Cross-Department Collaboration is a topic of concern for most companies who want to improve overall employee engagement. Our consultants identify some reasons why working together isn’t always easy or natural. Their straight-forward advice and stories from their work show us how companies can encourage teamwork across the entire organization.
Sometimes organizations understand that people aren’t collaborating, but it’s not quantified until they see their employee engagement survey results. Survey scores and comments often reveal that people view other departments as the problem. They believe their own team is easy to work with. Specific examples illustrating bad cross-department collaboration raises awareness. Once leaders see the survey data, they act.
The dysfunction compounds across teams, departments, and organizations because there are so many human variables. Different people have various expectations, people skills, or leadership styles. It takes a lot of energy and commitment to find common ground and create a unified team.
I worked with an educational organization that needed facilities where teachers could teach various subjects. Because of poor cross-department collaboration and communication, the facilities group was building structures that didn’t allow educators to teach the way that they wanted to. It’s important to think about what we’re trying to accomplish as an organization and how to optimize the organization to meet the goal.
One solution starts with a couple questions:
- What is the strategy?
- Can we create a team to implement that strategy?
How to Encourage Cross-Department Collaboration
Leaders have to commit to raise awareness. Ways to raise awareness include:
- Administer 360s to help individuals understand how they’re being perceived
- Run an engagement survey to make the organization aware of employees’ perceptions
- Run an engagement survey to build and increase trust and understanding between leaders and employees, and from department to department
- Solicit feedback from customers on their experience with your team and products
You increase awareness so people understand why people act the way they do. I believe from there, people will fill in the blanks and do the right thing. But most of the time they choose things out of unawareness.
As a consultant you run focus groups expecting to find complex issues, but the issues are often simple. “I don’t know who’s leaving from teams.” “I wish we’d have more updated lists of who’s still in the departments, because my go-to person left and now I don’t know who to go to over there.” Little things like this have a big impact on how connected and aligned groups can be.
Reason your cross-functional collaboration scores may be low:
- Teams are looking for something that they’re not getting
- Teams don’t know how to support each other
- Teams or individuals aren’t sure what collaboration looks like
Help employees see that a stretch assignment will allow them to get to know key stakeholders. Make sure to coach them through the opportunity, so that the employee is more likely to view the assignment positively. Help them see how they much they learned and how much they contributed to the organization’s growth. Managers should look at the employee’s goals and find opportunities for that person within the organization. Sometimes it’s a mentor or sponsor who does this.
I’ve seen product teams take the time to present new products to the company so that people can see what the company is accomplishing or how their work contributed to those products. This also helps client-facing teams speak about products and updates with more confidence. Open message boards where people share ideas and suggestions virtually have promoted in-person collaboration between departments as well. We need to see and understand what people are working on and why it’s important to them. It just helps build more of that trust and that understanding, instead of assuming people are trying to steal your resources or get out of doing things for you.
We worked with one organization that had multiple departments with different incentive structures. One department was incentivized to refer clients and transfer calls from customers to another department. This frustrated the other department, because they weren’t incentivized to receive these calls or help these customers. And so, they ended up resenting the other department for loading them up with extra work that didn’t lead to more money in their pocket. On the customers side, sometimes customers were transferred 6-8 times before they spoke to somebody who could actually solve their problem.
I worked for an organization where there was constant tension between product development and engineering. This critical relationship became so incompatible, that the company took drastic measures: they had the two leaders switch departments. Over 30 days, the two realized things like, “Oh, that’s why we can’t engineer this,” or “Oh, that’s why it’s so important for the product.” So, I tell clients to figure out if the conflict is healthy or damaging.
Your last employee engagement survey may have been a surprising wake-up call. If your teams aren’t collaborating very well, pick some of these tips to add to your yearly people strategy, and then measure again. It may take some time for departments to adopt the strategies, but stay motivated by celebrating the smaller objectives you hit!