4 Steps to Cross-Department Collaboration

4 Steps to Cross-Department Collaboration

Increase Productivity and Achieve More as a Team

By Morgan Atkins

For teams looking to create more innovative products and services, it’s key to establish an environment that unites the best thinking from every team. Rather than assigning innovation to one department, open the door for anyone to contribute, especially those with direct access to your customers. Then, for these new ideas to come to life, your organization must also embrace strategies that facilitate cross-department collaboration. 

Here are a few key reasons why cross-department project work is so important:

  • Cross-department collaboration fosters a culture of continuous improvement, where employees take ownership of problems and work together to bring about solutions. (KaiNexus) This mentality lessens the opportunity for finger-pointing as everyone is responsible for resolving issues.  
  • New ideas are more likely to be embraced when there are key shareholders throughout the company involved in the decision-making process.
  • Every team interacts with your customers and product offerings in a unique way, so every perspective is valuable. Feedback from various angles allows for all areas of your company to make ongoing improvements and course corrections.

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With a few foundational strategies and systems in place, your cross-department collaboration will be more efficient and effective. A strong affinity for deadlines and clearly defined responsibilities, along with the right tools, are a must. Below are four steps to more successful cross-department collaboration.

 

4 Steps for Greater Project Success

1. Set Clearly Defined Goals, Objectives, and Responsibilities 

The first step to multi-department project work success is ensuring that everyone is on the same page understanding the goal to be reached, the objective (or purpose) behind the goal, and exactly who is responsible for what in order to reach the goal. A clear goal and objective will unite the team involved and keep everyone focused. 

With many people involved from varying departments, it could be easy for distractions or differing priorities to derail a project. But a clearly stated goal and objective will ensure there is clarity on what is to be achieved. 

For a clear delineation of responsibilities, a RACI chart can be helpful. As defined by Team Gantt, a RACI chart is “a simple matrix used to assign roles and responsibilities for each task, milestone, or decision on a project.” The letters RACI stand for Responsible, Accountable, Consult, and Inform—each representing a certain responsibility.

  • Responsible: Every aspect of the project needs at least one responsible party. Identify who that person is and if they will have a group supporting their efforts.
  • Accountable: The “responsible” person should determine who they will delegate to help. They are accountable to see the task though, being the last one to review the task or deliverable before it’s deemed complete.
  • Consulted: Reinforcing the need for collaboration, it’s key that every deliverable is reviewed (or “consulted”) by more than one team member.
  • Informed: Someone should be identified as a project manager or leader. This person will oversee the flow of the whole process. They need to be kept in the loop on project progress (or “informed”), but not necessarily roped into the details of every deliverable.

When it’s clearly outlined who owns what, it’s less likely that details will be missed or balls will be dropped. No one person is responsible for everything, rather, everyone has a key role to play, and when the final goal is reached, the whole team can celebrate the successful outcome together.

 

2. Meetings are a Must but Keep them Purposeful

Periodic meetings are a must to make sure everyone is on the same page. Meeting regularly will enable brainstorming, when it’s needed, for collaborative problem-solving.

It’s important though, to make sure that meetings are thoughtfully and strategically planned. We’ve summarized our meeting strategy in a compelling infographic and outlined some key points to remember below:

  • Recognize that not everything has to be a meeting and not everyone has to be in every meeting. Feel free to let people know when a particular meeting may not require much of their input and send them notes after. Give them the option to attend. People will be grateful to have their time back.
  • At the beginning of every meeting, state the purpose and the goal so the time can be focused. 
  • Send the agenda, goals, and objectives AHEAD OF TIME. This will help speed things along and enable attendees to come to the meeting more prepared for discussion.
  • Create an agenda of items or topics to be covered—the more detailed the agenda, the better so that everyone knows what to expect.
  • At the end of the meeting, ensure everyone is on the same page and that the original intent of the meeting was met and that all agenda items were covered.
  • Clearly define what the next steps are and those can become the agenda for the next meeting.

In line with the RACI chart philosophy, it’s important for your meetings to clearly delineate responsibilities, ownership, and commitment. Sometimes with large group meetings, there can be a great discussion on solutions and next steps. But oftentimes, no one is nominated as the responsible party to follow through on those solutions. It’s important to assign roles and responsibilities to specific action items and have accountability. Each agenda item should have a responsible member in charge of owning that step.

 

3. Acknowledge the Importance of a Unanimous Agreement

Keeping everyone on the same page is important and this can start with a shared understanding that all opinions will be heard and different options are welcome. Once everyone understands all points of view, a unanimous agreement is easier to achieve and forward progress can continue. 

A lack of unanimous agreement can slow forward movement by creating friction among project members. Keep things moving forward quickly with a unified agreement about issues and concerns.

Unanimous agreement doesn’t mean “everyone agrees with the CEO” (or whoever is leading the project). There must be room for discussion, and even disagreement, over ideas and a safe space for conversations to happen. 

Finally, documenting the unanimous agreement is also important. When delegating project responsibilities, make sure that someone will be on point to record discussions and decisions, so details are not missed along the way.

 

4. Create Deadlines and Stick to Them

Similarly to the need for clearly defined goals, objectives, and responsibilities, it’s also critical to ensure that deadlines are established and significant effort is put towards keeping them. Without deadlines, a project can flounder indefinitely and likely won’t see completion. 

There’s a greater likelihood that deadlines will be kept when everyone is on the same page and in agreement about what deadlines are reasonable. Allow team members to push back on deadlines that are too aggressive and keep in mind that everyone is also juggling other obligations. But, once deadlines are set, push your team to meet these stated time goals. 

Regular communication and timing reminders will be helpful. The project leader should be charged with keeping the schedule or nominating a team member to do so. Give people multiple reminders along the way of what they’ve committed too and when upcoming deadlines are approaching. These regular touch points will keep the project moving forward and help everyone to stay on task.

 

Free Tools to Organize Projects and Teams

If your team is primarily using email to organize projects across departments, then inevitably, responsibilities will be forgotten, deadlines will slip, and progress will be hard to make. Below are a couple of tools that our team has found to be invaluable when facilitating multi-department project work. 

Trello: As stated on their website, Trello’s boards, lists, and cards enable teams to organize and prioritize projects in a fun, flexible, and rewarding way. Utilize Trello as you create your RACI chart, assigning responsibilities within the tool for each task involved. Keep track of progress by noting within a Trello card when something has been completed. Best of all, every team member can sign into the same Trello board and track their work in real-time. 

Slack: This tool can work alongside Trello, serving as “a single place for messaging, tools and files—helping everyone save time and collaborate together,” as described on the Slack website. Slack channels can be divvied up by team or project and conversation treads keep side conversations from derailing the topic or project at hand. Possibly most importantly, Slack provides a way to track conversations happening around the project all in one place. 

 

The Takeaway

Successful cross-department collaboration will make a real impact on your organization and your ability to accomplish great things. When everyone is a contributor to a project's success and has buy-in to the process, there will be more energy devoted to ensuring the idea is seen through to completion. 

It can be hard to get new ideas implemented with large groups and varying priorities. But with these foundational strategies in place and the help of the right tools, it can be done. For more information about how to rally your team around data insights, growth goals, and strategic initiatives, schedule a discovery call with one of our experts today.

Article by Morgan Atkins, Senior Director of Innovation for Stratasan

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