Regardless of the industry in which they operate, corporations today are all dealing with many of the same challenges. Rapidly changing technology, regulatory uncertainty, budget cuts, and a slow-growth economy mean organizations are fighting for market share with very limited room for error. To adapt to this increasingly competitive marketplace, companies must abandon the traditional “silo” mentality and move toward internal teamwork and collaboration. Individual departments can no longer operate as islands unto themselves if an organization hopes to remain successful in the current climate. 

Moving From a Vertical Structure to a Horizontal Structure

Traditionally, corporate structures have been paternalistic and segregated. A few individuals located at the top of the organization made decisions, and there was little communication between departments. But this rigid, vertical hierarchy is rapidly being replaced with cross-collaboration and interdepartmental teamwork.

When leaders tout the benefits of teamwork, most employees assume that their “team” is made up of the people in their department. Everyone typically operates within the confines of that structure, with very little understanding of how they, or their department fit into the bigger organizational picture. But true teamwork eliminates that silo mentality, and gives employees the opportunity to see beyond their specialty. When employees take action to study the functions and goals of other departments, they develop a well-rounded view of the organization.

The Positive Outcomes of Cross-Learning

When an organization encourages cross-learning and collaboration, everyone benefits. From the employees doing the work to the company as a whole, cross-learning contributes to understanding and increased employee engagement. Some of the benefits of cross-collaboration include:

  • Engagement. When employees work with teams from other departments, they learn more about how the company functions as a whole. They also gain a better understating of how their own job fits into the “big picture” and furthers the goals and mission of the organization. When people have a firm sense of why their job is important, they will feel more connected to the company, and be much more engaged in their work.
  • Cohesiveness. Forget lack of communication. Some departments simply find themselves at odds with one another. Sales and operations are the Hatfields and McCoys of the corporate world. In almost any organization, you can find tension between these two critical departments. Sales thinks operations can’t deliver what they’re selling, and operations thinks sales is offering things that can’t possibly be delivered. As with most feuds; however, the tension can be relieved through communication. When members of the operations team learn more about what sales does day-to-day, they’ll gain a better understanding of what they are up against with clients. And when sales takes time to learn more about production and supply-chain management, they will understand why certain things are and are not possible to deliver. Instead of butting heads, the two teams can work together to bridge their communications gaps, deliver products on time, and increase revenue. The same holds true for every department in the company: communication leads to understanding, and understanding leads to cohesiveness.
  • Leadership and talent development. When team members step outside their bubble and begin interacting with people from other departments, they become more visible in the organization. This visibly can help leadership identify talented individuals and potential leaders who they may not have otherwise been exposed to.
  • Problem Solving and Innovation. When organizations bring together diverse teams from different departments, they often find they can quickly work out solutions to problems that have plagued them in the past. Fresh ideas and perspectives help drive business forward.

Cross-learning benefits the organization as well as its individual employees by promoting diversity and enhancing company culture. It lets them explore new possibilities as they gain a better understanding of where they fit into the big picture, and can lead to greater engagement and productivity.  Leaders can use cross-learning to identify and nurture budding talent, and to help create cooperation between departments that may have a history of misunderstanding.  The myriad benefits of cross-learning are well worth the effort.