From education to employment

How to facilitate effective cross-functional collaboration through people development 

The advancement of generative AI has encouraged organisations to become more cross-functional than ever before. The technology is opening doors to innovation, offering opportunities for various departments to collaborate on new projects. This shift can be hugely beneficial for an organisation’s growth, but should be managed carefully. 

In order for this naturally evolving collaborative mindset to succeed long term, organisations must prepare their people accordingly. Learning and development tools such as group coaching should be deployed well in advance, so that organisations can enjoy a smooth transition to fluid interdepartmental collaboration. 

Expanding your organisational mindset

In a rapidly changing business environment, introducing a cross-functional approach can be attractive for organisations seeking to become more agile. Indeed, more than three quarters (83%) of digitally maturing companies reported that they use cross-functional teams. Such organisations are known for their adaptability, regularly re-aligning their strategy in response to technological advancements. For example, an organisation could look to leverage generative AI through the development of a customer service chatbot. Such a tool would require software developers to create the product, the marketing team to encourage customers to use the product, and the internal communications team to educate staff on its usage. Being prepared for change in this way prevents stagnation, and allows organisations to take advantage of growth opportunities. 

The key word here is preparation. The benefits of cross-functional working are well established and broadly accepted, but the approach cannot be implemented from one day to the next. For example, marketing and software development are very different disciplines, requiring distinct skill sets and expertise. For collaboration between these teams to be successful, the organisation needs to go beyond establishing joint projects, and implement a cross-functional mindset. 

Overcoming cross-functional challenges

Any shift in organisational behaviour must have clear motivations from the outset, based upon the objectives and values of the organisation. This is especially true for cross-functional working, which requires effective communication between team members for success. Miscommunication becomes a breeding ground for conflict, which can not only delay a project, but have an impact on employee wellbeing. 

When employees with different skill sets are sharing a project for the first time, they can have difficulties understanding their peers’ ways of working. This can include misunderstanding specific jargon, underappreciating the complexity of tasks, and miscalculating the schedule of a project. Moreover, the limited scope of projects that employees exclusively collaborate on can lead to misaligned goals. Each individual has their own set of personal and departmental objectives, and a shared project may be perceived as a distraction. 

Leaders should appreciate that experiencing such roadblocks isn’t a failing of the team or the collaborative approach, but can be caused by a lack of preparation for the change that employees are experiencing. Investing in learning and development programmes that equip employees with a uniquely cross-functional skill set can empower them to thrive in such an environment. 

Introducing cross-functional people development

Taking a proactive approach is key to ensuring that employees move through organisational change with ease. Findings from Gartner suggest that when managers create a psychologically safe environment, it can have up to a 46% reduction in change fatigue. According to McKinsey & Company, a psychologically safe environment is one in which people feel safe to take risks, share creative ideas, and receive feedback from others. This is foundational for cross-functional working, which requires trust and open communication to be successful.

Establishing a psychologically safe environment to facilitate cross-functional working is a two-pronged approach, consisting of individual and group people development programmes. Often, HR leaders begin by investing in individual learning and development, with tools such as coaching, mentoring, and training programmes that allow individuals to learn about the fundamentals of cross-functionality. This baseline understanding is important, and provides individuals with the skills they need for effective collaboration. But, for employees to truly experiment with cross-functionality, group learning and development is essential.

Collective approaches to learning and development, such as group coaching, can foster cohesive and effective team collaboration. Organisations can offer dedicated time for a small group of peers to share challenges, exchange insights, and co-create solutions. Using that combined intelligence can unlock innovative thinking, build broader networks and encourage an environment of continuous education. Equally, providing this space allows employees to experiment with a collaborative approach, which they can bring into cross-functional projects in future. 

Effective cross-functional collaboration is only possible with a strong and multi-faceted approach to people development. This enables employees to adequately prepare for teaming up with new colleagues, fostering an appreciation for diverse skill sets and promoting effective communication. With this approach in mind, organisations can unlock the benefits of cross-functional collaboration, and move forward with a cohesive approach. 

By Mat Piaggi, Behavioural Scientist, CoachHub

Mat Piaggi is a Behavioural Scientist at CoachHub who has a passion for unlocking human potential. His purpose is to help individuals and organisations achieve their learning and development goals by leveraging the power of coaching. Mat has a Master’s degree in Psychology from the University of Glasgow, where he developed his expertise in understanding human behaviour and behavioural change.

FE News on the go…

Welcome to FE News on the go, the podcast that delivers exclusive articles from the world of further education straight to your ears.

We are experimenting with Artificial Intelligence to make our exclusive articles even more accessible while also automating the process for our team of project managers.

In each episode, our thought leaders and sector influencers will delve into the most pressing issues facing the FE sector, offering their insights and analysis on the latest news, trends, and developments.

Related Articles