Step-by-step guide to better cross-team collaboration
If you’re trying to complete a major project on your own, good luck.
Nowadays, projects need every team in on the action. We know that siloed work doesn’t cut it. And without cross-team collaboration, what are you really doing to get projects done faster and more efficiently?
Well, you’re probably not.
We’re not trying to be harsh. In fact, a lot of workers take on the brunt load of a job to avoid putting pressure on other employees. However, if you’re not asking for help when you really need it, you’re hurting yourself and the team.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that high-performance teams work together better because they understand everyones’ specialties, limits, and output.
Design teams want to work closely with marketing teams. Web devs need to know what the product team is about to launch. Team leaders should know who’s working on what.
It’s a lot of back and forth, which is why collaboration is essential in today’s workforce. As Steve Jobs put it, “great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.”
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While collaboration leads to better ideas, more aligned outcomes, and happier stakeholders, it can also be difficult to coordinate. Managing multiple spinning plates at any given time isn’t easy, especially when there are a number of different tasks and activities happening at the same time.
That’s why we’re putting together a step-by-step guide to better understand the value of cross-team collaboration and how to instill this into your own organization.
First, let’s look at what defines cross-team collaboration and why it’s more than a buzzword:
What is cross-team collaboration?
Cross-team collaboration, also known as cross-functional team collaboration, refers to a collection of different groups, whether it’s designers, developers, content marketers, or sales, who all efficiently work together toward a common goal.
Most projects will demand the input of multiple creative voices. You wouldn’t launch a new product using just your marketing team. And it might not be smart to build a website using just your sales team.
Instead, you’d have more success bringing the skills and talents of each department together to build a better end result (and a better team overall). In fact, a recent report from Slack found “being part of a team” is one of the most important things for employees.
Why is cross-team collaboration so important for businesses?
Two words: streamlined success.
Teams working in isolation don’t know what’s going on in other departments and it often ends in disaster. Imagine a scenario where your agency is designing and building a website for a client, but your developers and designers are working separately in their own silos.
The design team works on their creative elements of the site and the developers build the wireframe of the main landing pages. They don’t just hope and pray that the illustrations will magically fit into the wireframe.
Instead, they work together, build a concept, prioritize tasks, and then assign work to team members. That’s how you launch a website. And it’s all because of cross-team collaboration.
The benefits of working together in an open and collaborative space
So what are the actual benefits of a cross-team collaboration in motion? Here are some of the biggest reasons your teams need to be better connected:
Faster project progress: teams have the same vision and can work toward a united end goal
Exhaustive results: no stone is left unturned when you have multiple departments chipping in with their own expertise
Innovation and creativity: ideas spark ideas, and the more you allow teams to bounce off one another, the more creative those ideas will become
Increased engagement: collaboration boosts working relationships and makes for happier team members
Faith in the company: employees feel more connected to the business when they can successfully collaborate and are therefore more likely to put their best foot forward
Upskilled employees: learning from others is one of the best ways for team members to expand their skillset
Top talent: teams that collaborate together, stay together, which means leadership will have an easier time retaining top talent and attracting new employees
Happier stakeholders: with more eyes on the project, stakeholders and clients will be happier with your team-driven results
The benefits are pretty clear, but what does it actually take to advocate for better collaboration across teams? Let’s take a look at each important step of the process:
Step 1: Try to divvy up team responsibilities as best as possible
Hear us out–teams really do want to work together. Employees value the opportunity to work with others on projects to complete them together.
A Queens University of Charlotte survey found nearly 75% of employees value collaboration as “very important” to their overall job. But if you don’t provide a transparent space for employees to understand their own workloads and the duties of other workers, you run into a serious bottleneck problem.
The first step in creating a cohesive and collaborative environment is letting each team know what their responsibilities are, what they have a say in, and what should be left to other teams. This allows each department to understand their role in the bigger picture and gives them a sense of control over their own responsibilities.
And for project managers, it’s critical to spot unfair workloads or tasks across the team. While you might’ve originally planned for one task to take just a few hours to complete, it can easily turn into a week-long job. And for the person with that task compared to the rest, it might create a bottleneck or just be unfair to that employee.
That’s why Teamwork’s Work Allocation report shows project managers each employee’s workload and where they’re at in terms of completion. That way, if a simple task turns into a week-long event, you can reallocate other needs to workers who have the ability to take on additional work.
Step 2: Leverage your tools to better collaborate between teams
Don’t make collaboration any harder than it needs to be. Avoid endless confusing email threads, lost documents, and unnecessary file versions by using collaboration tools that focus on fostering a collaborative workspace for every team.
There are plenty of collaboration tools out there that can help you with task management, but what else can they do? Instead, consider tools that have more communication features, so your team can rely on fewer tools, while better connecting teams.
For example, your project management tool should include chat software that can be used across the organization for faster communication. Teams not only need a space to manage project tasks, but one that lets them quickly communicate, share project timelines, and see who’s working on what at any given time.
Teamwork Chat is perfect for keeping departments up-to-date on what’s happening (you can even turn messages into actionable tasks), while the dashboard provides a quick overview of each projects’ status.
Step 3: Make it clear who will be the project lead
Multiple departments working together often means several leaders battling for the top spot. It’s important that each leader and their respective team knows what decisions they can make on their own and who they need to report to.
Create leadership guidelines from the start that help teams know who they need to go to about what and how they can communicate with the people in charge. This clears up any confusion that might crop up when two leaders have differing opinions.
It also gives teams the chance to make choices as a collective rather than one person spearheading the whole operation. Identifying these project leads is important to keeping a positive workflow.
Step 4: Create handbooks and supporting documentation
Cross-team collaboration is a learning experience more than anything. Some things will work, and others, well, let’s just say it can be tough. As you build on past experiences, create a handbook or supporting documentation that helps team members understand their role in the wider ecosystem.
Try to make sure you have complete details around what needs to happen for effective collaboration. For example, your collaboration handbook might include:
Workflows for each department
Standard operating procedures
A list of task dependencies and who’s responsible
Where documents will be stored
Which channels teams will use to communicate
End goals for each team
You can even allow team members to add their own insights to the handbook for a collaborative end result. This will help everyone involved to learn from each other and share their unique experiences.
Some companies call this a “team charter,” which is essentially a blueprint for how a team will work together toward a single goal. It can include information like a team’s objectives, mission, and general goals, as well as the responsibilities of each individual member.
It might help to have a team charter for each team and a collaboration handbook that the company can use as a whole. With Teamwork Spaces, you have the perfect location to document these processes, store documents and outline major projects to better collaborate.
Step 5: Choose a single communication method
We’ve all been a part of the never-ending email thread where the important information gets buried beneath familiarities and follow-ups. Avoid this by implementing a centralized communication method that all teams feel comfortable using.
Communication is critical to successful cross-team collaboration, and nurturing a space for conversations to happen can make all the difference. You might already be using a team communication video chat like Google Hangouts, but tools like Teamwork actually allow you to build channels and host one-on-one or team video chats.
Teamwork’s search and filter functions make it simple to find, tag, or save important information so employees stay up to date on projects and actually engage in real-time collaboration.
Step 6: Give teams the resources they need to thrive
Not every project will be a collaborative success from the get-go. There will be growing pains, bottlenecks, and unmet targets. However, that’s all part of the learning experience.
Give your teams the time and resources they need to explore ideas, allow them to experiment with techniques and methods, and - yes - let them fail.
Having the resources they need to brainstorm and get creative means teams can cover all bases. It’s easy to run with the first (and usually the loudest) idea, but it’s not always the best option.
Giving teams the space they need to explore all their options is important, whether it’s through dedicated brainstorming sessions, helpful checklists, and resources, or simply a place to dump their ideas.
Collaboration is always better when teams feel like they have the resources to succeed and can work together. Even if teams are working remotely, you have to ensure all employees are given the same opportunities–without letting them step on each other's toes.
If you want to get people talking, try hosting Q&A sessions, running social events, or even organizing a virtual town hall to discuss better ways to cross collaborate. Just know that improving collaboration shouldn't be a one-time thing.
Plan regular sessions to keep communication strong and to consistently enhance inter-team relationships. It pays off in the end. In fact, connected teams see a 21% increase in profitability over their less-connected counterparts.
Inspire collaboration in every project
All projects benefit from different skill sets. Bringing your teams together and leveraging their unique talents means you can create stronger project results. Inspiring cross-team collaboration is key in ensuring no stone is left unturned and that stakeholders are happy with the final outcome.
Start by ensuring you have a place where team members can communicate and share ideas. Try to highlight what responsibilities each team will own across the project.
And from there, you can foster ongoing collaboration by creating a centralized place for discussion, and providing helpful resources and handbooks.
Good luck and get collaborating!