Thanks to sharing different perspectives on a business issue, cross-functional teams can become more effective at finding solutions to business problems. However, being cross-functional doesn’t guarantee success.
Often, effective communication is a factor that makes or breaks it. So what are you doing wrong and how can you get it right when it comes to communication?
In this article, you will read about the most common bad communication habits that can doom your projects to failure and learn about possible solutions.
The benefits of better communication for cross-functional team projects
Getting your cross-functional team to work smoothly takes time and effort, especially when you deal with cross-team communication. However, investing your resources in growing your team’s capabilities pays off. Here are just a few benefits that you can expect once your cross-functional team improves the communication aspect of collaboration.
More engaged employees
Team members who don’t experience any friction in communication enjoy working together more. They also strive to reach their goals together and become more dedicated to doing their job.
Compare it to the situation where employees don’t communicate freely – the feeling of pressure can appear. This feeling can result in lost motivation and decreased results. Once your team eradicates bad communication habits, you can notice that everyone is working as one team without a division into units or silos.
By improving communication practices, there’s more chance for innovative ideas to appear. Often, they come up when everyone in a team is engaged in a conversation and follows its development. With better communication, everyone feels an important part of a conversation and is more willing to contribute to it.
Working on fixing communication issues is also about learning how to listen to constructive feedback, accepting it and taking steps to improve. It takes effort to understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses and get used to each other’s approach to work. However, more open communication can help with it.
Seamless communication fosters trust as well. By getting your team to communicate their plans, tasks and bottlenecks with the group, you can establish a higher level of transparency that results in more trust among team members.
Bad communication habits in cross-functional team projects
While good communication can bring plenty of benefits to your company’s culture, friction in communication can result in projects being delayed, misunderstanding among team members, frequent conflicts and stagnating growth.
To deal with the communication problem, you have to first understand where your team underperforms in terms of the communication aspect of collaboration. Below are some of the most frequent communication mistakes in cross-functional teams and possible solutions to resolving them.
1. Organizing group meetings too often
By organizing one-hour meetings with five people, five-days a week, you take twenty-five hours of your team’s time in total every week. Your team could use this time to get things done instead of just listening to the updates of other team members.
Often, companies are holding too many weekly meetings that stretch beyond the reserved time in their calendar. If there’s no one to moderate them, your team can end up digging into topics that matter only for a handful of people and irrelevant for the majority of the people at the meeting.
How do you overcome it? Organize more ad hoc one-on-one meetings to resolve the issues between the parties involved. Don’t engage others just for the sake of having them at the meeting listening. For team meetings, prepare a clear agenda and try to keep it as short as possible, avoiding any sort of regression to the topics unrelated to your meeting agenda. Don't let one person dominate the meeting – everyone should have an equal amount of time to talk about their points.
2. Forgetting to share important updates
When your company is made of small teams working on their own goals, each team would focus on achieving their KPIs. As their communication with other teams is limited, you can end up in a situation where no one knows where the company is heading (except for their project).
How do you overcome it? Post regular updates about the achievements of every team, pending projects and how you achieve goals together. It’s worth mentioning where you are with your KPIs as a company and sharing important HR updates. Also, remember to celebrate success together. Check out this example of a Slack post below that gets the points mentioned above right.
3. Operating in silos
When working in different teams, there’s a high risk your employees will operate in silos. Working in silos means that every team works independently from each other; each team works like in a bubble – they don’t know what other teams are doing, what their challenges and objectives are and what role they have in an organization. Also, people from different teams don’t usually talk to each other and share information about their work.
There are many downsides to silos. For example, when teams don’t communicate with the rest of the company, new initiatives are never taken up. For example, a customer support team doesn’t share frequent customer requests for a new feature with a product team. It can also happen that teams are working on a project or task that another team has already finished.
How do you overcome it? Set up monthly meetings with your teams. Discuss progress you make working on your projects and think of the ways to work more effectively together by engaging in shared projects. Ensemble special teams that are made of the best minds from all cross-functional units. Get them to work together on more demanding projects. Let team leaders see how other cross-functional teams work, learn the best from them, and share this knowledge with their team members.
4. Using different tools to communicate
When people are not in sync with what their work agendas are, they start to stick to communication standards they find convenient for themselves. Some people want to communicate only via email. Other departments are slow to respond to them as they often prefer to write a chat message if they need an urgent response. Some teams choose to communicate via Zoom, while others prefer quick Slack calls.
How to overcome it? Establish uniform communication procedures across the whole organization. Get your teams to use the same tools to communicate inside teams and with other departments or units. Document this and make sure your team has acknowledged the changes. Also, add the document to your internal knowledge base and get team leaders to share it with new employees during onboarding.
Check out this simple template of Standard Operating Procedure, which you can create in Google Docs or Word.
5. Paying no attention to team-building
When more cross-functional teams have started working remotely or in a hybrid model, creating team-building initiatives has become more difficult. Not getting people to learn about each other on a personal level can result in more friction in communication and less trust. Developing more team-building activities (especially everyone is working remotely) will pay off in a better alignment on goals, not only within a team but also across departments. With team-building, you get people to learn about their strengths and weaknesses, and connect with each other personally.
How do you overcome it? Organize company retreats (especially if everyone is working from different locations) and local get-togethers more often. Introduce some elements of team-building exercises apart from arranging drinks or pizza evenings.
6. Focusing only on personal goals
When working in a team, everyone has their personal KPIs and goals. They are aiming to reach them to successfully finish the project, get promoted, learn new skills in project management or earn some recognition. However, to get your organization moving as one in the right direction, your employees should find it important to achieve company-wide objectives as well.
How do you overcome it? Define your company objectives as an integral element of success for every team. Motivate your teams to focus on a more global picture – the impact of their project on the company’s growth. Bridge personal KPIs with company-wide objectives where achieving the former is not possible without the latter.
Best practices for effective cross-functional team communication
- Having regular one-on-one meetings
Arrange regular one-on-one meetings with your team to talk about your employee’s development goals, motivation, and learn about the feedback on the company’s strategy.
Use these questions for one-on-one meetings to prepare your agenda.
- Use effective communication tools across all departments
Use the same communication tool stack across the departments. Improve interpersonal communication between your employees by running regular workshops and sharing the best communication practices. Explain how they can use communication tools for the best result.
- Keep people aligned on the company goals
Consider the right framework, for example, the Objectives and Key Results (OKR) Framework, to measure the progress every employee makes in terms of achieving not only personal objectives but also company-wide ones.
- Make project outcome clear to everyone
Train managers to define project goals better. Every team member should also acquire skills in writing better project and task descriptions when different departments or units work on them (for example, a product team working with a graphic design team).
- Share news across all departments
Establish a common channel of communication where you could share company-wide updates as well as the information on the changes happening in all departments. Engage employees to take an active role in sharing their opinions.
Schedule regular meetings where representatives from different teams can get together and exchange their updates, talk about their bottlenecks and find a way to resolve them together.
Investing in developing strong communication skills company-wide can bring a lot of benefits, including boosting innovation or getting your teams to work as one.
In this article, you have learned about the most widespread communication problems that cross-functional teams face. Do you think there might be a few in your organization as well? If so, now is the time to consider the steps you need to take to improve on this aspect of your business.