Working cross-functionally—a.k.a., working with teams other than your own—is an inevitable part of your career at some point or another. And doing it well can generate new and exciting ideas, improve your interpersonal skills, and boost your company culture, productivity, and happiness.
However, dealing with a cross-functional team isn’t always a walk in the park. Any new group of people will come with an array of personalities, ways of communicating, competing priorities, and more.
Here are four critical things to consider when working with other teams:
1. You Can’t Work Well With People You Don’t Know
Sounds obvious right? But you’d be surprised how many people forget this simple fact.
So, be proactive in meeting new people outside of your direct team before you have to work together on a specific project. Go grab coffee or lunch or approach them at your next happy hour to learn more about their role.
And once you’re paired off, don’t jump straight to business. Ask your teammate about what they're aiming to get out of the project, their preferences for communication, and their passions. Getting other people’s perspectives and leveraging their unique talents can be hugely beneficial, so be sure you have all the facts before delegating work.
2. You Need to Understand Other People’s Priorities
It’s important to keep your project’s objectives and deadlines in mind, but also understand that your project is just one of many your co-workers might be working on. So, when getting started, gather insight into how others are budgeting their time to quickly understand expectations and best organize your schedule.
Also, get a well-rounded perspective on the project’s relative importance by asking team members what outcomes they’re looking for. These responses can be telling for understanding how to prioritize your responsibilities.
Finally, know that this goes both ways—make it clear to your colleagues what you’re working on outside this project and what times you may not be available.
3. You Have to Emphasize Good Communication
Rule number one in successful project management—never let your team be surprised.
This means investing time and energy in good communication—in person, over email, and during meetings. Go into meetings with a clear agenda, use company updates to share your progress with outside stakeholders, set up weekly check-ins, and ask everyone to share their progress with their managers. This ensures your leadership is on board, you’re following the right protocol, and you’re holding people accountable.
This also means setting clear expectations and roles from the beginning, encouraging cross-collaboration, and acknowledging when others do good work—all of which contribute to a motivated and happy team.
4. You Should Be Ready to Face Difficult People and Sticky Situations
The reality of a cross-functional project is that there may be times when teammates disagree, don’t get along, or aren’t pulling their weight. Knowing how to mediate and influence a conversation can help you work with others to create and agree on a strategy that everyone’s happy with. This doesn’t mean selling or forcing people to take on your ideas, but rather helping direct their thinking to the bigger picture—how can we all compromise to move forward?
If, for example, you have an idea that you’re trying to push, sit down one on one with your project partner to vet it and get their reaction before taking it to other team members or people at higher levels. This shows you respect their opinion and want their buy-in—immediately encouraging trust and collaboration.
Working on a cross-functional team can be one of the hardest endeavors you take on, but when you get everyone pushing toward a common goal, it’s incredibly gratifying. When you find yourself in a frustrating situation, focus on what’s best for the company. This will allow you to be more strategic and think and act like a leader.
Remember, you have many years of working with people across groups, so learn and grow from each experience. Focus on these tips, and you’ll become a master of partnerships in no time!