From Friction to Flow: Overcoming Barriers in Cross-Team Collaboration

From Friction to Flow: Overcoming Barriers in Cross-Team Collaboration

In the complex landscape of today’s business environment, cross-team collaboration is not just a buzzword—it’s a necessity. But fostering a collaborative culture, where diverse teams work seamlessly together, is easier said than done, especially as more organisations adopt hybrid work models or are spread across multiple locations. 

The challenge of improving cross-team functionality has been a longstanding issue within organisations – we’ve seen this play out across many decades and different industries. So there isn’t a simple, one-size-fits-all solution. While individual teams can operate more efficiently due to more singularly defined objectives, the dynamics change when various teams need to work in concert to achieve overarching organisational goals.

In small to medium organisations, cross-team collaboration often runs on the strength of interpersonal relationships. However, as the organisation scales, the complexity and number of inputs grows to a point where 1:1 interpersonal relationships are no longer enough to sustain effective collaboration. Nevertheless, these relationships are still the salve when you’re addressing unique problems.

But fragmentation isn’t limited to cross functional teams that aren’t in the same location. It results from a lack of intentional bridge-building to link discrete groups and regions. Silos within organisations were a common issue in corporate offices — hybrid work or remote locations have simply created new requirements for connecting teams that must work together to achieve shared outcomes.

Why Cross-Team Functionality Is Crucial

Poor cross-team collaboration can lead to an array of problems, from project delays to a diluted company culture, and even lost revenue. A 2019 report by the Project Management Institute found that inadequate communication leads to project failure one-third of the time.

Effectively functioning cross-team collaborations lead to better problem-solving, prompter decision-making, and a more agile organisation. When teams work well together, they pool their expertise, leading to more innovative solutions.

Identifying Barriers to Effective Collaboration

Barriers such as unclear expectations, interpersonal friction, and differing priorities can create   obstacles on the path to effective collaboration. Even though each organisation is unique, in our experience working with clients there are some common factors that contribute to derailing cross-team collaboration.


Mismatched or unspoken expectations of ourselves, leadership or available resources, can lead to a host of problems, including misaligned objectives and lost opportunities for synergy.

Friction Points

These are areas where different teams clash, either in terms of processes, timelines, or priorities.

Lack of Clarity in Information Flow

Unclear or inefficient communication channels contribute to misunderstandings and uncertainty, reducing the effectiveness of cross-team initiatives.

Lack of Shared Objective

In the absence of a clear, shared objective, individual teams resort to focusing solely on their own priorities.

Absence of Agreed Processes

What works for one team may not work for another. However leaving teams to create their own processes, leads to an inefficient and dysfunctional work environment.

Hearsay and ‘Us Vs Them’ Approach

When team managers role model division and distrust of another team rather than unity, it exacerbates the challenges of cross-team collaboration.

The Role of Leadership

Middle managers and HR staff play pivotal roles in shaping an organisation’s culture. They are often the ones to implement and oversee policies that impact cross-team collaboration. Their leadership can help break down barriers and foster a culture where collaboration is not just encouraged but is a natural way of working.

A crucial factor in the success of cross-team collaborations lies in the effectiveness of leadership of the teams that must cooperate to get things done. Leaders who embody behaviours such as empathy, a commitment to collective achievement, and a willingness for courageous conversations are the ones who forge the most robust cross-functional relationships. Their approach sets the tone, encouraging cooperation and teamwork as the default way of accomplishing objectives. 

The Role of Trust

Trust is a foundational element in maintaining strong cross-functional teams. It acts as the glue that holds cross-functional teams together, providing a stable foundation for collaboration, accountability, and mutual respect. It is especially vital in a hybrid work environment, where the usual mechanisms for building trust face-to-face are not always available, its importance is magnified for several reasons:

Facilitates Open Communication

Trust encourages open dialogue among team members, whether they are in the office or remote. When people trust each other, they are more willing to voice their opinions, ask questions, and provide feedback, which is essential for effective collaboration and problem-solving.

Enhances Accountability

In a hybrid setting, team members often work asynchronously and are not always directly supervised. Trust fosters a sense of responsibility and accountability, as team members do not want to let down their colleagues.

Reduces Micromanagement

High levels of trust negate the need for micromanagement, which can be particularly challenging to implement across different working environments. Managers who trust their teams can focus on higher-level tasks and decision-making, rather than monitoring every small activity.

Encourages Innovation

A trusting environment is often a breeding ground for innovation. Team members feel safe to propose new ideas and take calculated risks, which is important for keeping a team competitive and ahead of the curve.

Strengthens Relationships

Trust builds stronger interpersonal relationships, which are crucial in any work setting but particularly so in a hybrid one. Strong relationships can bridge the gap between remote and in-person work, making it easier to collaborate and work towards common goals.

Mitigates Conflict

Trust provides a strong foundation for conflict resolution. When team members trust each other, they are more likely to approach disagreements constructively and seek mutually beneficial solutions.

In conclusion

Cross-team functionality is not an overnight achievement but a continuous process of fine-tuning and realignment. An approach that combines the strength of individual team capabilities with a robust framework for cross-team collaboration is the key to organisational success.

For the past 25+ years Leah's professional roles have been at the axis of business operations, people development and technology. She possesses a wealth of experience in areas of people, process, communication, coaching and counselling.