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Overcoming Cross-Departmental Barriers

Companies that encourage cross-departmental teamwork – that is, different departments within an organisation working collaboratively together – will know how much of a challenge it can really be.

It’s no surprise that in many cases the stresses of the economy has led to people working much harder and faster, meaning they have very little time to focus on their own individual goals. Employees therefore don’t consider making time to communicate with team members a priority.

Here is a list of some typical barriers you might find in your organisation:

  • Prioritisation issues
    Team members will still be doing their “day jobs” so they still have the same deadlines, workloads and responsibilities to deal with.
  • Reluctant participants
    Some people may not be happy to take on additional work and put in the extra effort of being in a cross-functional team.
  • Lack of authority
    It might be much more difficult to make decisions, motivate people, set priorities and manage performance if you do not have direct authority over members of the team.
  • Venturing out of your comfort zone
    Some team members may be required to use a different set of skills than what they are normally used to. For example, a programmer who normally works on their own may be required to work with others and have more group input. 

Nevertheless, companies are starting to realise the importance of breaking these barriers of communication between teams, and have identified that if departments worked collaboratively, they could achieve shared objectives like improving coordination and integration, reducing the production cycle in new product development, increasing revenue and improving customer service.  Puzzle Pieces (1)

‘It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed’ – Napoleon Hill

If these barriers resonate with you and your organisation, try and incorporate these few strategies to help increase your cross-departmental communication and teamwork:

    1. Build Awareness
      Recognise that your organisation needs to improve its cross-departmental teamwork and bring it to the attention of all of the teams.

    2. Take Action
      There’s no point in recognising that you have a problem and leaving it for a rainy day. Take action now and start asking team members how they would rate the communication and interaction between departments. Not only will you get your people thinking and, hopefully, talking about the lack of cross-departmental working, but it will also help you see the improvements once communication and teamwork starts. You will need a strong team leader, who possesses excellent communication skills and has a position of authority, in order to create a successful cross-functional team.

    3. Hold a Focus Group
      Hold a focus group that compromises of various individuals from different departments and levels. Team members must be open-minded and highly motivated and should come from the correct functional areas. You can then begin by identifying what the ideal cross-departmental communication and teamwork would look like. Discuss what the objectives are and why it is being set up.

      What are our objectives?

      (Define the purpose and mission of cross-departmental interaction)

      Who is involved?

      (Which departments will benefit from working more collaboratively – identify what resources you could call upon from that department)

      What are our current challenges?

      (Uncover what employees are saying is negatively impacting their ability to complete their current work effectively and efficiently, and what the advantages would be to work with a different team)

      What are our expectations?

      (Define all expectations, such as the decision making process, performance and even ‘ground rules’. Discuss team member working styles so that everyone understands why that team works in a certain way) 


    4. Sell people the problem, not the solution
      Make a list of all the problems that can occur when teams do not work well cross-departmentally. Are you losing profits and customers because you aren’t being efficient enough or aren’t providing exceptional service? Do you find it frustrating that processes are slowed down because of a lack of cross-departmental support? Are there budget constraints? Do team members have access to the correct hardware/software? Is there even a dedicated team space to do the work?

      Generate some discussion, get some feedback about these issues and try to get team members to be in agreement that these are problems. Your people need to understand the ramifications of these challenges and then accept ownership, instead of being constantly told how to fix the problem.

    5. Set some clear goals
      Specific goals should be set immediately in order to give the group a common bond and to ensure everyone is working towards this goal together. Goals are easier to establish if some background research has already been conducted such as the list of problems. The team can then jump straight into goal setting and problem solving.

    6. Get the bosses approval
      Key stakeholders need to be represented in the initial meetings. They are the people who stand to benefit or lose from the work of the team, and they are the decision makers who could make or break the team. You need management to understand the importance of your objectives so that they can provide adequate resources and support for the team.

    7. Action Plan
      Once all of the above has been covered, every manager or team representative needs to then develop an action plan of what their team will do differently to improve cross-departmental communication and teamwork. The final action should be a follow up meeting in a couple of months to assess the improvements and ascertain if there are any further opportunities.

    8. Set up a meeting
      Identify which department you need to improve communication with and set up a meeting a week later. In the meeting, review what went well and what difficulties the team has experienced or are still encountering, and create an action on how to improve this.

    9. Meet frequently
      Meeting frequently will enable team members from different departments to familiarise themselves with each other. This should help to build trust amongst the departments. All being well, this in turn will aid in closing the communication gap and people will start to recognise each others capabilities so they can utilise it in future projects.  

Here at Bray Leino, we try not to limit ourselves with formal cross-departmental meetings but often encourage informal gatherings such as Bring-and-Share lunches and other social events. Again, this is a good way for different departments to meet in a neutral environment and get to know each other’s day to day role. It also means that everyone is involved in the ‘communication loop’ instead of the select few who are chosen to represent the department at formal meetings. 

Contact us on 01271 337110 to discuss how we can help your teams work together effectively. 

Nitika Frost

Nitika Frost, Client Services Executive

In my series of blogs I’ll talk through my thoughts on some of the processes we use to learn in today’s world.

Copyright © 2015 Bray Leino Learning

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