How to Build Successful Cross-Functional Partnerships for Nonprofits
Teamwork makes the dream work, they say. And while anyone who has worked on a dysfunctional team may tell you that if you want to get something done, do it yourself, the reality is that most complex business challenges require multiple heads to come together to bring creative solutions to life. Within a nonprofit organization, you will most likely find yourself working with others whose backgrounds, working preferences and professional styles differ from yours. It is critical to learn how to build successful partnerships with team members across functions, both to ensure project success, and perhaps more importantly, to maintain your own personal level of happiness and satisfaction in the work you are doing. When a few key rules are followed, cross-functional relationships in the work and nonprofit space can be incredibly meaningful and fulfilling. The next time you begin a project and start to work with new teammates, keep the following tips in mind.
#1: Working relationships are rooted in personal relationships.
Before you roll up your sleeves and get to work, take the time to get to know your teammates. Presumably, they will each have unique backgrounds and perspectives to bring to the table. There are many ways to start getting to know your colleagues that don’t require a lot of time or effort. Play a few icebreaker games over lunch, send around a questionnaire for all team members to fill out, or individually ask your teammates to go for a cup of coffee, depending on the size of your team. Getting to know those you work with as people before getting to know them as professional colleagues will allow you to build trust and positive camaraderie among the team. Whether you are leading the project at hand or playing a contributing role, suggesting some get to know you activities or simply asking those around you questions about themselves over breaks can go a long way.
#2: Communication is the key.
The ease of virtual work has improved our lives in many ways, but it is important not to let good communication go by the wayside when it comes to strong cross-functional teams. Whether your form of communication is via email, chat, phone or in-person, make sure that you are doing more, rather than less. In an online environment, it can be easy to miss out on context clues, so don’t rely on passive updates. When it comes to working cross-functionally, set up a system that allows for superb two-way communication with you and your teammates. That may mean using a project management software, or updating a live spreadsheet, or even checking in virtually and requesting confirmation receipts. Whatever works best for you, always err on the side of over-communicating in order to ensure strong cross-functional relationships.
#3: Treat challenges as an opportunity to learn something new.
When working with multiple parties, you are bound to encounter roadblocks. Although it can get frustrating at times when you are up against the clock and trying to incorporate multiple inputs into a final project, make sure to take a step back and wonder at how far you can go when working together with a group. In every struggle exists great lessons and learnings. If you view professional challenges in this way, you will not only approach situations with positivity and be a better teammate yourself, but you will protect your own wellbeing and mood, regardless of the stressful circumstances.
#4: Put yourself in your teammates’ shoes.
Working cross-functionally can be an excellent exercise in practicing empathy. Challenge yourself to pause and reconsider when you hear an opinion that differs from your own. Before rolling your eyes at a teammate’s request for a deadline extension, ask about what they have going on in their lives. When you disagree with someone else’s approach, ask questions about why they approached the problem in the way they did, rather than getting defensive or challenging them. As organizations continue to place a higher emphasis on EQ (emotional intelligence) right alongside IQ, cross-functional work can be a great way to flex this muscle.
#5: We are all more alike than we are different.
Above all else, remember that even those who think differently, work in different functions, and approach problem solving in different ways are all just people. Like you, they all have hope, dreams, stressors and daily annoyances. And since you are all working on a team together, you have a common end goal. Finding common ground can sometimes be the best way to get through a daunting project and come out better on the other side.
By keeping these five simple rules of thumb in mind, you will be able to navigate cross-functional partnerships with ease. Beyond achieving your project goal, hopefully these tips will allow you to experience important personal development the next time you need to work with a cross-functional team.
If you are looking for even more tips or structure to set your cross-functional team up for success, CLASS is here to help. CLASS has previously held workshops focused on team-building best practices and strengthening professional relationships in order to produce high-quality work. With some planning, you are sure to experience improved teamwork, and more efficient and impactful projects. If you or a nonprofit organization you know of is in need of strategic marketing planning assistance, apply today for an introductory meeting.
About The CLASS Consulting Group
The CLASS Consulting Group is a trusted advisor to the board of directors and senior leadership of the bay area nonprofit organizations. It is a boutique management consulting firm headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area that provides consulting services to senior management and board of directors of nonprofit organizations and offers community leadership opportunities to professionals.