Cross-Functional Collaboration_Why Is It A Challenge And What Can We Do About It
July 25, 2019

Cross-Functional Collaboration: Why Is It A Challenge And What Can We Do About It?

By Brian McHale

Some projects are like sailing to the North Pole. You need all hands on deck.

But if you’re working on a project that requires different teams and departments to come together, you’re going to need cross-functional communication.

In this article, we’re going to tell you everything you need to make different teams work seamlessly together.

Let’s set sail!


What Is Cross-Functional Communication?

Here’s the thing: if you really want to sail to the North Pole (or finish a project in time – the level of difficulty sometimes feels the same), you’re going to need all kinds of people.

You’re going to need an expert captain to steer the ship.

In a project team, that’s you as the project manager.

You’re going to need sailors to help you out.

In projects, those are your designers, developers, administrative assistants, marketers, and much more.

They’re the core of your team.

You’re also going to need someone to handle the legalese and make sure you don’t get stopped somewhere because you forgot to register your boat.

This is your legal department.

Finally, you’re going to need someone to man the icepick.

They’re rough to talk to but they do a darn good job of getting you through the narrowest of straits.

Your mission as a project manager, should you choose to accept it, is to make all of these wildly different people work together.

They’re your cross-functional team comprised of people with different skillsets who band together to get the project done.

And in order to make them collaborate effectively, you’ll have to overcome a few challenges.

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Cross-Functional Collaboration Challenges

The main obstacle you’ll face is different team members’ organizational mindset.

They all have different ways of communicating within their teams.

They usually work on different tasks.

So the main challenges you’ll face when managing a cross-functional team are:


1. Different Priorities Are a Problem for Cross-Functional Collaboration

In order to collaborate, everyone has to be on the same page regarding goals and priorities.

But if you’re working with members from different departments, the alignment has changed.

You, as the project manager on duty, have to make sure they don’t slip out of balance.

For example, if the legal team is motivated by their yearly performance review that only measures their work in their department, they’ll likely put the project on the back burner.

Another problem can come from poor setup.

If certain team members aren’t sure what their role in the project is, what their responsibilities are, and what they have to do, it’ll get very chaotic soon.


Solution: Task management and project tracking

In order to get your team to the North Pole, you should first break down the project into different tasks.

Task management will help your team understand what has to be done, when it has to be done, and by whom it has to be done.

This way, Ann from legal will know that she has to draft the contracts by Tuesday, Joe from sales won’t have any doubts about who has to get in touch with prospects, and so on.

When it comes to performance measurement and course correcting, there’s nothing like project tracking to… well, keep you on track.

This does wonders for cross-team collaboration because everyone knows exactly what they’re responsible for, so there can be no resentment.

Your own sailors won’t feel like they’re putting in more work while other sailors are sunbathing on the deck.


2. Cross-Functional Communication Is the Biggest Challenge

Every team member you have to manage in a cross-functional team has gotten used to a certain way of communicating.

And now, that has changed.

Additionally, you can’t inundate them with too much communication.

Long meetings and long email threads lead nowhere, and they can become a major obstacle for the success of your project.


Solution: Knowledge sharing and transparency

On average, employees spend 2.5 hours every day just looking for the information they need to do their jobs.

Now imagine what kind of impact that has on your productivity since some tasks depend on the completion of other tasks.

Your team members can see who is responsible for which task, and they’ll need less time to find the right information.

Additionally, it’ll be much easier to manage a project if you can clearly see how it’s progressing.

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3. No Connection between Cross-Functional Team Members

When people are friendly with each other, they’re more likely to understand a different teammate’s point of view.

However, when you put a lot of people who haven’t previously worked together in the same room, there’s bound to be a few conflicts.

Your goal should be to help your team collaborate effectively.

And the best way to do it is by helping them connect.


The solution: Get together

Before you start working on the project, set aside some time for the team to get to know one another:

Allow team members introduce themselves to others, or schedule some time out of the office.

They’re more likely to see how similar they are (despite different project-related responsibilities) if they can interact in an informal setting.

Feedback is a must, as well.

You should facilitate honest discussion.

Allow team members to hash out issues and disagreements without playing the judge and jury.

Finally, there’s nothing worse than a team who feels that the project manager makes all the decisions for them.

Try to include your team in as many project planning activities as possible.


4. Cross-Functional Collaboration without Evaluation Is Going to Go Badly

It seems almost impossible to measure every team member’s performance if there are so many of them who deal with different areas.

Additionally, if individual team members can’t see how they affect the project as a whole, and how the project will affect them, they’re not going to be motivated.

This is why we often see some team members putting in the majority of the work, while others stay on the sidelines.

It’s a phenomenon called social loafing, and it’s everywhere.


The solution: Set the right metrics

Establish the right metrics from the very start.

Some of the metrics you can use are:

  • Tasks completed
  • Time to finish a task
  • Planned hours vs actual time spent (on a milestone basis)
  • (You can even measure attendance and participation when appropriate).

Just make sure you explain them to your team, as well!


5. No Support

Finally, the biggest challenge are situations in which your team isn’t getting the support they need.

For example, you may not have enough time to hear them out, or you could be using the wrong tools that make their job all that harder.

Maybe they even feel like cogs in a machine, instead of valuable participants.


The solution: Give your team what they need

If your team knows you’re there for them, you’ll be able to complete projects in time. After all, the majority of projects fail due to communication breakdowns.

That doesn’t have to happen to you.

After making yourself available to your team (and even holding one-on-one meetings), you should also look into ways technology can help you.

For example, sometimes even simple project management software that integrates with your Microsoft Office 365 brings a lot of clarity to the table.

Your team knows what they need to do, and where they can find the information to keep doing their best work.

After that, it’s only a matter of celebrating a successfully completed project

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