The Key to Successful Cross-Functional Collaboration

by Staff Writer

Cross-functional collaboration is not a new concept, but in today’s rapidly changing workplace – with multiple generations, a multitude of productivity apps and solutions, and skyrocketing pace of delivery – finding the key to successfully bring together different departments can feel like an uphill battle. For IT and business leaders searching for a universal technology to solve the needs of every user involved in cross-functional work, “one-app-to-solve-all-needs” ignores the reality that effective collaboration in a cloud-based world is a multi-faceted endeavor. Instead, the secret to success lies in the social elements involved in cross-functional work, and finding ways to strengthen communication by utilizing systems already in place.

Why Is Cross-functional Collaboration So Challenging?

Remaining competitive in a demanding market and solving complex business problems increasingly requires the work of teams that are large, virtual, diverse, and composed of highly skilled specialists. Unique perspectives and diverse skillsets deliver high quality outcomes – yet these characteristics make it hard for these same teams to get anything done. Cross-functional teams are less likely to effectively collaborate – and oftentimes, poor collaboration is worse than no collaboration at all.

Traditional approaches to solving problems often don’t work in cross-functional settings. Recent research from McKinsey shows that companies that attempt to reengineer their cross-functional processes with traditional solutions, like lean and business-process reengineering, exhaust managers. Whether going too broad and trying to rework processes across the entire company or, by contrast, focusing too narrowly within specific functions, burnout is nearly inevitable.

Successful approaches to the cross-functional problems are grounded in unpacking the different elements required for this type of work. Process management doesn’t lie at the heart of this type of work – it’s communication.

Communication is the Key to Cross-Functional Success

From millennials to baby boomers, the range of today’s workers have different expectations around access to information, a complicated situation made that much more complex when added to the cross-functional groups ever-more present.

Instead of entirely reinventing the way that your cross-functional teams communicate, look for opportunities to allow groups to keep working in their current tools, and find ways to connect them so that everyone can work in their preferred method, communicate in their preferred channels, and have transparency into the right information at the right time.

Connecting the tools that align with the ways that people naturally communicate and learn gives everyone a chance to contribute and increases the likelihood of success for each cross-functional contributor.

Case in Point: Creative Kingdoms

Natalie Pohorski, Director of Development at Creative Kingdoms, took this exact approach to unifying the work of her software development and content creation teams by connecting workstreams from Smartsheet and JIRA.

Creative Kingdoms, a subsidiary of Great Wolf Resorts, works with organizations like the Kennedy Space Center to develop imaginative software that brings to life experiences for customers. Traditionally, the different teams involved in creating and building content for the games managed their work in different, disconnected tools. Siloed work prevented the teams from communicating with each other at the right times to most efficiently complete client projects.

Natalie was at the epicenter of these efforts and explained the challenge as, “a really unique project management situation because we use an Agile software development method in JIRA and Waterfall methodology with our content team.” The cross-team orchestration was incredibly challenging, time consuming, and potentially error-prone.

Rather than scrapping both Smartsheet and JIRA and searching for a net-new solution, Natalie worked to find a way to connect the two systems rather than ask her teams to find new ways of working. By connecting Smartsheet and JIRA, content still carries forward in a Waterfall type fashion, product development is managed in JIRA, and the different groups could see the entire lifecycle of the work rather than only their individual pieces. Team members now are confident that they are always looking at the most up-to-date project information while continuing to communicate in their preferred style with the entire group.

Thanks to improved cross-functional collaboration and communication, Natalie anticipates a 10% resource savings in the coming year. For more on how Creative Kingdoms navigated cross-functional challenges, check out their newly published case study.