Common challenges of ‘cross-functional collaboration'

By Robert Half on 16th June 2017

In today’s complex business environments, “cross-departmental collaboration” is more than a buzzword. Finance and technology professionals today are increasingly working with other departments within their organisations as businesses move to incorporate digitalisation and cost-reductions as part of their growth strategy.

Not only can collaboration push business strategies to new heights, but knocking down the barriers between people and departments can help companies overcome obstacles and encourage employees to build workplace relationships and reach their full potential.

So what happens when finance and accounting teams venture down the halls and travel to different floors to share insights about the company's revenue projections? Or what happens when the technology team is called on to support moving customer services to digital channels? 

They find out just how challenging it can be to work with the diversity of personalities and skill sets in their companies. Here are some commons reasons why it can be so difficult to navigate the cross-departmental hurdle — and some recommended solutions.

1. The Range of Personalities

Diverse personalities abound in every company. Whether it’s working with the Information Technology (IT) team on a new systems implementation or discussing how to handle special transactions with department managers, you can find all types of people — from extroverts to introverts, leaders to followers. 

Solution: An awareness of different personality types — and a respect for each — is a critical component of collaboration. In fact, team diversity is often recognised as an important ingredient in invigorating workplace environments. Training in team building can help groups learn to interact with each other and find the positive strengths in all personalities.

Related: Managing different characters in the office

2. Stressful Situations

Workplace stress can be found throughout the company, but other departments likely won’t relate to the pressure of risk management and compliance regulations, for example, that accounting professionals face.

Solution: Take the initiative to provide positive feedback, strive to be a positive role model and be empathetic to the unique stressors facing your colleagues. Help cultivate an environment where employees feel respected and rewarded for their hard work, more connected to the company and committed to its success. A team lunch and recognition for good work wouldn’t hurt, either.    

3. Conflicting Deadlines 

Some parts of the company aren’t likely to share the long hours required of finance professionals during tax season or understand the late nights that come with systems testing for technology professionals. 

Solution: Information can go a long way to enlightening the rest of the company to your deadlines. As needed, consider using internal communications or the company Intranet to get out the word about the needs of the your team during busy periods. Also make sure to keep your project teams updated on looming deadlines.

4. Different Vocabularies

The finance and technology departments are well known for their love of jargon and acronyms -- IFRS, DevOps, GAAP, Scrum, .NET. While within your department, it's often acceptable to use these acronyms, the way you communicate across departments will have a very different understanding. 

Solution: Effective collaboration requires communication, which means you’ll need to convey your information in terms that co-workers outside your department will understand. Honing your soft skills can help you with that, along with the following:

• Avoid the use of jargon, and don’t assume people will understand even the most basic of acronyms.

• Define terms in the language a non-technical person will understand.

• Use visuals, such as pie charts and graphics, rather than spreadsheets.

All professionals have a wealth of information and expertise to bring to cross-functional teams, so recognising the ideas and talents that can be generated when everyone gets together, that's cross-functional collaboration at it's finest.

Do you have any challenges or success stories with regard to cross-departmental collaboration? Please share your comments in the space below.

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