knowledge.
If a bottleneck occurs in a specialised area, your team does not necessarily need immediate external support, but can close a "gap" to a certain extent using its own resources. Of course, it also helps that the team members don't just deliver separate pieces of the puzzle, but can always see the individual tasks in the context of the overall project.

You see: Cross-functional collaboration makes teamwork more flexible and agile and boosts employee motivation. As a result, projects can be implemented more quickly and generally achieve better results.

How can you introduce cross-functional collaboration in your team?

Start small and determine the project or goal for which you want to put together a cross-functional team. Then consider which competences are already available in the current team structure and which you still need to achieve the goal/complete the project. Once the team is in place, you now need to think about how your team should achieve the specified goals. Create the right conditions for this. Collaboration tools such as Stackfield have become established for interdisciplinary work. They have all the important functions required for collaboration.

You can also use the tool to create a joint "onboarding" meeting with all team members. During the meeting, explain the plan and communicate which goal is to be achieved by when and who will take on which tasks. As the project progresses, exchange information regularly as a team and take time to reflect and optimise things, because a new project always involves hurdles.

Chat possibilities on Stackfield
On Stackfield you can exchange information via numerous communication channels

Tips for increasing efficiency in a cross-functional team:

  • Take an open perspective: What distribution of tasks makes sense? Feel free to make this decision together with your team - and promote a sense of unity right from the start.
  • Use diversity as a superpower: A cross-functional team is primarily characterised by the specialist background of the individual members. In addition, the mix of different experiences, personal backgrounds and soft skills can be another factor. Therefore, when putting together your team, pay attention not only to professional qualifications, but also bring together people of different genders, ages or cultures.
  • Define clear goals: Make sure that the common goal of your team is clearly communicated. It can also be helpful to place the goal in the context of general company goals. This may make it even clearer where the joint journey should go.
  • Involving external partners: If your team only needs specialised expertise or specific skills for certain subtasks, you can also consider shared resources: These are experts who only become part of your team for certain subtasks or for a certain period of time. On Stackfield, you can integrate people with the External role.

What challenges need to be overcome in cross-functional collaboration?

Admittedly: Introducing cross-functional collaboration can initially require a certain amount of time and organisation. However, it is definitely worth sticking with it in view of the many advantages. Among other things, these hurdles could challenge you:

What to do when there are competing priorities?
If you put together a cross-functional team within your company made up of employees from different departments, they may have parallel tasks in their "home department". This can lead to conflicts. You as the team leader can communicate directly with the "other" department head and find a solution together. It may be possible to agree a binding division of working hours or to release the employee from certain tasks during the project phase.

How can you break down hierarchical structures?
In companies with strictly hierarchical structures, cross-functional collaboration can cause irritation - especially if employees from different levels in your team are suddenly working together as equals. To ensure that the success of your team is not jeopardised by unproductive power games, you should consolidate the rules of the team culture in advance through intensive communication. This can include, for example, mutual appreciation or exclusively constructive criticism.

How does your team get going?
If your cross-functional team has too many committed initiators, they may bring too many new ideas and suggestions to the team. There is then a risk that the resources for achieving goals will be spread across too many "sideshows". Therefore, make sure that there is a good balance between "visionaries" and "doers" in your team.

A collaboration tool such as Stackfield is also helpful for task management with a binding character. A Kanban Board is available there for clear task management: All team members are always aware of upcoming tasks and the progress of the project. Labels / user-defined fields can also be used to centrally record priorities, for example.

How does the workflow remain dynamic throughout?
With cross-functional collaboration, the interim results of the individual departments are constantly and closely interlinked. If delays occur due to unclear responsibilities or slow decision-making, this is detrimental to efficiency. This makes direct communication between team members all the more important. In Stackfield, it is possible to quickly exchange information within the team via chat as well as audio and video conferencing (incl. screen transmission).

Conclusion: Cross-functional collaboration for greater efficiency and quality

Cross-functional collaboration has the potential to make your team more productive. Projects and goals are achieved more quickly and overall, it can break down silo thinking and thus provide new ideas. The mutual transfer of knowledge between the various specialist areas can strengthen cohesion and open up new potential solutions.

For the introduction, you need to clarify a few important points in advance - such as the right team composition, targeted and clear communication and a clear distribution of tasks. You can then get started immediately with a collaboration tool like Stackfield.

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Cristian Mudure
About the Author:
Cristian Mudure is the Founder and CEO of Stackfield. He loves digital business models and spends his spare time on the tennis court.
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