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The Best Leaders Follow These 13 Rules of Cross-Functional Collaboration Learn how to master the art of finding common ground among different teams and significantly impact the success of your startup.

By Lisa Dziuba Edited by Kara McIntyre

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Mastering cross-functional collaboration will significantly impact the success of your business. Sometimes the smartest people on the planet can not figure out how to work together. It's challenging and, at the same time, it's rewarding to nurture the culture of cross-functional collaboration when different teams can find a common ground working on common objectives.

Here are 13 practical tips to boost cross-functional practice within your company.

Related: 3 Measurable Ways Collaboration Grows Businesses

1. Build relationships first

We work with people, and people are driven by emotions. So the first step in achieving a smooth collaboration is gaining trust, both on personal and professional levels. It comes to:

  • Understanding one another's needs and goals
  • Transparent communication
  • Keeping your commitments

Being a kind and reliable coworker makes it much easier to collaborate. And in terms of successful teamwork, developing healthy relationships with other departments is vital.

2. Be an empathetic leader rather than a micromanager

Being a leader requires orchestrating other people's work. If you're in that role, don't fall into the trap of giving others tasks and checking every single step of the way. It puts pressure on people and shifts collaboration towards demotivating micromanagement. It's much better to be someone who listens, cares and understands how to help teammates achieve goals more effectively.

3. Give first by helping other teams

We are all very busy — most employees aren't just sitting and chilling all day, especially in modern companies. However, going the extra mile and taking the burden off teammates can pay off.

Today, the sales team may be overwhelmed with closing their quotas. Tomorrow, you might be under the water with company-wide product launches. So giving a hand to the head of sales by preparing sales decks, for example, can be a huge driver for the sales team to help with a product launch. Always empathize more with the work challenges other teams have.

Related: 5 Core Lessons for Expanding Your Growing Company

4. Praise your team members and celebrate their wins

When the project is delivered and common goals are achieved, it's a good idea to recognize other teams' inputs. Put them into the spotlight. The feeling of importance and appreciation will motivate team members to achieve even more. You will have a win-win situation when your own goals are delivered and people feel excited to keep collaborating.

A great example could be the successful closing of a huge deal when the marketing praises the sales team for making it happen. Even if there were many marketing efforts before the lead converted, praise your colleagues from another team who put their efforts, too.

5. Establish company-wide goals

When every team has its own goals and deliverables, it gets harder to make people work together and help each other. Ideally, all projects should be aligned toward company-wide OKRs. In this way, every team will work for achieving one objective and have the motivation to collaborate.

6. Set cross-functional collaboration playbooks with clear roles and ownership

Have documented frameworks on what collaboration between different teams will look like. Let's say you have a task to create a product educational video. Which team should do this: visual design, product design or maybe the marketing team? What does the collaboration process will looks like, who is doing what and when? Creating common processes and rules will set up a clear understanding of how teams work together.

7. Have a single task management system

Common collaboration playbooks will be supercharged by a single all-in-one project management tool. Working together takes less stress when all tasks are defined and visible to everyone.

Think of the marketing team working on creating deliverables for the new feature launch. Deliverables could include:

  • Desired emails structure based on the product marketers insights
  • Email draft written by the content team
  • Email design prepared by the visual design team
  • Mark-up development prepared by the marketer or web team
  • Final email review by the product marketer

Having all these tasks in different places will be a blocker to smooth collaboration.

Related: This Is How Collaboration Strengthens Your Leadership

8. Promote transparency and public discussions

People tend to self-organize into groups. There is nothing wrong with that, except when it excludes other teammates from access to work-related information.

Let's say there is a private chat of product managers, where they discuss changes to the new product which is going to be released soon. At the same time, the product marketing team is working on messaging. They need to explain the value of the features, without even knowing about coming changes. This could be easily fixed if two teams would have a public open discussion in one channel in one company messenger.

9. Get input from all relevant stakeholders early on

Fast-growing startups have a lot of moving parts. Every team might have its own agenda and directions. So when your project requires the participation of other teams, it's crucial to have everyone on the same page as early as possible.

Let's take go-to-market (GTM) executions that involve product, marketing, design, web, sales and support teams. It's a good practice to have a kick-off meeting as soon as possible, involving everyone on the various teams. On top of that, you can embrace alignment sessions, follow-up chats and dedicated time for teams to share any inputs they find relevant.

10. Have informative sync meetings

Use working sessions and sync calls wisely. Every call should have a goal and objective, actionable outcomes and respect for people's working time zones. A one-hour sync meeting for 10 people costs the company 10 hours of employees' time. Cross-functional collaboration is not about stressing everyones' agenda with unnecessary meetings.

Related: The Importance of Teamwork and Collaboration

11. Reduce dependencies

Dependencies are those moments when someone is blocked unless another person will complete the work. A classic example is website content and design. What should come first? Can the designer make user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) without the content, or maybe the product marketer can write the copy without seeing the final design?

Reducing dependencies as much as possible will speed up cooperation and take away finger-pointing between teams.

12. Adapt to the cultural norms

Learn the culture you're working in. It's super important for global remote teams. Understanding what cross-functional collaboration means in different cultures is critical to success. Some cultures may not welcome negative feedback, even when it's constructive, while others are used to it. Make sure you're communicating clearly and taking culture into account.

13. Learn how to push back more ecologically

Don't compromise with under-performing team members or those who do not deliver the work up to your quality bar. If you're the project leader, it's your job to deliver projects on time and with the best quality. Keeping everyone accountable should be done based on clear expectations and constant feedback. If someone from the team fails to communicate and causes a roadblock or a complete derailment of the project or task, try to follow such steps:

  • Define the root reasons for failed communication
  • Talk to a team member with open feedback and listen to his/her part of the story
  • Come up with an action plan to avoid such issues
  • If the poor performance repeats, escalate to the person's direct manager

Successful collaboration comes from truly understanding other teams' motivations, goals, processes and communication styles. It requires time to master, but the payoff will be tremendous.

Lisa Dziuba

Marketing Executive Consultant

Lisa Dziuba is a marketing leader and head of marketing at WeLoveNoCode. She is a former head of marketing and community at Abstract SDK. Prior to that, she co-founded Flawless, a development startup, which was later acquired by Abstract. She also made Forbes' 30 Under 30 list.

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