11 Best Practices for Cross-Team Collaboration in R&D

Dovile Miseviciute ·

Passionate content marketer looking to bring better solutions to the project management space. 2020 - Present Marketing specialist at Teamhood. 2014 - 2020 Marketing manager for Eylean.

cross-team collaboration

Organizing and fostering cross-team collaboration in your R&D projects is key to success. While the importance of this practice is widely known, the path to get there may sometimes be foggy. To help you out, we have asked project managers from all over the world to share their best practices and tips for cross-team collaboration in R&D projects.

Continue reading to learn about and implement their techniques in your processes.

Before we dive into the invaluable advice, let’s first take a short overview, of what the term cross-team collaboration stands for.

What is cross-team collaboration?

The term cross-team collaboration defines several teams or a group of people from different teams collaborating and working towards the same goal.

Almost any project out there requires several teams or different professionals for it to be executed. These teams can work individually by all doing their part of the job and then handing it over to the next team. Such a way, similar to Waterfall project management, often proves to be quite burdensome and requires a lot of back and forth between the individual team silos.

The other path these teams could take is cross-team collaboration. Where they find ways to work together from the very start of the project and feed off of each other to reach the best results. This can be done in many different ways and forms while trying to reach the common end goal. As such, all attempts at working in a cross-functional way are considered to be cross-team collaboration.

Cross-team collaboration best practices according to R&D managers

So, now that we looked at what cross-team collaboration is, let’s dive into the real meat of this piece. We have asked managers and team leaders that have experience in the R&D sector to share their best tips and practices on cross-team collaboration. Here are the top 11 pieces of advice for you to consider in your future projects.

1. Align business goals with team goals

cross-team collaboration

‘One of the best tips to improve cross-collaboration in the R&D sector is to align business goals and share them with everyone. Your research goals must be aligned with your business so that every employee works on the project with the same goals in mind.’

Greg Rozdeba, the Co-Founder and President of Dundas Life (Canada), shares that in his experience aligning business and team goals is fundamental. From his current and previous experience in the FinTech sector, such alignment should be done before the start of any R&D project. By setting the business and team goals as one and the same, you will ensure any team is focused on the right outcome and will manage to pivot their efforts in the right way when faced with difficulties.

2. Identify a unifying purpose/goal across all teams

cross-functional team collaboration

‘One of the most effective cross-team collaboration techniques in the R&D sector is to identify a common purpose shared between the participating teams. A shared vision inspires unity and fosters a culture of collaboration, compelling team members to work cohesively towards shared objectives.’

This second quote comes from Michelle Delker, founder of The William Stanley CFO Group (United States). What Michelle observes here is the importance of sharing a common goal across all teams that work together on the project. From her experience with optimizing work in large companies, cross-collaboration can be achieved only when all teams are aligned. So, it cannot be that the research team has one vision, design has another intent, and then manufacturing optimizes for their own purposes. While all these things may still happen, by sharing a common goal across all teams, you will ensure they are working more cohesively and share the same vision.

3. Create a culture of collaboration

cross-team collaboration

‘Design a collaboration culture based on common targets and objectives. Collaboration is easy and less taxing when leaders set mutual goals in a culture that promotes collaboration to reach a common milestone. When I talk about culture, it also means the environment. An environment that champions the cooperation of two teams to achieve one milestone will make it easy to work and progress.’

Mike Falahee, the owner of Marygrove Awnings (United States), seconds the previous advice by saying that both the goals and the culture of the company should be aligned to achieve the best results. In an environment that supports collaboration, it is much easier to achieve it and continue to have it even through tough periods of time. From his 40 years of entrepreneurial experience, Mike says that it is up to the company leaders to introduce practices that encourage collaboration and build up the company culture that supports it.

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4. Hold regular interdisciplinary brainstorming sessions

cross-team collaboration

‘At Tabrick, we place great emphasis on fostering collaboration among our R&D teams. One of the most effective techniques we have implemented is regular interdisciplinary brainstorming sessions. By bringing together experts from different departments, we encourage the exchange of innovative ideas and perspectives.’

Olivia Lin, Partnership Manager at Tabrick (China), says that holding regular brainstorming meetings with various teams helps bring forward creativity and innovation. While it may be unrealistic to expect that each of such sessions will bring about ground-breaking innovation, having a public forum of sorts can truly add to cross-team collaboration and knowledge sharing. As such, a regular meeting like the one mentioned by Olivia is worth considering for most teams.

5. Bring in diverse perspectives

cross-functional team collaboration

‘My biggest takeaway from cross-team collaboration is the power of diverse perspectives. When different teams with varied expertise come together, they bring unique insights and approaches to problem-solving. Embracing this diversity enhances creativity and leads to more comprehensive and effective solutions.’

David Cohen, the CEO of Badais International (United Kingdom) points out that having as much diversity in backgrounds, opinions, and specialties brings forth innovation for the product. In the experience of this wholesale supplier of flowers and plants, encouraging different teams to share their ideas, challenges, and insights leads to unique problem-solving and new initiatives.

6. Open communication and mutual respect

cross-team collaboration

‘As a manager with extensive experience in cross-team collaboration within the R&D sector, my best tip for fostering successful collaboration is to establish a culture of open communication and mutual respect. Encouraging teams to share their knowledge, expertise, and ideas freely allows for a dynamic exchange of insights and promotes innovative problem-solving.’

Max Shak CEO and founder at nerDigital (Canada) places the importance of the effectiveness of cross-team collaboration on mutual respect. He says the teams have to not only work together but also respect the work each of them does. As such, the insights from other teams become more valuable and have more impact when coming back to the work your team does.

7. Agree on a common standard for reporting

cross-team collaboration

‘The biggest tip is to agree on a common language between teams when it comes to reporting on specific tasks (e.g. Red/Yellow/Green) and ritualize it (e.g. provide updates every Monday by 10 am). When you’re dealing with different teams with varying disciplines it’s challenging to communicate as internal team communication is often full of specific terms/acronyms/common definitions. This means that what’s true in one team isn’t in another.’

Timothy Ryan, the founder of Atomic8 (Canada) shares that for him it is the most important to come up with a standardized way of doing reporting that is understood across all teams. Different silos in your company tend to use different lingo, and terms, and track varied metrics. Now, when working together, it becomes exponentially important to standardize these metrics so that everyone is on the same page. According to Tim, failing to do so will lead to confusion and difficulty when trying to track the progress.

8. Use one language to avoid misunderstandings

cross-team collaboration

‘Since a lot of departments are involved, communication becomes difficult. This means that there are often team members who converse in their own unique language which can make the process ineffective. It is important to keep your goals and objectives aligned with your teams and their tasks. It is also important to adapt to a universal language that is understood by everyone. This will encourage better and more open communication among them.’ 

Aima Irfan, Editor in Chief and Marketing Manager at InsideTechWorld shares one more tip on cross-team collaboration and that is agreeing to use one language when working together. This takes it one step further from the previous advice and suggests that deciding and sticking to one language in your cross-functional team can help with productivity and mutual understanding between colleagues from different business fields and backgrounds.

Learn more how to improve process efficiency.

9. Recognize and address issues early

cross-team collaboration

‘For a more successful collaboration, recognize and address current issues early. Try out specialized strategies designed for your business. Using these insights, foster trust and teamwork to maximize your organization’s potential, promote continuous development, and synchronize employee objectives across the board.’

Jonathan Palley, Partner of QR Code Generator Hub (United States) points out another good practice to adopt in cross-team collaboration. Recognizing and addressing issues early will allow your team to learn from their mistakes and improve their process for the future. Alternatively ignoring issues could only lead to delays and bigger problems to solve down the line.

10. Shared digital platform for task and project management

cross-team collaboration

‘Cross-team collaboration in the R&D sector is at the heart of operational success and innovation. One of the most potent techniques I’ve utilized at is integrating a shared digital platform for task and project management. 

Specifically, for R&D, this opens up channels for wide-ranging discussions and brainstorming, cutting through hierarchical and departmental barriers. Dialogue-driven problem-solving often leads to breakthroughs and encourages a dynamic flow of ideas amongst individuals with varied perspectives and expertise.’

Fawaz Naser, CEO of Softlist (Canada), says that the game-changing factor for cross-team collaboration in R&D has to be a digital platform for task and project management. He sees it as a place for collaboration and discussions as well as a tool to cut through team silos and other organizational barriers. What you see in such systems are your work items and you can collaborate and work on them freely no matter which team you are from.

cross-team collaboration

‘Having regular team meetings and/or sharing project management tools are both good ways to achieve this goal. These are the digital platforms that allow teams to plan, track, and collaborate on projects. They provide a centralized workspace. Team members can access project information, timelines, and tasks.

This also saves time because all this information is shared on one platform that is accessible by all the teams. This facilitates communication and also helps teams stay aligned on the progress of the project. For example, platforms like Trello are being used by many organizations to keep track of projects and also for cross-team communication and collaboration.’

Perry Zheng, software engineer, founder & CEO of Pallas (United States) seconds the opinion of putting everything the team is doing into one system. Making it easier to track and monitor the work of different teams, as well as share the information between them. Project management software like Teamhood can help to become more organized, save time, and track your efforts in one place.

11. Integrate R&D tools with other systems

cross-functional team collaboration

‘There should be a shared commitment to the integration of R&D collaboration tools with other systems and platforms, with the performance, impact, and value of this integration being monitored.’

Renaud Charvet, co-founder, and CEO at Ringover (United States), adds to the notion of unified tooling across all teams. He specifies that for cross-team collaboration to work, R&D tools should be integrated into other tools used by the teams. Now this could be achieved in multiple ways (integration, unified tooling, using one solution for everything). The importance here is placed on the idea that all information should be easily accessible to all teams within your company.

Why is cross-functional collaboration important in R&D?

By working together, different teams influence each other’s processes. Which usually results in changes in how each individual team works and prioritizes as well. Since these changes come from trying to reach a common goal, they often bring quite a few positive effects to the process and the project overall.

Here are the most common benefits mentioned by the leaders in this post:

  1. Improved creativity and idea generation. Since multiple teams or team members are working together, there are more perspectives on the project right from the start. This brings about more discussions as well as suggestions on what the end result could be like and how it could be achieved.
  2. Faster results. Without having to work in silos, the project’s progress is not as limited to certain stages like Design, Implementation, and Testing. As soon as the design of a certain part is finished, the production can go right ahead, and so on. Allowing a cross-functional team to deliver and test their products or product parts at a faster pace.
  3. Shared responsibility. Another important benefit that comes from such collaboration is the shared ownership of the project. Since teams are involved from the very start, they are more in charge of the overall vision and share the responsibility for the final result.
  4. Reduced boundaries. Cross-team collaboration fosters an environment of communication. The teams no longer feel isolated in their work and instead find new ways of collaborating and sharing their best practices with each other.
  5. Better team spirit and company culture. Lastly, the teams that work together, tend to play together as well. By breaking the silos of different teams, you are allowing your employees to get to know each other and build stronger bonds which contribute to morale and culture as a whole.

Cross-team collaboration in R&D companies – conclusion

As it seems R&D companies are not that different from other companies when it comes to cross-team collaboration. If anything, they need it even more to be able to innovate and present top-of-the-line products to their customers. Hopefully, these tips shared by managers from all over the world will help you structure an efficient process for cross-team collaboration and help pick tools that assist in this effort.

Looking for a system to try out for your next R&D project? Teamhood offers visual progress tracking in Gantt, daily task overview in Kanban, Workload management, Time tracking, and Timesheets to manage your projects with ease. Try it out today – it’s free!

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