Organizational silos are one of the main challenges in modern software development.
Information barriers, rigid labor segregation, and poor communication persist, even in companies using Agile or DevOps methods.
While engineers are busy fine-tuning code and fixing bugs, customer-facing staff and business leaders are often left to deal with demanding users and looking for ways to scale with limited technical knowledge and insight into the development side of things.
The MIT Sloan Management Review calls this the “technology walled garden” and warns that it could harm product quality, customer satisfaction, and, ultimately, your bottom line.
This is where cross-departmental collaboration comes in.
Getting the various teams within your organization to work closely together is key to improving internal communication, building stronger employee relationships, and ensuring effective software development.
What Is Cross-Departmental Collaboration?
In software development, cross-departmental or cross-functional collaboration is a modus operandi where staff from different departments of an organization — engineers, project and product managers, sales and marketing teams, and more — work closely together on shared tasks and projects.
The goal is to keep departmental silos to a minimum, maximize transparency and information exchange, boost efficiency, and ensure seamless workflows.
Characteristics of cross-departmental collaboration include:
- A common vision
- Multifunctional teams
- Frequent and open communication
- Continuous information exchange
- Minimal departmental silos
- Regular constructive feedback
Why Is Cross-Departmental Collaboration Important for Software Development?
Under the traditional, non-cross-departmental approach to software development, teams work in silos. Communication is limited and fragmented, teams may have varying goals and sometimes conflicting priorities, plans and deliverables may not match, there is little insight into the day-to-day work of other departments, and team dynamics can be strained.
Over time, hiccups in the workflow add up. Deadlines become harder to meet, time-to-market gets longer, and product quality suffers.
Cross-Departmental Collaboration in Action
To better illustrate this, imagine that you are about to launch a new app.
To start, you need developers. From among them, you will likely need to assemble a specialist team to assign the required stack and number of developers at each stage of the project.
Next, you need project and product managers to create and assign tasks, set deadlines, track progress, and make edits.
Then, you have the research, design, sales and marketing, legal, and finance departments — and potentially other teams depending on your industry and product.
Under the traditional software development model, projects often pass through these various departments one at a time. Every team has to accept the task, understand its scope, do the work, submit it for approval, wait for feedback, and implement changes accordingly. This often takes a long time and hurts productivity.
Enter interdepartmental collaboration.
Under this model, different teams fuse into multifunctional divisions and work side by side on shared tasks, have common deadlines, and exchange feedback regularly. This culture of collaboration helps projects move faster through the development pipeline and contributes toward stronger interpersonal relationships, higher-quality output, and a better customer experience.
The Benefits of Cross-Functional Collaboration
Some of the benefits of cross-functional teams include:
- More effective communication
- Increased transparency
- Streamlined workflows
- Faster time-to-market
- Better product quality
- Higher employee satisfaction rates
- Improved customer experience
Last but not least, successful cross-departmental collaboration enables greater clarity for development teams, allowing them to focus on the features that bring value first and launch fast.
Top 5 Strategies for Enabling Collaboration Across Software and Business Teams
Here are five ways to improve cross-functional collaboration in your organization through successful team management:
1. Create a Unified Vision
Building a collaborative environment starts with a common vision.
This requires all staff members to understand how department-specific targets shall align with other departments, and also fit within more significant company-wide goals.
To that end, make sure that teams are briefed on all short-, mid-, and long-term milestones. Align goals across departments and make sure that everyone knows what the key priorities are. Employees can be free to set secondary goals at the team level, such as hitting specific indicators, but these must always support larger business objectives.
2. Encourage Transparency
To enable transparency and effective communication in software development, maintain open lines of communication at all times. Encourage employees to ask questions, seek clarifications, and share insight — and make sure they know where to go if they need help.
It is also essential to implement inclusive decision-making both within and across teams and at higher organizational levels. Have open discussions and seek everyone’s input before arriving at a decision. Acknowledge all feedback and publicly address any concerns, questions, and disagreements.
3. Enable Knowledge Sharing
A key ingredient of successful collaboration across departments is ensuring that software teams understand business processes (and vice-versa).
Two strategies can be especially helpful in this regard.
One is to actively seek opportunities for mutual collaboration and knowledge transfer between developers on the one hand, and marketing, sales, and finance departments, on the other.
The second strategy involves providing employees with training and continuous education in areas outside their narrow field of expertise. For instance, business departments could learn more about the development processes, and development teams could learn about the fundamentals of business administration.
While this strategy requires a larger investment, the resulting improvement in cross-departmental collaboration and overall staff expertise will likely more than pay off in the long run.
4. Have People in Charge of Cross-Departmental Collaboration
If you want consistent results, you should entrust your organization’s interdepartmental collaboration to dedicated employees. Among other things, they can look out for opportunities for improvement, identify weak spots, track progress over time, and act as points of contact for all things collaboration-related.
Having dedicated staff responsible for interdepartmental collaboration also underscores your commitment and the importance of minimizing departmental silos to the organization.
5. Lead by Example
Last but not least, you want to foster cross-departmental collaboration from the top down and not just from the bottom up.
It is not enough to simply encourage employees to cooperate, share knowledge, and learn more about other departments. You should lead by example, creating opportunities for engagement and being more open about your work.
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