Specialization is easily one of the biggest reasons why we have achieved so much as a species. By focussing all our energies into just one subject, we can derive better insights and come up with far reaching solutions. All people within your organization were hired for their unique set of skills, after all. But in all the talk of talent being a company’s biggest asset, we often forget that a brand’s real strength is the ability to be greater than the sum of its parts. Sadly, many companies put far too much emphasis on getting the right people in place and end up taking cross team collaboration granted.
The “silo effect” is a well documented phenomenon where teams get sequestered into their own doings to the point where they aren’t even aware of what their peers are up to. A survey by Queens University discovered that 75% of employees covered rated teamwork and collaboration as very important, but only 18% got communication evaluation at their performance reviews.
Similarly, 86% employees and executives consider lack of collaboration as the primary culprit behind workplace failures. In other words, while the importance of collaboration is well understood, it is rarely being realized. What this also means is that you can take a massive leap over your competitors by simply getting your teams to talk more.
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Why Cross Team Collaboration Matters
At the heart of the collaboration problem lies the need to come up with better solutions, something no one person or team can do on their lonesome. In an increasingly competitive marketplace, companies that offer the best solutions lead. Period. To come up with them, you need as many minds providing their own viewpoints to iron out the kinks and make your product/services more efficient.
Diverse teams are always better than their homogeneous peers as they generate better ideas and move faster. Senior vice dean of Columbia Business School Katherine W. Philips says “The fact is that if you want to build teams or organizations capable of innovating, you need diversity. Diversity enhances creativity. It encourages the search for novel information and perspectives, leading to better decision making and problem solving.”
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Pop culture has unfortunately reinforced the stereotype of lone inventors striking it big on their own, when the truth is clearly to the contrary. A study by Lee Fleming of Harvard and Jasjit Singh of INSEAD discovered that the idea of single inventors causing major breakthroughs is for the most part a myth. Their findings clearly favor collaboration over individuals as it helps reduce the probability of poor results. This is perhaps because teams are better equipped to evaluate ideas than their progenitors who may become too close to their creations and lose perspective.
The same can easily hold true for inter-team dynamics within an organization as well. If a team works hard to come up with a proposal, they may lack the objectivity to truly criticize their solutions. Only an outside perspective can ensure whatever they overlooked is discovered and fixed before being offered to the market.
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How to Encourage Collaboration Between Your Teams
While the advantages of increased collaboration speak for themselves, ensuring it is easier said than done. Let’s face it, no one likes to have their ideas criticized. The prospects of a confrontation will put of most people and stem collaboration. Here are a few ways you can use to increase inter-team communication.
Find out why collaboration is low
Lack of collaboration usually boils down to indifference and vested interests taking priority over the greater good. Is there absence of trust between different departments? Do some people think their peers are not qualified enough for them? Do teams think there is no benefit in talking to one another? Do some of your colleagues find the idea of outside review threatening? Ask as many questions as needed to drill to the bedrock of the problem.
Build a culture of objectivity
Sure, we all like to take a great deal of pride in what we do, but should it overrule company goals? Finding a balance between subjective joy and objective critique is one of the harder problems of productivity. And yet it’s critically important. Make an honest appraisal of each individual’s unique strengths and weaknesses. Most will cringe at the thought of having their shortcomings exposed, so, your workplace culture should encourage everyone to embrace all aspects of their personalities.
Also, think of ways you can have your people look into each other’s ideas without putting them off. More often than not, feedback can be given without bruising egos. Instead of criticizing, ask questions that direct your colleagues to discover your answers themselves, instead of taking punitive measures, consider helping that troubled employee reach his/her goals. Of course, if everything fails, then harder steps may become unavoidable but these should always be a last resort.
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Use team collaboration tools
It is indeed surprising to see companies relying on spreadsheets when we have such powerful cloud-based tools available today. As an increasing number of businesses are opting for telecommuting, multinational teams, freelancers and contract workers, the utility of cloud productivity tools becomes all the more greater.
Tools such as Runrun.it help you create, assign, track and edit tasks from anywhere while letting all stakeholders get the latest updates, regardless of where they are. Not only will you remain in constant touch with your team, but you can forgo the high setup and maintenance costs that on-prem productivity solutions bring with them.
Create a central repository of all your data
If you want to integrate your teams, you should start with your data first. By centralizing your data, you can speed up communication considerably, reduce redundancy and aid problem solving by letting people find the information they are looking for as fast as possible. Runrun.it for example, automatically stores all your data in one place and let’s authorized personnel access it as and when needed. By centralizing all your information, you can also reduce conflict within your organization as people won’t have to go around asking for important files and there will be less likelihood of lost data.
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Things to Look Out For
Cross team collaboration, like all things in life is not without its downsides. And while increased collaboration can indeed skyrocket your company’s productivity, there are a few things you should look out for…
Complex decision making
When you have so many people chiming in, then how do you decide which suggestions go forward? While democracy is a good idea, it’s easy to make things more complex than they actually are and get derailed. The leadership can play a crucial role here by keeping everyone on topic at all times.
Lack of clarity in roles and responsibilities
What if someone from finance managed to provide a marketing solution that’s actually better than the marketing team’s. Does, he/she now get to lead? Or, will they be referred to should a problem come up during implementation? As collaboration means looking for solutions from all directions, roles run the risk of becoming diluted. However, this can only happen due to unchecked collaboration. A systematic method to let everyone add their inputs while maintaining organizational structure will ensure ideas are shared without stepping on people’s toes.
Information within an organization is often shared on a need to know basis. Right off the bat, this creates problems for collaboration as it requires information to flow freely from one team to the other which can potentially threaten your IP and data. Granting people temporary rights to work on a project based on feedback can help alleviate some concerns here. An audit trail of all collaboration efforts can help increase accountability as well. Sit with your IT team and brainstorm ways to create collaboration workflows that are secure.
Teams are often comprised of people with similar motivations which in turn creates work-based subcultures within your organization, often competing with one another. While strong cultural sentiments aid bonding, they can isolate individuals within your organization. We see evidences to these all the time. For instance, sales will consider marketing as purely academic, finance will profess both will be lost without them, operations may believe HR isn’t up to snuff and so on. As collaboration means opening up these cultures to one another the risk of a cultural clash is always present. Identifying, engaging with and managing such subcultures will help your collaboration effort.
Encouraging cross team collaboration can seem like an uphill battle at times because it revolves around managing people and pushing them out of their comfort zones. It also isn’t fire and forget and will require yours and your manager’s constant attention. But, with the right tools and techniques, you can help everyone work together in ways that powers your organization’s creative endeavors while addressing its weaknesses. We have discussed some collaborative measures above, but there is a lot more that can be done.
Interested in learning more? With Runrun.it, you can not only help your teams collaborate more often and smartly, but track the entire process from start to finish. Our industry leading dashboard allows you to get an intuitive sense of each project’s progress and track them effortlessly. Dive right in and try Runrun.it with our free trial.