The world of work has been turned on its head in recent years and continues to change every day. The traditional org structure, which sees hierarchies of managers and reports, is no longer an accurate reflection of how employees connect within and across teams or how relationships are built and maintained. People today want to acquire a diverse range of skills—climbing the career ladder is not the obvious path for everyone. 

Cross-functional collaboration allows employees from different departments and with varying skills to work together, giving employees the chance to contribute, learn something new, and gain a deeper understanding of the big picture. 

Here are three ways HR teams can facilitate cross-functional collaboration and create a culture where everyone feels like part of the team.

1. Host open meetings and encourage communication

Sometimes encouraging cross-functional collaboration can be as simple as introducing two co-workers and watching the sparks fly. HR has the power to connect employees, whether it’s through meetups, dedicated communication channels, or community-building programs like ERGs. By bringing together people from different departments, HR can provide an opportunity for collaboration. 

Similarly, by ensuring that information and knowledge spread throughout the company, HR can facilitate the flow of ideas and give people a 360° view of the company’s activity. When employees know what other departments are working on and how they work, finding a way to contribute or learn something new is more accessible. Newsletters, monthly idea exchanges, and open forum meetings are just a few ways that HR can encourage openness and get people talking. 

2. Let employees shadow other departments or roles

There’s a good chance that every employee in your company has a team or role they can point to and say, “I have no idea what they do, but I’d love to learn more.” Job shadowing provides employees with the opportunity to learn about your company’s various roles and find ways to contribute. HR can implement a monthly shadowing program, where employees can sign up to shadow a specific role and dedicate one day per month to learning the ropes. This kind of employee experience can also lead to mutual understanding and respect between colleagues and provides employees with opportunities for growth.

3. Provide collaboration tools to grasp the whole picture

When organization functions in silos, things tend to feel disjointed. Collaboration tools like project management boards, knowledge sharing centers, and communication channels can break down information silos, providing employees with a look at what people are working on, and an opportunity to align and share ideas. Providing transparency into different projects can help teams do their job better and know who to turn to for help. 

Taking collaboration to the next level: Cross-functional teams

Cross-functional teams consist of people from different departments who work on projects on an ongoing basis. A cross-functional team can be spread out across multiple roles or even sites. For example, a data analyst and product marketer might be embedded within a satellite sales team to help them respond agilely to customers. A designer and a copywriter from the marketing department can be seconded to HR to work on employer branding projects. A cross-functional working group may come together from across the organization’s departments and seniority levels for a specific project and then disband upon completion. Rather than sticking to rigid role descriptions and departmental hierarchies, organizations that promote cross-functionality are better able to keep up in a dynamic and sometimes volatile business arena. They can direct headcount to where it’s most needed and maintain a workforce that values collaboration, cooperation, and learning.

The positive effects of cross-functional collaboration

When you bring together people with different skills, ideas and perspectives, amazing things can happen. Cross-functional collaboration can lead to increased innovation, better problem-solving, and create a more motivated, loyal workforce. By facilitating the flow of knowledge, providing employees with opportunities to connect, and maintaining transparency at every level of the company, HR can create a company culture where everyone feels empowered to participate.


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From Annie Lubin

Annie grew up in Brooklyn, New York. On a Saturday afternoon, you'll likely find her curled up with her cats reading a magazine profile about ordinary people doing extraordinary things.