How to improve communication between teams

September 17, 2021

Team meeting

Most people we speak to are part of more than one team or work with other teams within their organisation to get their jobs done.

‍Organisations are moving away from a traditional hierarchical structure to a team of teams. It’s likely the company you work in functions as a network of teams, carefully webbed together to achieve a shared organisational goal.

According to Bersin by Deloitte, “the diversity of global teams, and the need to innovate and work more closely with customers are driving a new organizational flexibility among high-performing companies.”

As many organisations transition to working in small, more agile teams it’s easier to communicate and therefore for team members to get to know each other better. It also allows organisations to be more efficient by making decisions at the level of the team rather than scaling up and back down a hierarchy. However, on the flip side, inter team communication becomes more important and potentially more complex as you navigate the web of teams. This is especially important for team leaders or managers who may need to balance the demands of more than one operational line manager.

How to improve inter-team collaboration

Link team and organisational goals

‍Giving teams the autonomy to set their own goals provides them with a sense purpose. It improves intrinsic motivation and gives team members a sense of control. However, for good inter team collaboration team goals need to be tied to the overall company objectives to ensure every team feels like they’re working towards the same outcome. Therefore encouraging collaboration.

‍Leaders have an important role in communicating and translating company goals in a way that’s meaningful to their teams.

‍Rather than a general list that benefits the organisation — better ROI, improved shareholder returns, and greater customer satisfaction — team leaders have to personalise these goals so they appeal to the team and motivate them to work towards a greater goal alongside other teams.

‍Some of the most successful companies encourage teams to share their goals with the rest of the organisation so other teams know how they’re contributing to the organisational goal.

“OKRs should be public within an organization so that every employee knows the organizational objectives and metrics for success.” Google.


Shared language

‍A common language across teams is essential. Often, even within the same organisation, teams use a variety of terms. From agile teams, using ‘scrum’ or ‘stand up’, to marketing teams discussing ‘above the line’. Make sure you either have an online dictionary of terms. Or even better, make one of your company norms or behaviours for anyone, at any level, to feel safe to ask ‘what does that mean?’. If this isn't something you can affect at a company level creating a psychologically safe environment for employees to raise concerns is certainly a key line manager responsibility.

Chance interactions

‍Think about your office layout. Are employees in different teams likely to bump into each other? Some of the best ideas come from bringing two different perspectives. At Pixar, Steve Jobs placed the cafe, toilets and mailroom in the middle of the work space to spark innovation.

Pixar’s employees started to bump into each other. They shot the breeze. Sometimes, the chatter would yield something useful, and one of the participants would head back to her desk with a new idea.”


Communication channels

‍Establish the appropriate communication channels for your organisation. Think about this beyond purchasing communication technology, consider your company norms or agreed behaviours.

‍For example if everyone’s based in the same office, is it easier and more productive to have a face to face conversation or do you need to document conversations more formally over email? If your team is remote do they prefer telephone or video calls? We’ve found that if one or two team members are remote it’s useful for everyone in the team to split into a different space and join a video call remotely — it ensures a more balanced contribution from everyone in the team.

‍If you decide to share your goals with other teams in the organisation do you have an easily accessible portal to see them? Check out our team canvas, a home page for every team where they can document, update and share their purpose, goals and norms.

Recommended reading:

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Two male team members having a meeting