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How managers can master cross-functional collaboration, even remotely

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Author photo: Christina Scannapiego

Christina Scannapiego

Director, Content Marketing

As a manager, you’re responsible for keeping your team on task, meeting goals and managing everyone’s needs.

To be blunt, your job is exhausting enough with an in-person team. But if you’re managing a remote team — and a cross-functional one, at that — you’re doing your job on Hard Mode, all the time.

Not only is your workforce spread across different locations (and likely working in different time zones), but you also need to bring folks from different teams together for a given project. Let’s dig into how cross-functional collaboration works, the challenges it presents and 5 tips to help you lead a cross-functional team to success.

What is a cross-functional team?

You’re facing a massive project that goes well beyond the purview of just one department. If your business needs to make big, sweeping changes, chances are good that you’ll need to form a cross-functional team.

A cross-functional team pulls together several employees from across different departments. In practice, it might look like:

  • HR, marketing and the C-suite working together on a campaign to attract more employees.
  • Pulling marketing, sales, IT, customer service and finance folks together to redesign the customer journey.
  • HR, operations and finance collaborating on how to improve the employee experience.

Cross-functional collaboration is great because you get the benefit of getting insights from several experts with different backgrounds and experience. Sure, it’s a different way of doing work, but it’s less siloed and definitely a more effective way to think outside the box.

The challenges of leading a remote workforce

The thing is, remote collaboration comes with great perks, but it isn’t easy—especially for you as a manager.

Successful collaboration in the workplace is your goal, but you’re facing some steep challenges:

  • Running out of time: The more cooks you have in the kitchen, the more likely it is that you’ll hit roadblocks and delays. It happens. But it’s even harder managing a cross-collaborative team with asynchronous remote work, too.
  • Competing priorities: What’s important to one team might not be important to another. It’s the classic scenario of employees saying, “Well, that’s an IT problem, not a marketing problem.” It’s your job to make everyone on the cross-functional team care about what’s going on.
  • New team dynamics: You aren’t onboarding new employees for this project. These team members are already set in their ways and they’re used to working with their own departments. There’s bound to be friction while your cross-functional team irons out its dynamics (which can be a big headache for managers).
  • Role confusion: Who’s responsible for what? Without the right remote collaboration tools and processes, it’s unclear which team member is responsible for what. This usually ends in a lot of finger-pointing and very little actual work being accomplished.

How to master cross-functional collaboration

All right, so you’re the ringleader of this crazy circus of a project. It’s not all doom and gloom, promise! You can bring your team together with these 5 management tips for cross collaboration that works.

Cross-functional collaboration tip #1: Get buy-in from everyone

Why are you doing this project? What’s at stake here?

Everyone involved in the project — including your boss and the C-suite — needs to know why this matters. You need other leaders on board here for budgetary reasons, but also because they need to know why you’re pulling their employees onto this project.

When it comes to employee buy-in, it’s a lot easier to motivate your team when they understand the reason behind their work. If you can, try tying this project back to each department’s goals. This way, nobody will feel like it’s a “sales problem” or a “customer service problem,” but an “everybody problem.”

Cross-functional collaboration tip #2: Facilitate actual collaboration

The good news is that cross collaboration doesn’t mean you’re doing all of the work. As a manager, you’re there to lead the charge, encourage people to collaborate, and generally steer the ship.

You don’t need to be a micromanager, but you do need to set up structures and processes that facilitate communication. That might look like:

  • Choosing a project management solution: Don’t try to accomplish cross-functional collaboration without some kind of project management (PM) tool. This is what’s going to help you assign tasks, check project statuses, upload files, and much more. Put everything in one place so all team members can access it.
  • Templatizing processes: You might need to wait to do this until after you’ve finished a few remote collaboration projects. But once you have the process down, be sure to templatize it within your PM tool. This will make it much easier to set up new projects down the road.
  • Setting communication norms: Ask the team to communicate only in your project management tool, like Asana, so all communications are searchable and visible.
  • Writing SOPs: Standard operating procedures give every team member documented, recorded ways of doing things. If you want to minimize confusion, make sure they have access to up-to-date SOPs.

Cross-functional collaboration tip #3: Hold them accountable with due dates

The worst thing you could do with a cross-functional team is to create a project without deadlines. The team needs to know what they’re working towards and how quickly! Hold everyone accountable for their to-dos with assigned due dates.

This is a lot easier to wrangle if you’re using a PM tool, too. You’ll be able to see, at a high level, who is responsible for which tasks. It’s the best way to make sure your team doesn’t drop the ball.

Cross-functional collaboration tip #4: Host efficient meetings

If you’ve ever been in a never-ending Zoom meeting, you know how painful they can be. 65% of employees say meetings prevent them from doing their actual work.

It’s tempting to avoid meetings whenever possible, but unless you’re employing a team of mind readers, you have to meet with your virtual team. It’s extra important for managers to set up efficient, valuable meetings that actually help with cross-functional collaboration.

That means:

  • Scheduling with a tool like Google Calendar so you meet at a time that works for everyone (without sending a zillion “when are you free?” emails).
  • Switching all meetings to 15 or 30 minutes instead of one hour. Let’s be honest: meetings rarely need to be 60 minutes long.
  • Keeping an agenda and taking notes with a record of who’s attending, what you talked about and next steps. You can even assign a timekeeper, facilitator or task master for more accountability.

Cross-functional collaboration tip #5: Use a collaborative CRM

You’re probably working with folks from marketing, sales, IT, finance and countless other departments. If you’re trying to overhaul the customer experience, for example, you need to see all of the touch-points customers have with team members across your business.

A CRM like Copper makes it a cinch to get a holistic view of your customers’ journey. It’s the best way to get more context on your customer relationships, minimize confusion, and master cross-functional collaboration.

Successful collaboration in the workplace starts here

Honestly, cross-functional collaboration is tough to manage. But it’s essential for breaking down silos and accomplishing work that actually matters. Cross-functional teams are more agile, putting multiple brains to work for your business goals.

It’s your job as the leader to create a structure and organizational framework that allows the magic to happen. Of course, the right mix of remote collaboration tools can certainly make your job easier.

Need to connect a remote, cross-functional team? Try Copper for a holistic view of your customers and business relationships, no matter where your team works. Try Copper free for 14 days.

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