Cross-functional collaboration: Why marketing is perfectly placed to set the example in a distributed, hybrid world
Running successful cross-functional projects, when teams are no longer co-located in the same physical space, requires a different approach. Read on to find out how we used this as an opportunity to improve how the Marketing Division at Redgate collaborates with other parts of the business and how you can apply some of our learnings in your own organization.
Why did it become harder to collaborate?
The last two years have disrupted ways of working in almost every type of employment. At Redgate, we pride ourselves on our value of ‘doing our best work in teams’ and some of that disruption has led to new (sometimes better!) experiences for our people: as our co-located teams shifted to become distributed teams, stand ups around a physical whiteboard became written Slack or Mural updates.
As is true for most businesses, face-to-face time has shifted to Zoom. While many teams still get together on a daily video call to talk about progress, these interactions have also become wellbeing checks, and a chance to share successes, or use the hive mind to problem-solve individual challenges.
But the experience has also uncovered areas where we need to perform better than we did pre-pandemic. Working on shared projects across multiple teams or functions, for example. Collaborating successfully with people you may not have met before, with whom you might not have a shared vocabulary on the business challenge you’re tasked with solving, and who may have different views on the outcomes you’re driving towards, is a tough gig. If you’re new to working in this way, it can be quite an isolating experience, made all the more challenging if you’ve joined a company remotely and haven’t had the chance to build a broad network.
We used to build a rapport with colleagues we worked with on an infrequent basis through the conversations we had on the way in and out of meeting rooms, or as we bumped into each other and asked ‘How’s it going?’ at the coffee machines. When you’re only coming together over Zoom, or unlikely to bump into those less familiar colleagues on your odd day back in the office, working relationships can become transactional. Trust, and therefore the ability to give and accept constructive feedback, takes longer to build. Arriving at consensus is slower, and leadership are left wondering why things are taking so long.
I’m conscious that I’m painting a grim picture here. That’s because in the conversations I’ve had with my colleagues at Redgate over the last year, many of us had reflected on the way the smell of the place had changed, as explained in this great talk on culture by Professor Sumantra Ghoshal. We were worried about new starters missing out on ‘the Redgate experience’, and we were consciously trying to create new bridges between existing teams.
How to make a difference
Redgate’s Marketing division is pretty big for a business of our size, structured around the customer journey from brand awareness through to customer retention. And when you consider the broad range of functions across the business that we work with, plus some major growth and transformation initiatives, it turns out there are actually lots of opportunities for experimentation and iterative improvements (something else we’re pretty hot on) to improve collaboration in our new flexible-hybrid era.
It feels as though we’ve turned a corner recently, and our teams are now working enjoyably and successfully on more cross-functional projects than ever before. I’ve been reflecting on what we’ve done to make this difference. Whether you’re managing a team of direct reports, or you’re part of a multi-team project that needs to run smoothly, I have three recommendations for how marketing can lead the way to better cross-functional working relationships:
1. Pick a project and pick a new approach
Ask a team to try out a new framework for achieving a shared goal, and look for feedback on how the experience compares with the working models they’re used to. For example, we wanted to give individuals within Marketing new opportunities to discover how their different disciplines can contribute to the same shared goal.
We recently brought together three cross-divisional teams and asked them each to collaborate on a specific area that would have the greatest impact on our business goals. They’re using a framework that’s new to us for progressing their project, The 4 Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Huling.
Each team comes together for one afternoon a week to focus exclusively on progressing that goal, and they have the autonomy to identify the best actions to deliver their desired outcomes and determine the best leading indicators of success. They’re holding each other to account by regularly tracking progress and communicating back to key stakeholders. The individuals in these teams are sharing the experience of being the first to try out this new approach, and that in itself is bringing them together and prompting them to have healthy discussions about what’s working and what isn’t.
2. Upskill your project leads and meeting facilitators
Marketers have excellent communication skills, many are shrewd project managers, and they tend to be invested in developing these skills further. When every Zoom meeting has its fair share of awkward, ‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt you’ moments, and when people aren’t in the same room (or on the same continent) it changes things. A project lead needs strategies for ensuring that every voice is heard and that there’s a balance between moments for solo ideation and teamwork. I’ve noticed that our best meeting facilitators and project leads have moved away from using Excel, Outlook and PowerPoint, and begun to use Mural and Monday.com a lot more.
Learning these new tools and techniques takes time. Give people that time, identify the people who enjoy it, and encourage them to demonstrate the benefits to the wider organization. Give these champions the opportunity to transfer their knowledge and increase collective confidence across more of the business. It benefits everyone in the long run!
3. Put customer and market insights on the agenda
Regardless of the team you’re working in, marketing has access to a wealth of customer and market insights which can add a huge amount of value to conversations across the business. Whether it’s intent and pipeline data within your martech, or qualitative feedback you gather through the forums and events you coordinate, chances are that your marketers are sitting on invaluable data that could inform and validate difficult decisions that other teams in your business are struggling with.
Redgate’s marketers interface with a number of departments and lend expertise to a wide variety of business goals. Product Marketing Managers identify target markets and establish product-market fit with Product Management; Account Based Marketing run regular account plan with Sales; and Customer Marketing track and take action to improve customer health with Customer Success. These interface points allow us to build up an end-to-end understanding of our customers, generating insights which we can share back more broadly across the business.
We’ve got outstanding talent in our Marketing division, and the approaches we’ve experimented with above have allowed us to showcase that talent within each team and more broadly across the business. The value of marketing is recognized across Redgate. We rarely need to fight to have a seat at the table and the skills and experience of the individuals within our teams is sought after.
If you’re thinking about your next career move or are looking for an exciting new opportunity, we’re hiring for a number of roles. Take a look at Redgate’s current marketing vacancies. We’re always on the lookout for exceptional marketing talent.
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