One of the primary challenges of navigating a growing team is getting — and keeping — everyone on the same page.
Cross-functional collaboration solves this problem, enabling stakeholders across teams to check in with each other and push projects forward. To make sure individual departments don’t become silos, we have cross-functional meetings all the time at Loom: between sales and support; marketing and brand; engineering and product management; and company-wide Brown Bag sessions that give Loommates across the organization the chance to learn more about what individual teams are working on. This transparent and team-oriented work culture has become a cornerstone of our brand and a driver behind our rapid growth and high-performing team these past few years.
While I'm keen to tout the benefits of cross-functional meetings, I also understand the complications that come along with them. For example, it's hard to find the perfect window of time when everyone whose input you need is actually available. And, when you finally manage to pull everyone together, that time is often wasted providing context or going back and forth on timelines.
Over the years, the remote team at Loom has learned how to improve our cross-functional collaboration and solve many of these issues. Now, we want to share our findings with other organizations looking to grow. In this guide, we'll examine the most prominent challenges facing cross-functional collaborators and discuss easy solutions you can begin implementing today.
What Is Cross-Functional Collaboration & Why Is It Important?
Cross-functional collaboration is a business practice where separate teams and departments communicate and work together towards common goals.
This kind of collaboration may seem intuitive, but it's an uncommon practice in the old-school business world, where teams often work in silos. Traditionally, different teams and departments act like individual islands, isolated from one another and reporting to a common director. They may work towards the same overarching goals, but they rarely interact or work with one another outside of predetermined circumstances.
Cross-functional collaboration flips the script, loosening those traditional boundaries and encouraging collaboration between these islands. Doing so unleashes a wave of creativity and innovation, courtesy of newfound transparency and a shared sense of community across the company. This kind of collaboration also allows teams to streamline problem-solving by including different perspectives from groups of people outside a single department.
Examples of Cross-Functional Collaboration in the Workplace
There are many ways to introduce cross-functional collaboration into a business. It's not an all-or-nothing endeavor, and it benefits significantly from experimentation. Managers should try different practices to determine what works best for their businesses and employees.
Here are a few ways the Loom team uses cross-functional collaboration:
1. Holding and Recording Collaborative Meetings
Even though async tools like Loom help replace traditional meetings, synchronous collaboration is still an essential part of the modern business toolkit. The difference is, at Loom, we like to open these meetings up to a greater number of Loommates.
To hold cross-functional meetings, we invite department heads and team members from across the company to attend, ensuring everyone can see and contribute to our various initiatives. We also record these sessions using Loom.
Recording a cross-functional sync with Loom allows anyone who might've missed it to watch on their own time (and speed it up to 2x to get through it faster) without having to wade through meeting minutes. It's also handy to pass on to colleagues who might be joining your project later on and need to get up to speed, or to share with other teams who might need more information about the particular project discussed during the sync.
This brand, design, and marketing team cross-functional sync was recorded in Loom, making it accessible for anyone to jump in and refer to the discussion at a later date.
2. Sharing Updates and Company News
It's common practice at Loom for managers and team leads to record looms going over project updates and company news. Managers often send these recordings beyond their respective departments (or post it to our LoomHQ) keeping the whole company apprised of noteworthy situations.
Our team leads also make it a habit to record and share looms before a multi-departmental meeting occurs. That way, they can explain the main goals for the session, saving everyone an unnecessary 15-minute intro once we all get online.
Even more important, meeting attendees can review and refer back to this loom to better prep for the sync and ward off the adverse effects of context switching. They can also answer or raise questions in the comments section or record loom replies, which can help refine the agenda long before the meeting starts.
Jaclyn, a Customer Support Representative at Loom, recorded this video message ahead of Loom's first brown bag session with the Support team.
3. Remaining Connected Across Channels
Before Loom, one of the first questions on my mind after a cross-functional meeting was, "When should our next meeting be?"
Now, I rely on Loom to record and send asynchronous status updates whenever possible, significantly reducing my need to schedule frequent syncs for simple updates. In general, this practice has helped me think more critically about what I need from someone before I go ahead and throw time on their calendar.
Loom has completely transformed my collaboration efforts, with colleagues both within and outside my team, letting us make the very most of our time together.
Benefits of Cross-Functional Collaboration
We've only brushed the surface of how effective cross-functional collaboration can help companies grow and thrive. Let's look at a few reasons why it’s so powerful:
If knowledge is power, then knowledge sharing is empowering employees to do their best work. Cross-functional collaboration gives team members access to new resources and information — knowledge they can use to inform their decision-making when developing products, making sales, providing support, or participating in any other area of modern business. Opening up cross-channel communication also lets employees reach out to their colleagues and harness the wealth of knowledge spread throughout the company.
Employee Growth & Engagement
Teamwork presents unique social challenges that you don’t face when working alone. But it’s these same challenges that push you from your comfort zone, helping you develop new social skills and grow in different areas as a professional.
In a recent entry to the Journal of Business and Management, researchers found that teamwork leads to increased performance in nearly every aspect of operations. Employee engagement peaks and productivity improves as a result of working alongside trusted individuals.
"If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself." – Henry Ford
Humans gravitate toward happier environments. At the same time, everyone wants to feel like they're a part of something greater than themselves. That's one of the reasons cross-functional collaboration is so effective. It promotes a stronger company culture where colleagues work together to create and contribute towards the bigger picture. It also establishes a culture of sharing and cooperation, as everyone is working towards a common goal. In a world where employees increasingly reject petty politics and prioritize a healthier work environment, cross-functional collaboration is just good business.
Whereas most team supervisors report directly to a single manager, cross-functional team leaders often collaborate equally with their peers. Working with colleagues from other departments has many benefits. It gives team leaders an inside look at different management styles, providing a window into what works and what doesn't. And, it offers a way to bounce ideas and problems off one another.
Of course, it also comes with a new set of social challenges. But these, too, can be beneficial. Diamonds form under pressure, and the best business leaders get where they are by taking on new challenges and overcoming them.
Innovation blossoms in collaborative environments. Assembling teams with diverse skill sets and ways of looking at problems produces fertile ground for creative thinking and new ideas. A lesser-known but equally important consideration is this: working within a cross-functional team spreads out the risks associated with innovation. Lowered risk increases the chance that employees will propose and implement experimental ideas.
Given how innovation is regarded as vital to business growth, cross-functional collaboration can lead to massive improvements that pay dividends for years to come.
As we've seen, cross-team collaboration promotes a happier, healthier, and more productive work environment. It's no secret that these factors have a direct, demonstrable impact on profits — with some research estimating double-digit year-over-year increases among companies that prioritize cross-team communication and collaboration.
The simple fact is, when employees feel connected and compelled to do their best work, company goals are met, company culture improves, and profits go up.
Challenges of Cross-Functional Collaboration
But it's not all smooth sailing. In this section, let's discuss some of the challenges you're likely to face when building a cross-functional team and potential solutions for making implementation a little easier.
The rise of remote workspaces and distributed teams has made it more challenging to collaborate with colleagues. You can't just walk down the hall and poke your head into a co-worker's office, nor can you hang by the water cooler for all the latest news.
The solution, of course, is using software to communicate with other remote team members. Skype and Zoom team meetings are an obvious answer, but synchronous communication doesn't really work when departments live in different time zones. To remedy that, asynchronous tools like Slack and Loom help teammates stay connected without the need for live interaction. Meanwhile, management apps and platforms like Monday and Asana keep everyone on the same page via convenient metric tracking dashboards accessible from anywhere.
Lack of Communication
Communication is hard enough, even when it takes place within a single department. Add in cross-functional collaboration, and it cranks those same challenges up to eleven!
That's where tools like Loom come in. Loom lets you record your webcam and screen, then host and share those recordings with a click. The software revolutionizes company communication and presents an excellent opportunity for cross-functional teams to interact and collaborate whenever and however works best for them.
Most teams feel little investment in the success of other teams within their organization. It's hard to blame them. After all, these groups tend to have few (or no) day-to-day interactions, and each department has its own KPIs and deadlines to attend to.
While there are a few solutions to this problem, my favorite is the occasional all-hands meeting. Holding all-hands meetings doesn't just build camaraderie; it also provides employees a more nuanced look at how, underneath the surface, their projects do indeed overlap and impact those of their colleagues. It becomes clear that each team is a brick in the company's foundation, all working together to build something bigger than its parts.
Lack of Transparency
Businesses entrenched in bureaucratic practices aren't known for their transparency. Although times are changing, and modern, agile companies have done a lot to shake up outdated and walled-off practices, there's still a lot of work to do.
Transparency starts at the top. It's important for team and company leaders to be open and honest about business dealings, showing and encouraging their team to be similarly open about what's happening within their departments. Tools like Loom can help with this, letting team leaders record and share updates companywide, promoting transparency and forthright communication.
Best Practices for Building Cross-Functional Teams
Whether you’re overseeing engineering or design, building a crack cross-functional team of go-getters may come with challenges, but it's not impossible — especially when team leaders implement the following practices.
Create a Plan (With Goals)
"He who fails to plan is planning to fail." - Winston Churchill
It doesn't matter what new strategy you plan to implement within your business. Failing to plan is planning to fail.
That's why you should start with an actionable, goal-oriented plan for introducing cross-functional collaboration into your organization. Try working backward for this. Identify your desired outcomes, and then create a team charter detailing how to achieve those outcomes. Identify everyone participating in the cross-functional team, and list each team member's purpose, objectives, and responsibilities. As the team leader, you'll need to facilitate this process and help each member understand expectations.
Technology has made it easier than ever to communicate across departments. Meeting tools like Zoom and recording tools like Loom allow members to congregate synchronously and asynchronously to share thoughts and stay up to date on companywide issues.
Of course, technology is only a tool. It's up to you to leverage that technology and implement it into your workflow. Make clear which tools you expect your team to use, and begin using those tools when building your cross-functional team. That way, you're leading by example and setting the stage for what you expect from your members. You should also consider enshrining your preferred technology within the team charter.
Cross-functional collaboration involves many moving parts, so it’s critical to use the right collaboration tools. Where there are moving parts, there's room for human error and hangups. Automating certain jobs circumvents these issues while giving your team more time to focus on actionable input and results.
How can you automate cross-functional workflows? Start by identifying repetitive tasks. Some common ones include sending follow-up emails, copying and sharing information across platforms, and tracking and denoting time expenditures. You can use tools to make these recurring chores faster and easier, all while keeping cross-functional teams in greater sync.
A business is a microcosm of processes. Although each process plays a relatively small role in the greater whole, they come together to enact big change. Once you've identified what's working within this microcosm, it's important to standardize the process and keep that momentum going.
Standardizing processes can be as simple as implementing practices for managing and tracking tasks, e.g., using collaboration tools like Asana or Monday. Here at Loom, we like to use Notion. This platform makes it easy to keep track of different jobs and make real-time changes viewable across departments. Of course, we also use Loom to communicate and comment on each other's projects. We have an entire onboarding process where incoming team members become acquainted with and integrated into these systems, streamlining and standardizing processes from day one.
It's called cross-functional collaboration, not cross-functional competition. Teams may work within different departments, but they're all in it together. Set up a culture of transparency and lead by example. While there's always information you'll want to keep close to the chest, try to be as open as you can about how things are progressing — for better and worse. Show everyone the impact of their efforts and how it all ties into the greater whole.
To make the process easier, consider setting up a check-in system at the start of each meeting. Set aside a few minutes for each team lead to update the entire cross-functional team, giving insights into how things are moving within their departments. The more team members see others being transparent, the more transparent they will become.
Assess & Refine Over Time
As we've discussed, building a cross-functional team comes with a number of unique challenges. You have to juggle various personalities, implement new procedures, and introduce cutting-edge, often unfamiliar methods of communication. With that in mind, you should know that it's unavoidable — you're going to make mistakes. What sets winning cross-functional teams apart is how well they adapt to the challenges that arise.
As the team leader, it's your job to lead your colleagues through tumultuous territory. Be on the lookout for kinks in the system, and make changes accordingly. If something's not working, don't be afraid to pivot. Resilience is the key to cross-functional success, and the buck begins and ends with you. Don't be scared to make mistakes. But do correct course at the first opportunity.
Important Skills for Cross-Functional Team Leaders
If you're in the process of introducing cross-functional collaboration into your workplace, here are the foundational skills you and other team leaders will need to create a thriving environment.
Communication is the single most important skill a cross-functional team leader can possess. After all, a team leader is responsible for communicating not only with their own manager and team members, but those from other departments.
Good communication skillsrequire active listening, taking to heart and responding clearly to others' points of view. It also requires giving and receivingconstructive feedback that gets your message across while ensuring everyone feels seen and understood.
The Loom blog has many great articles on communicating in the modern work environment. However, our biggest recommendation is introducing anasynchronous communication tool like Loom into your toolkit. Loom captures the depth of your body language and intonation, getting your point across in a way that's personable and easy to understand.
How can you manage an entire team of people if you can't even stay organized in your workspace? Hint: you can't.
I recommend a two-fold approach to organization. For starters, keep things simple. You don't need to keep a ton of clutter on your workstation or within your digital workspace. Sometimes, less is more, and you should be deliberate about the things you choose to save. Additionally, use the right tools for the job. Always keep things in their proper place, employing a sharable physical and digital file system to store, access, and send information to other teams.
You should spend time daily performing a small amount of organizational housekeeping. You know the saying: for every minute spent organizing, an hour is earned.
Where there are people, there are conflicts. Instead of looking at this as a simple fact of life, try thinking of it as an opportunity to flex your conflict resolution skills. Everyconflict has a resolution, one that satisfies all parties and helps them leave the encounter feeling reassured. Although challenging, it's a skill that team leads can and should nurture.
Conflict resolution is a social skill, meaning curriculum can only take you so far. You'll need to learn by doing. The key is to really listen and hold a neutral stance when mediating.Genuine empathy is the only way to solve these types of problems, and that's something you'll have to nurture yourself or with a trusted professional. For more info, try attending a mediation workshop or taking a class at your local community college.
Team leaders should be flexible in their approach, both in implementing new practices and when dealing with the social challenges that inevitably arise. Managing a team is hard, and nobody gets everything right, every time. Don't be afraid to pivot when the situation warrants it.
Perhaps even more important, listen to your team members. Employ a tool like Loom to gather their feedback, and use that feedback to inform your decisions moving forward. Lead with integrity, genuine caring, and a willingness to try new things, and your foray into cross-functional collaboration will be a successful one.
Interested in learning how your organization can reap the benefits of asynchronous video messaging?