Getting the Best Work From Cross-Team Collaboration

When groups are told to work with other teams, they often feel insecure. The idea of breaking down barriers, sharing information, giving up control, sharing resources, or losing responsibilities can make teams uneasy. They worry about losing importance in the company and wonder if they’ll ever get back what they give up.

For collaboration to work, leaders need to address the insecurities that groups feel. They should take steps to reduce these fears and discourage defensive behaviors. Then, they can focus on the process and outcomes.

Let’s look at an example from an energy company. The leaders wanted to introduce a new after-sales service plan, thinking it would bring in more revenue. They knew collaboration between the sales and service teams was crucial. Despite recognizing the need for collaboration, issues quickly arose. The teams weren’t working together; they made decisions independently, delayed sharing information, and missed project deadlines.

The problem was that leaders focused on plans, incentives, and outcomes but ignored how the teams reacted to collaboration. When groups are asked to collaborate, especially if it involves sharing, they can feel threatened. They worry about losing their identity, control, and importance.

To make cross-team collaboration successful, leaders must address three key elements that contribute to a group’s sense of security: identity, legitimacy, and control.

Reinforce Identity:

  • Understand how each group sees itself and what sets it apart.
  • Identify how collaboration might change the group’s identity.
  • Look for signs of territorial responses, like asserting dominance or excluding others.

Reaffirm Legitimacy:

  • Consider the bigger picture – why the group was formed and its valuable contributions.
  • Acknowledge the group’s significance openly.
  • Clarify the role and contributions of each group during collaboration.

Reassert Control:

  • Identify the areas where the group has autonomy.
  • Determine where control might become shared or unclear during collaboration.
  • Strengthen the group’s authority in other areas to compensate for potential control challenges.

Leaders should check for these threats to group security before initiating collaboration. By addressing these concerns, leaders can create an environment where teams feel secure, making cross-team collaboration more successful. It’s like changing lanes on a highway – check your blind spot (group security concerns) before making a move.

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