Collaboration is an essential process in every company, whether that be tackling projects with coworkers in your department or with people in other areas of the organization. Working effectively on a team has a number of challenges, and this can be even more complex if you are working with people that you don't normally interact with.
Even though it can be difficult to execute interdepartmental projects as a unified team, these situations can actually be the most rewarding. This sort of teamwork often leads to greater individual and group commitment from your peers, stronger communication between diverse teams, and long-term positive change that you'll see reflected throughout your company. Here are five tips to bridge silos and find success in tackling interdepartmental projects.
Strength in Diversity
It might be counter-intuitive, but a team made up of very different people is often more creative and successful. Thankfully, this usually takes place naturally when different departments come together to execute a project. Some factors that play roles in a diverse team include:
- Experience and seniority
- Skills and ability
- Age and gender
- Strengths, weaknesses, and personality traits
At Birkman, we take advantage of everyone's unique personality and are aware of how our personality differences impact a given team or project. Because we know these personality traits, we can quickly identify which team members are most suited to different project tasks. For example, we have some team members who are deep thinkers and can help develop and iron out the conceptual parts of a project, as well as others who are more action-oriented to make sure that the team gets the ball rolling to execute tasks.
Build Trust Among Members
Team members work best together if they trust one another. One way to develop trust is to strengthen work relationships with regular in-person meetings. You can jump-start meetings with ice-breaker questions to help people become more comfortable with each other. You can also use team building exercises to bring team members closer to one another. Sharing mini team bios, holding social events, and playing games that encourage bonding are a few examples.
Another way to build trust is to enable members to deepen their self-awareness and get to know each other with personality assessments. Such assessments are useful to help people understand their own personalities while appreciating the different personalities of those around them. This is especially useful in a team working towards a common goal.
A personality assessment pairs with discussion cards to kick off a team-building exercise.
Personality assessments can be especially useful in teamwork because it can help speed up the learning curve of working with strangers. Instead of spending several weeks getting to know the preferences and strengths of teammates, you can take a personality assessment to build these relationships and foster an environment that is conducive to growth right from the get-go.
As you get to know your peers, remember that trust is a fundamental ingredient for success. Keep in mind significant factors in establishing trust, like commitment and collaboration. Here is a short article that I found useful in understanding the importance of trust within a team.
Establish a Team Charter
A team charter outlines details about the team from its purpose to the roles of various members. it is an invaluable point of reference, and can be the first collaborative task for your team. Getting everyone involved in creating this document sets the stage for teamwork. Effective charters contain seven elements:
- Team purpose: Explain why the team exists or the problem it aims to solve.
- Mission and objectives: Outline the overall goal and include a prioritized list of smaller, measurable goals.
- Team roles and processes: Write down each member’s role on the team, the processes that they are responsible for, and contact information for each member.
- Expectations: Outline team priorities and conflict resolution strategies.
- Budget and resources: List available resources and items covered within the budget.
- Schedule: Create a schedule for meetings, status reports, and goal completion dates.
- Agreement: All members should sign the completed charter to officially document their agreement.
From working on team projects that involve numerous departments, I find it useful to identify all involved team members from the get-go. Sometimes it can be difficult to forecast who is involved in the project from the beginning, but do your best to identify anyone whose expertise may impact the project from the start. This can prevent hiccups or frustration in the project down the road. When everyone involved has a clear picture of the road map, they are less likely to be confused about the direction of the project and more likely to complete their tasks on time. If new members need to be added while a project is underway, make sure to get them up to speed quickly and include them on all forms of communication from emails to meetings.
Team members need a way to stay updated on what others are doing, how projects are progressing, and any upcoming tasks or responsibilities. Weekly in-person meetings are one way to share information and updates. Make sure that team leaders or department heads are present at each meeting. If everyone can't make it to the meeting, ensure that at least one person from each department is present. This way, they can catch their team members up to speed later.
Another way to centralize communication is to capitalize on the benefits of a chat platform. As a marketing specialist, I often have to work on projects that involve several departments; Products, IT, and Marketing. While this poses exciting collaboration opportunities, it also means that effective communication is all the more important. During a recent project, I learned that having clear communication can be complicated and that one solution to streamline this process is with a group chat. Some benefits included:
- Increased productivity: Instantaneous messaging right from your desk has several advantages. You don't have to shut down programs or log out of your computer, cross the hallway, or make your way across the building. You can also attach files that are relevant to the discussion.
- Instant updates: If there are any urgent notifications about the project that need to be sent out, group chats are the way to go. Whenever IT had a request for the company, having an instant chat helped speed up the process and made it easier for them to communicate to people across several different departments faster than by email.
- Specified audience: While it can be helpful to send out messages to the whole group, not every message applies to everyone on the team. With this in mind, you can create smaller group chats that discuss specific portions of the project. This way, you can streamline mass communication, but only to people that need to be kept in the loop.
Several different group chat platforms include Slack, HipChat, Google Hangouts, and Ryver. Our team uses HipChat which has the capability to create individual chats and chat rooms, search chat history, and tag individual members.
Recognize and Reward
Many projects start off with a bang, but it can be hard to keep a team motivated throughout the entire project. To keep morale high, acknowledge team members for the meaningful work they contribute to the project. You don’t have to wait to complete the final project to give praise. Instead, you can set up a rewards program that celebrates achievements along the way. You might reward:
- Completing project milestones
- Breakthroughs with collaboration
- Specific achievements
- Successfully overcoming unforeseen challenges
Recognition, privately or at a group meeting, is another way to encourage team members. Words of affirmation can mean a lot when it comes from team leaders, but it can mean even more when it comes from peers. Peer recognition can take different forms, from written notes to material prizes provided by the company. For example, establishing a peer recognition reward program can help strengthen the trust and mutual respect in the team.
Our company has a "Can Do" program, where different employees nominate their peers for significant contributions to the company during the previous few months. At each quarterly meeting, these nominees are announced coupled with a description of their work and what impact it has had on the company. The names of every nominee are placed into a bucket, and a peer draws a name at the end of the meeting. The prizes can vary from gift cards to company memorabilia.
Using these tips to help with interdepartmental team collaboration can be well worth the effort. While overall business performance improvements may be the main goal, you and your team will also discover new perspectives, obtain deeper learning, gather input from employees of all levels, and have an increased momentum of change across the board moving forward.
Reaching Further: Promote collaboration and communication across diverse groups by integrating The Birkman Method into your teams. This assessment helps people become more self-aware of their own personality. It delves into a person's unique external behavior, what they expect from their environment to be productive, and what motivates them. With this self-understanding, each person can tap into what helps them best contribute to the team as well as foster an environment that is conducive to growth.
Taylor hails from Boston, Massachusetts, with a deep passion for design and innovation. With over ten international creative publications, she brings a trained, artistic eye to Birkman’s marketing department. When she isn't consuming 17th century European literary works, you can find her dancing, running, or serving her church on the weekends.