There’s an old saying: two heads are better than one.
You might interpret that as working together for a better way to solve problems, but that’s not the only time collaboration can create magic.
Think of some of the best ideas to come out of your own organization — chances are they were the product of cross-functional collaboration.
Put simply, cross-functional work is the process of working collaboratively with representatives from other departments within your organization on a project, a shared goal, or on an ongoing basis to achieve shared business goals.
For example, your company’s Community team can work cross-functionally with the Product team to improve product design. This could be a project-based collaboration that can lead to improved design based on feedback and input from the most engaged users — your community members.
“It’s all about amplifying impact,” says Cait Levin, Community Educator at C School. “We get more creative and come up with better solutions when we pull in folks who are outside of our immediate mindset.”
“When collaboration happens between teams, there’s exponential potential to increase impact because teams can make connections between initiatives, streamline redundant processes, and generally make more happen,” says Cait.
This is beneficial for organizations across the board but especially for those with Community teams.
Here’s how collaboration between Community and other departments can be impactful.
To be Community-Led isn't just about having a community. It's about ensuring that community runs through the entire organization and influences every other department’s goals and outcomes.
This is why organizations should make Community teams integral cross-functional members. It’s not only a way to measure community success but also a way to assess if having a community is positively impacting the top and bottom lines of other departments and the organization’s goals as a whole.
So, which departments work best with community? We have a few in mind.
Through collaboration with Community, Sales teams can better understand what customers want, source potential leads within the community (without impacting members’ experience, of course), and build early relationships with ideal customers.
Community can help Marketing teams increase brand awareness and brand affinity. This collaboration can also help Marketing tap into insights from community members to ensure you’re sharing the same message across all your communication channels and create content that speaks to your ideal customer.
How will your product benefit your customers? The Community team can help Product answer that question. Collaboration between these two departments can also help Product find ideal members for development research, escalate ideas or issues surfaced by community members and build trust around your product.
Collaboration between these departments can reduce low-level support requests, increase customer satisfaction, extend the customer lifecycle and improve retention, and provide unique insights about customers to name just a few benefits.
Fortunately, these are not the only departments that can work with community.
Cait believes all departments can be a good match.
“All types of departments can be impacted by community, but this is really going to vary amongst use cases,” she says. “There are some relationships we see cropping up more frequently than others such as with Marketing, Success, and Support. These have made early connections to community based on synergies in best practices between those functions, but that doesn’t mean other departments can’t align ongoing efforts.”
The overarching benefit of cross-functional work is for the organization but individuals can also benefit from it — ultimately improving employee satisfaction and career growth.
“I love it when folks ask me ‘how do we know what our audience will want though?’ because it’s one of the few easy answers out there: just ask your community,” says Cait.
The 2020 World Economic Forum report identified cross-functional collaboration as a key leadership skill of the 21st century, and it's not hard to see why. Communities help organizations easily connect with members (usually their customers) and build lasting relationships that positively impact every team within an organization.
It all sounds easy, right? Well, not exactly. Engaging with your community for this type of work is harder than it sounds, says Cait.
“There’s real long-term work and skill involved here, and that’s why companies who try to do community work without community professionals involved often miss the mark.”
People are very good at sniffing out disingenuous efforts at community, so the organization really has to have its heart in it.
Cait adds that Community Managers are not magicians.
“They need resources, active support from leadership, and to be valued as equally important contributors in the organizational structure if you really want them to be successful,” she says.
The most valuable function a Community team can perform is to connect all other stakeholders in the organization to the community — whether that’s directly or indirectly — so that the goals of the organization become and remain aligned with the needs of the community.
“If an organization is serious about being Community-Led and building with their community and in service of their community, then Community teams collaborating across departments is vital — you just can’t be Community-Led without it,” says Cait.
So why bother being Community-Led?
Cait explains that we’re seeing a real change in the way that organizations make decisions about what new products to make, how to make them, how to market them, and how to support users across the board impact — and community is at the heart of it.
“Most of this change we’re seeing is being driven by public demand,”she says. “People are tired of accepting whatever product is offered because it’s the only option. Instead, they want the right solution for their use case, and they’re willing to research to find it or wait for it to be made, or even to make it themselves or get creative with workarounds.”
Simply put, if you’re an organization and you’re struggling with retention, acquisition (in particular) or feeling stuck when it comes to new product ideation, your community is the answer.
A business's most valuable asset is its employees. Making sure that employees feel they belong, can collaborate, and share ideas with their colleagues is a huge part of building a collaborative culture they’ll want to be a part of.
Cait says internal communities are essential for successful cross-functional work.
“If you’re dealing with an enterprise-size org, having an internal community is imperative, now more than ever, for employee retention and satisfaction,” she says.
“The community we all show up to the most is likely our work community (if we work full time), so it makes good sense for businesses to invest in what those communities feel like.”
How does this translate to successful cross-collaboration? For teams to know each other and eventually work best together, they have to be able to communicate and share their individual goals with each other.
It opens a door for stakeholders to see mutual value for both departments and alignment in business goals.
“If they do [see value in working collaboratively], they’ll work well together. If they don’t, maybe they can have a conversation about that and try to get aligned. But without that communication, the collaborations will suffer, even if it’s a straightforward, seemingly natural shared benefit,” says Cait.
A huge part of cross-collaborative work is the personal and career growth it can provide to the individuals involved.
“Knowing how to optimize for the most collaborative wins is a skill that I think is both important and fulfilling, and cross-functional work requires so much of it,” says Cait.
For Community teams and those who manage them, collaboration allows them to explain what they do and show value across teams and initiatives.
And the reverse is also true. The other teams working alongside Community can also share their objectives and goals and ultimately get a clear picture of how they can collaborate to achieve shared business goals together.
“We could all just do our own thing and then turn in our work, but our project will be weird and we’ll likely get a bad grade,” says Cait.
“However, when we communicate and collaborate, we make something different and quite possibly something even more unique and innovative.”
Cait points out that there are challenges to this way of work and it does require flexibility.
“Sure, you might not get to do things exactly the way you prefer, because there are other stakeholders with their own preferences, too but stretching that flexibility muscle is also an important skill to develop over time but your organization and your community will thank you for it,” she says.