What Is Cross-team Collaboration? Definition, Examples, and Best Practices for Improvement.

Modern collaboration doesn’t just include working face-to-face. There are many different ways to collaborate nowadays, and an increasingly effective way to collaborate is cross-team collaboration. No matter what project you’re working on, cross-team collaboration is an amazing way to integrate multiple different perspectives to help get the job done.

In this article, we will define cross-team collaboration, discuss why it’s so important, and outline some key ways to improve it.

Cross-team Collaboration Definition

Cross-team collaboration, or cross-functional collaboration, is a process where multiple different teams work together to accomplish a shared goal. These teams usually come from different backgrounds or departments to combine their knowledge and share meaningful, unique insights.

Any team project will benefit from multiple different perspectives, and cross-team collaboration is a great way to facilitate holistic project completion between teams. By utilizing cross-team collaboration, an organization can effectively distribute knowledge within their teams, sharing insights and producing mutually informed results.

Cross-team collaboration isn’t just something that helps create more efficient collaboration; it also can improve employee experience significantly. A study done in 2022 shows that almost 40% of workers think teamwork is “very important.” Additionally, this study shows that online collaboration tools and regular collaboration can improve efficiency in remote workers and can almost 5x talent retention. This shows that cross-team collaboration can have a big effect not only on work product but on company culture and employee experience as well.

Fresco cross-team collaboration definition

How to Create Cross-team Collaboration

Creating cross-team collaboration is all about creating a system where people feel empowered to work together. Instead of listing particular steps, there are some values and touchpoints that need to be achieved in order to regularly and successfully facilitate cross-team collaboration. Here are the most important points to hit when implementing cross-team collaboration.

Share Team Responsibilities

As we showed in the statistics above, people genuinely want to work together. Working collaboratively isn’t always up to them, however, so it’s important that teams are encouraged and given the structure to find success when collaborating.

One important step is to share responsibilities across teams. Sharing responsibilities doesn’t always mean that everyone shares the same set of tasks, but it means that teams will communicate workloads and share tasks that lead to common goals. By creating transparency within projects, teams can understand exactly what they’re responsible for and how they can successfully collaborate to reach an end goal.

When creating transparency, teams need to understand their individual responsibilities, their shared responsibilities, what matters they have a formative say in, and what they aren’t responsible for. By sharing this information clearly and creating clear boundaries, teams can understand their role in a greater process and where they can contribute most effectively.

Sharing responsibilities isn’t just a one-time task either. Project managers need to do check-ins with teams to ensure they share workloads equitably and collaborate efficiently across teams. As a project moves forward, teams will always need to reprioritize and reallocate resources, and when they are collaborating, they need to ensure that this happens correctly to avoid miscommunication.

Formalize Roles

One of the potential pain points of cross-team collaboration is creating a system that doesn’t have clear documentation of roles. In this case, people can get confused about who to report to, who’s in charge, and what they should be working on. As a part of creating clear responsibilities, teams also need to formalize their roles from top to bottom.

This doesn’t mean that they need to have an incredibly strict designation or that there will always be a hierarchical workflow process, but it does mean that everyone needs to develop a strong understanding of where they stand, who they’re working with, and what their goals are.

Formalizing roles is very important for leadership positions and, if communicated incorrectly, can cause serious cracks in the team dynamic. Each team needs to know who they should report to and what their communication funnels are. This is essential for team communication, and without a clear structure of leadership, cross-team collaboration can become very difficult.

Find the Right Tools

When collaborating across teams, it’s important that you use the right tools to make the collaboration process easy and efficient. Instead of relying strictly on shared calls and long email chains, pick tools that help facilitate collaboration in a way that’s beneficial to everyone.

A couple of essential collaboration tools are communication tools, visual collaboration tools, and task management tools. We outline all of these in a recent guest post if you’d like to learn more about the best online meeting tools.

Fresco can help organize your digital workspace, so you don’t have to use multiple different task managers alongside your collaboration tools. By integrating an internal task management tool, Fresco enables teams to collaborate and manage tasks within the same workflow, increasing efficiency and communication between teams.

Choosing the right tools can make or break cross-team collaboration, so it’s important that you have all your bases covered. Our next point covers one of the most important parts of your team’s software stack: communication.

Create Consistent Communication

If teams are going to collaborate frequently, there needs to be a solidified form of communication that everyone uses all the time. Consistency is key in communication, and if teams are using multiple different sources to communicate, it can make a project far more complicated than it needs to be.

Using tools like Slack is a perfect way to streamline cross-team collaboration and ensure everyone communicates through the same medium. Additionally, this platform makes it incredibly easy for members, or teams, to communicate with one another. Without a tool like Slack, teams have to jump through hoops to communicate more formally, which can hinder the process altogether. Communicating regularly through a workspace management tool makes cross-team collaboration possible, and it’s absolutely necessary for teams to have success.

Formalize Documentation

Using tools consistently makes it much easier to create a formalized hub for project documentation. If you conduct all your brainstorming on a centralized online whiteboard, there is an easy place to store your information and locate it whenever you need it.

Documentation is equally as important for project teams as it is for leadership, and creating accessible documentation allows leaders to communicate their needs, goals, and expectations across the board. Additionally, leaders can keep tweaking their systems and structure to find the perfect balance for cross-team collaboration without having to send constant updates; they can easily access their documentation and create any changes necessary.

Creating formalized documentation isn’t just important to the current project, but it helps collate information from previous projects as well. As you build a rapport with cross-team collaboration, there will be successes and failures that the team needs to learn from. Understanding these lessons means there should be a place to access and learn from them. Below are some of the ways documentation can apply to cross-team collaboration:

  • Specific project workflows
  • Hierarchy charts & org charts
  • Previous timelines and priority lists
  • Collaboration best practices & lessons
  • Project documentation & storage
  • Previous collaboration exercises & templates
  • Cross-team collaboration guides

Teams often refer to systems of internal documentation as a “team charter.” This is a document that allows people to understand the goals, values, and objectives of a team or project in a single, shared place. Team charters are helpful both for communication and transparency within an organization.

Providing access to documentation makes it incredibly easy for teams to learn how to collaborate efficiently and catch future projects in stride. Even if they haven’t worked together before, being able to access a hub of documentation can help answer questions before they even arise.

Example of a retrospective collaboration exercise

Be Flexible

Especially when integrating cross-team collaboration systems for the first time, there will be bumps in the road. It’s important that teams are given time to process the learning experience and explore the best ways to collaborate. This will require flexibility in terms of their expectations and their resources. Teams need to be given the resources to thrive, even if it doesn’t happen immediately.

This flexibility usually comes from leadership, but flexibility is also required from peers as well. People need to be patient and flexible with the peers they’re working with to establish positive methods of communication. When implementing cross-team collaboration, everyone needs to be flexible to make it work.

If teams are finding it hard to connect and find flexibility, try running some virtual workshops on the importance of collaboration and give them feedback options so they can pitch new ideas to try. This is a good way to keep employees engaged and give them a sense of ownership over their workflow.

Best Practices on How to Improve Cross-team Collaboration

Cross-team collaboration isn’t something that comes naturally to everyone, and it’s a process that needs to be refined over time to work at peak efficiency. While the above tips are essential for implementing cross-team collaboration, there are some other pieces of advice that can be helpful when seeking to improve it. If you’re looking to improve your existing collaboration structure, here are some best practices to improve cross-team collaboration.

Make Sure the People Fit

When analyzing cross-team collaboration structures, it’s important to understand that the people affect the system as much as the structure does. We’re not saying that you need to fire everyone and hire a new team if things aren’t working right, but it’s important to pair teams and people with peers that complement their strengths and allows them to collaborate effectively.

Assembling teams that work well together will change the dynamic of inter-departmental collaboration and can facilitate increased efficiency for collaborative teams.

When assembling a team that collaborates well, think about what unique skills and perspectives each individual and team bring to the table. Try to strategically organize groups, so they pair nicely and ensure that each group has a positive communicative environment.

Create Leadership Alignment

Just like creating an organized team is important, creating alignment with leadership is also essential to a functioning team. As we stated above, clashes in leadership can occur when teams and departments begin collaborating, which is very detrimental to the project outcomes. If there is no clear designation about what leader is responsible for what and who the entire project falls under, the project can fall into chaos.

If your team is experiencing issues with direction when implementing cross-team collaboration, consider creating a more rigid sense of leadership alignment to help structure projects in the future.

Teambuilding Exercise on Fresco

Build Increased Communication

Communication is the backbone of cross-team collaboration, and if the team needs to improve, this is the first place to look. Cross-team collaboration requires a very high level of communication between people, teams, and departments. Because communication is so important, it’s likely that if projects aren’t going to plan, their requirements aren’t being communicated properly. Whether it’s an issue with communication tools, structure, or workflows, try troubleshooting communication systems in order to improve cross-team collaboration.

Align Timelines & Goals

A common theme of improving cross-team collaboration is improving communication and alignment. When teams aren’t properly aligned, there will be increased problems with strategy and task assignments. Each person works slightly differently, so if there is any misalignment, it’s likely to result in a consequence for the project.

Something that can help align goals is documentation, as we mentioned above. Having a place to store shared, updated documentation allows teams to never fall out of alignment, meaning they can more easily work together without negative consequences.

Another place teams need to remain aligned is with their timelines. This is an area that is admittedly harder to miscommunicate but another that requires formal documentation. If employees are mixing projects that include collaboration and individual work, timelines can get jumbled, and teams can fall out of alignment. To avoid this, it’s important that a solid timeline is established before the start of the project and is followed by each member through shared documentation. If done properly, this can greatly improve the outcomes and deliverables of cross-team collaboration.

Facilitate More Organic Collaboration

If teams don’t collaborate regularly, cross-team collaboration can feel very forced and inorganic. In order to improve outcomes, you need to make the collaboration process feel more organic and impactful. If teams feel more naturally inclined to collaborate, it will improve productivity, efficiency, and overall experience.

To improve organic collaboration opportunities, have teams regularly share progress, questions, and timelines so they can find beneficial times to collaborate with others. If this doesn’t work, try implementing more regular structures of collaboration so people have a template that can quickly edit rather than making something from scratch. Often, this small boost can help lower the barrier of entry for cross-team collaboration.

Cross-team Collaboration Examples 

Cross-team collaboration can occur in a ton of different scenarios and is mainly when teams from different departments work together on a given project. An example could be a design and marketing team working together to create a website design. A design team might not understand the nuances of click-through rates or company messaging, while the marketing team might not know how to express brand identity across a website. When they collaborate, however, they can combine their expertise to create something that neither could have accomplished independently. While this is just one example, there are a ton of scenarios where cross-team collaboration can apply. Below are some good examples:

  • Sales and marketing teams working on an updated messaging file.
  • Design and engineering teams developing new product mockups.
  • Engineering and sales teams creating new customer integrations.
  • Customer success teams working with design teams to create more usable features.

The possibilities are really endless for cross-team collaboration, and anywhere that a given team could add insight and value, they can be utilized.

Why Is Cross-team Collaboration Important?

Creating patterns of collaboration is vital for any organization to remain innovative and continue to push its business forward. Working in isolation is dangerous for individuals and teams because there isn’t a natural system of checks within a workflow. People don’t know what’s going on with other team members or other departments, meaning there is a high likelihood that priorities and progress aren’t being communicated.

Within this system, cross-team collaboration is vital to avoid and eliminate silo mentality. Silo mentality is “Silo Mentality is a mindset of exclusivity that exists when people in different teams refuse to share information with other departments or team members.” Breaking free of silo mentality means teams can properly communicate with each other and function as an aligned unit rather than multiple separate teams. 

Below are some of the biggest benefits of cross-team collaboration:

  • Increased Innovation: The best way to stimulate innovation is by increasing communication and collaboration. Cross-team collaboration gives people a sounding board to constantly test new ideas and experiment, leading them to increased innovation throughout their projects.
  • Team Cohesion: Collaborating and communicating consistently helps build cohesion within individuals, teams, and departments. Having a strong relationship can help teams navigate challenging projects and roadblocks and will additionally lead to better results in the long run.
  • Eliminates Waste: One of the most annoying parts of not collaborating regularly is feeling misaligned with teams and wasting time communicating in countless emails. Cross-team collaboration provides teams a platform to stay on the same page and, through this alignment, eliminate unnecessary communications in their workflow.
  • More Ownership: Collaborating with teams means people put more effort, thought, and intent into their work product. With additional oversight, employees typically feel increased ownership over their work, which leads to better outcomes.
  • Thorough Procedures: Working in cross-team collaboration means that teams have an internal method to check results and processes before delivering a final product. Having another layer of checks and balanced means that teams are able to complement projects with more thorough procedures and higher standards. Being extra thorough is also a factor that makes stakeholders increasingly happy with company processes and outcomes, yet another advantage of cross-team collaboration.
  • Talent Retention: When teams build cohesion and collaborate more frequently, people tend to enjoy their experience more and become more attached to their coworkers. Relationship building and collaboration are huge parts of talent retention, something that can be greatly improved by cross-team collaboration.
  • Well-Informed Teams: Working with teams outside of your specific expertise helps broaden your understanding of subject matter and how projects are completed from multiple angles. Cross-team collaboration helps teams understand multiple perspectives throughout the project cycle, making for well-informed teams throughout an organization.
  • Faster Progress: Teams that work in regular collaboration are able to progress in their projects faster and more effectively. By sharing tasks and collaborating, teams can effectively follow the same vision to achieve greater progress than their isolated counterparts.

Does Cross-team Collaboration Always Work?

While we recommend integrating collaboration throughout an organization, it won’t automatically fix your issues. Collaborating definitely has a place in an efficient workflow, but it might be more difficult for some organizations to facilitate compared to others. Even in places where it should be successful, there will be growing pains in getting it right. Cross-team collaboration is always worth a try, but that doesn’t guarantee it’ll be a success. 

While it’s important to keep innovating your process and find a collaborative workflow that works for your team, there are certainly some challenges to implementing it. Here are some of the biggest challenges to implementing cross-team collaboration:

Making It Work Across Time Zones

With an increasing number of organizations opting for a remote and hybrid work environment, people around the globe have been able to benefit from an influx of new opportunities. This can cause difficulties, however, when it becomes hard to manage collaborative hours across time zones. Facilitating cross-team collaboration is a big challenge for global companies and can be an insurmountable issue for some organizations.

In order to find balance when operating in multiple time zones, try to find an equitable distribution of collaboration periods for people. This means that one team or person won’t have to consistently make a time that is super difficult for them, and the entire team will have a relatively equal distribution of working hours among the various meeting times. Obviously, there are some cases where this isn’t possible, and in this case, it might be worth looking into using an online whiteboard to facilitate asynchronous collaboration between teams.

Unfair Work Distribution

Everyone has been part of a group project where someone messed around the entire time while the rest of the team worked extra hard to get it done on time. Unfortunately, this didn’t stay in school, and this can be found in the professional world as well.

Whether due to ineffective work structures, lack of oversight, or poor recruiting/culture, organizations with intense collaboration can often be subject to slacking in collaborative endeavors. 

One thing to remember when combating this issue is teams often need time to develop a rapport and understand how to work best with one another. For this to take hold, there might be some growing pains that they have to push through. This would be an easy problem to solve, however, and people not taking responsibility can pose a big challenge to cross-team collaboration if left unchecked.

Failure to Align

Alignment is something that’s key for cross-team collaboration to be implemented effectively. While it’s essential for collaboration to happen, it’s also not always an easy thing to arrange across multiple teams.

As different people and different teams work together, it will usually become clear that they have different motives and priorities to succeed. You can do everything you can to align these pieces correctly, but if they don’t naturally align, teams will struggle to work effectively towards a shared end goal.

While cross-team collaboration is a great way to build teams closer together, if they can’t find shared alignment with an organization and with each other, they will struggle to collaborate effectively.

Conclusion

Cross-team collaboration is a vital piece for any organization looking to build goals and improve workflows. If this article helped you, try taking a look at Fresco to see how our free online whiteboard solution could help your team improve their efficiency.

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