Build Strong, Cross-Departmental Teamwork

Strategies for Uniting Cross-Departmental Teams

The stress of the economy has had a negative impact on organizations and has hampered the ability of employees to work cross-departmentally or divisionally as one team. In many cases, employees are working harder, faster and having just enough time to focus on their own survival. They don’t have the time to make communication with other team members a priority.

Recently, we have worked with several clients that are struggling with cross-departmental teamwork. We like to describe this phenomenon as misidentifying the enemy. The cross-departmental teams get into turf wars and start battling each other instead of working together to achieve shared objectives liked increased revenue, or improved customer service.

Our extensive research demonstrates that almost all employees and their leaders can figure out how to work well as a team within their own department. The “gold standard” in our research is the Best-of-the Best organizations, those that consistently score in the top quartile of all the organizations we have surveyed with Employee Engagement Surveys. What separates the Best-of-the-Best organizations from the rest is their ability to understand how to work cross-departmentally as one team. The Best-of-the-Best are between 13 and 16 percentage points higher in the areas of cross-departmental communication and collaboration than their counterparts.

Based on our findings, we offer you 8 tips to help your organization build strong cross-departmental teamwork.

  1. Recognize that your organization has a challenge in building cross departmental teamwork. Becoming aware, and having others gain awareness is a key to bringing attention to this lack of teamwork.

  2. Make a commitment to take action. It starts with you! Take the team’s temperature. Ask team members, on a scale of one to ten, with one low and ten high, how they would rate the teamwork between departments? Getting a baseline is an important step and will keep your motivation going when teamwork starts to improve.

  3. Sell people on the problem, not on the solution. Everyone knows that teamwork is important. But asking people a question like, “When we don’t work well cross-departmentally, what impact does the lack of teamwork have on our customers?” is an example of having people understand the ramifications of the problem and accept ownership versus telling them what we need to do to fix the problem.

  4. Gain consensus in your own department as to which two or three departments you need to work stronger with as a team. Pick the team to work with that will have the most benefit if cross-departmental teamwork is improved.

  5. Make a list of all the problems that can occur when teams do not work well cross-departmentally. Are there profits or customers that are lost by not being efficient or providing exceptional service? Gain agreement that these are problems.

  6. Make a list of the top two or three actions or opportunities that would improve cross-departmental teamwork. Focus on the ones that will give the biggest bang in improved teamwork. Too many actions can be overwhelming.

  7. Set up another meeting with the cross-departmental team one week later to review what went well or right, what problems the team encountered, and what actions will be taken the following week to improve teamwork.

  8. Meet frequently. Repeat weekly meetings until everyone, including customers, agree that cross-departmental communication and teamwork has improved.

Improving cross-departmental teamwork creates change that deeply impacts the culture of your organization. People will feel uncomfortable being forced to work with team members they have been able to avoid in the past. We can guarantee that team members are going to say, “We are too busy to meet this week.” Don’t fall for this trick. Remember, dysfunctional teams will do anything humanly possible not to meet. If you want to lead your organization to the ranks of the Best of the Best, cross-departmental teams in your organization need to be united. It’s up to you to set the example and make sure each member on your team understands that teamwork is not an option, but a necessity.

Have you encountered difficulty uniting departments in your organization? If so, leave a comment below discussing strategies that have worked at your organization. (Also, strategies that haven’t worked and what you have learned).

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