The Playbook for Cross-Team Collaboration
Multiple people working together to accomplish something is hardly new. Cross-team collaboration and the tools that support it have existed as long as businesses were created and long before technology.
Project management was popular in Egyptian times. After all, how could the pyramids be built without some kind of plan, schedule, and work team? The Gantt Chart was birthed in the early 1900s by an engineer named Gantt, of course. That system was used to build the Hoover Dam. In the 1950s and 1960s, project management boomed. But the heyday of the industry began when technological innovation accelerated.
Fast Forward to the Present
Cross-team collaboration tools are suddenly springing up like weeds! (And, like weeds, many of them are killing creativity and productivity rather than facilitating it.)
Why is cross-team collaboration such a visible focal point right now?
The pandemic gave rise to more remote work teams. People involved in projects may live in different states, different countries, and different time zones. Making sure everyone is on the same page, 24/7/365 is critical to efficiency and high-quality planning and execution.
Projects are more complex than ever before. Because of technology, projects involve multiple specialties. For example, marketing tactics are no longer limited to print, radio, TV, advertising, and events. One marketing campaign may involve as many as 10 or more specialty areas and sub-tactics. For example:
- Radio (conventional and satellite)
- TV (conventional and streaming)
- Social media
- Public relations
- Direct marketing (conventional and digital)
- Events (of all flavors)
Businesses are more complex than ever before. We are living in an era where employees can range in age from 20s to 80s. Work teams are diverse. Companies have also realized that the best results can be achieved when different functional areas offer their perspectives on decision-making. The “top-down” management style of the 1980s has been replaced by a more inclusive and collaborative work culture. Working and playing well with others is no longer an option. It’s an imperative.
Speed to market is critical. Consumers and businesses demand instant solutions and upgrades. Especially in the technology arena, the company with the fastest and best solution often corners the market. When teams aren’t vibing and getting products and services to market speedily, companies can lose out to their competitors. A critical mistake in product development or marketing can damage a business’ reputation. So, the cost of gaffes and delays is higher than ever before.
So, How Do You Build Cross-Team Collaboration?
A leader can’t just sit at the head of a (virtual or real) table, and say, “Collaborate!” and expect it to happen overnight. Although technology can accelerate collaboration, true integration of purpose and goals starts with the human element.
Create a Collaborative Hiring Culture
That means that you commit to bringing in the talent (internally and externally) that is a solid cross-section of talents and demographics. And, you create internal processes that allow the people who work for your company to participate in finding, hiring, and onboarding them. People will be more cooperative if they have some skin in the game about the people on their team or in departments they need to work with every day.
Here are some great ways to transform your company into one that’s truly collaborative -- starting with the human element. As you make hiring decisions and choose external resources and independent contractors, screen for qualities that support collaboration. If someone is a gossip or blame-placer, they are not likely to vibe with a team. Look for people who are self-motivated but supportive of others and are open to constructive criticism and feedback from others.
Great leaders model and reward team work. They don’t tolerate infighting or stirring up the pot by pitting professionals or departments against each other or playing favorites. If you manage people, commit to becoming a more collaborative leader. That means that when you make decisions, large and small, include subject matter experts and different perspectives. Recent studies prove that diversity and inclusion in decision-making increase productivity. Plus, when people feel their expertise and opinions matter, they are more likely to stick around, reducing turnover and minimizing hiring and training expenses. So, collaboration doesn’t just create a more positive work environment, it has business benefits!
Create a Network That Works
What does that mean? Functional areas within a company are often dependent on each other to get the job done. If your marketing department is working at lightning speed, but your HR pro takes weeks to bring in that much-needed content writer or your Finance head sits on bills (leading to disgruntled contractors), your infrastructure is broken. As you build out that collaborative culture, pay close attention to interdependencies. Encourage conversations among professionals about the resources and support they need to get the job done.
Psychological safety in a workplace means that people are comfortable speaking up, directly and honestly, about obstacles to success. You might love going out with your co-worker for an after-hours beer or spiked seltzer, but their failure to deliver is causing you to put in extra hours every day. Creating a language that people can use to give each other direct feedback in the workplace ultimately leads to better collaboration and accountability.
Invest in the Right Technologies
Many of us have been in this position. The IT department suddenly announces that they’ve purchased a new automation tool. Or, HR and other senior managers have decided to set certain permissions on a network that limit access to data. Sometimes companies and people just get wedded to the systems and platforms that they’ve always used. The fear and aggravation of change often overrides common sense or business needs. As we said earlier, the number of collaboration options has increased dramatically over the past few years and decision-makers may not even be aware of new solutions for old problems.
This is the era of TRUE integration for Cross-Functional Project Tools
FACT: Many of the people who are developing cross-team collaboration tools have only worked in a limited profession -- project management and engineering. That has given rise to products that may solve just one challenge, but don’t necessarily take into consideration the needs and requirements of multiple groups. The best cross-team collaboration platforms have been developed via real-life involvement and feedback from the people who use them daily.
They must be:
- Easy to learn
- Inclusive (with flexible permissions)
- Self-managed (so that the team involved in the project can choose how to personalize them)
- Accessible to both internal team members and external resources -- from any device, anywhere, anytime
- Simple to update
- Easily allow for integrations with the tools you like and use
- Developed by a company that’s committed to evolving based on business needs
The average person may now need to have as many as 10 tabs open to perform their job.
Stop the madness!
A platform may be great for scheduling, but doesn’t make chatting easy. Another may be awesome for chatting and meeting, but sharing screens or documents involves finding what you need from multiple sources. Some are pretty and colorful to look at but don’t have all the functionality you need. Others are limited in how you can organize categories.
In short, many of the solutions out there solve for one challenge, but don’t really help the end user get work done quickly and efficiently.
The name of this solution is very deliberate. Cross-team collaboration software is like a big house (dare we say a mansion) with many rooms. With many platforms, you’re trapped in one room (or functionality) and when you want to get to the bathroom or go to sleep, you have to wander around opening doors. The “rooms” may not be labeled in a way that you understand. Or, the room is so big and cluttered that you can’t find a place to sit down. And, when you need to gather with your friends to make an important decision, the couch isn’t big enough to seat you all. Or, you can’t get into the room because you’ve been locked out.
So, now that we’ve given you the keys, let’s map out a real-life example of how SmartSuite can be used to get a big project done. In this case, we’re using our own website as the example! Because, after all, how would we know if this “house” is liveable if we haven’t been in it ourselves?
A “Big Project” Case Study
Here’s a real-life example of how the SmartSuite collaboration platform can be used to manage a huge and time-sensitive project. It’s not quite building the pyramids or the Hoover Dam, but we can assure you that morale was better!
First, we mapped out our plan for launching SmartSuite. That plan now lives in the platform, so that all stakeholders (including investors with the right permissions) can view it any time, anywhere.
Second, we ran our projections and set KPIs. They live in their own “room” of our expansive suite. Our management, board members, and investors can all see and ask questions about our financial goals and progress. The right collaboration platform can lead to transparency. If your company believes in open books management, this is a terrific way to show your employees that you’re walking the talk. And what’s especially powerful and cool is that you can organize your data, right from the platform, in the way that’s clearest to you. It’s great for presentations to management. You don’t even need to build a separate deck. Just walk people through the platform!
Third, the world is full of great ideas. But now we’ve reached the tactical planning phase. As you can imagine, launching a new software platform has multiple moving parts.
- A schedule
- A work team with a wide range of skills
- An incredibly complex marketing plan, involving both internal and external resources
- Personas that will drive the marketing strategy
- A library of digital assets -- logos, colors, sell sheets, and more
- Social media and other content
- Disclaimers and other stuff the lawyers want to see
- Pricing options
Here’s where “Cards” come in. As you build out your project plan, you can even collaborate on what categories you want to use for your initiative. Your collaborative work team can even collaborate on how they want to view all the available information.
Fourth, it’s all about the people behind the process. Now here’s where the right software can really lead to collaboration. As you create your plan and schedule and view it on our platform, you’ll get a better sense of who is currently on your work team and where you may need to fill gaps.
A new product launch or a major marketing initiative may involve a wide range of talents and skills:
- Business strategy
- Human resources
- Finance and accounting
- Competitive intelligence tracking
- Engineering and UX
- Marketing strategy and planning
- Market research and persona development
- Brand development and creative
- Sales leadership
- BDRs, SDRs, and account executives
- Sales training
- Website development and design
- Digital media planning
- Content strategy expertise
- Content writing
- Graphic design
- Social media posting
- Search engine optimization and search engine marketing
- Public relations and media relations
- Event strategy
- Event execution
- Customer success
And, within each of those functions, you might have multiple people touching the project, both internally and externally. Having the right cross-team collaboration system ensures that you’re all in the same “rooms” at the right moments to move a project forward.
The benefits are significant:
- Time savings
- Cost savings
- Morale-boosting and team bonding
- Speed to market
- Management credibility (through access to information)
Not Just for Enterprise-Level Companies!
We are deeply invested in start-ups and small businesses too. Many project management tools are built only for giant initiatives. Although our platform can support up to 10,000 users, we never forget about the 32.5 million small business owners in the U.S. In fact, small businesses have even less time to spend sweating over multiple project management tools. They need a system that’s affordable, easy-to-learn, and scalable as their business needs change.
If you’re a small local business ramping up your holiday campaign or a start-up manufacturer with lots of moving parts (literally), you’ll find that SmartSuite can work for you too. We’d like to welcome you to a SmartSuite where you’ll not only feel welcome, but never again wander aimlessly through a maze of project management tools. The only system today that’s been specifically designed for the way multi-talented and collaborative teams work today -- on site AND remote. You’ll even find that our website is in simple, plain language and is easy to navigate and understand. Whether you’re a marketer, an HR lead, or a CFO, you don’t need a degree in project management to learn our platform.
We want you to close all those tabs and come to a place that’s easy, collaborative, and helps ensure every project is the best possible team effort.