As businesses grow, so does the need for collaboration among accounting and finance teams. When professionals have strong working relationships with colleagues in all areas of the company, the results are better business execution, higher efficiency rates and increased productivity. However, this collaboration doesn’t always come naturally.
Here are the top challenges to cross-departmental collaboration, along with several strategies finance leaders can use to help their teams overcome these barriers.
Melding different personalities
In a recent Robert Half Finance & Accounting survey, 39 percent of chief financial officers said the greatest obstacle to cross-departmental collaboration their employees encounter is engaging with a variety of work styles and temperaments.
Chances are your senior accountant has a different approach to projects than the company’s creative director or event planner. But that’s not a bad thing. Businesses often thrive on diversity of opinion and thought processes. However, it’s easy for employees to slip into a comfort zone within their own departments, which is why finance managers should encourage staff to get out and mingle.
Here are some best practices for bridging the gap between personalities:
Break down the silos, right from the beginning. Does your company onboard each department’s new hires separately? If so, you may be unintentionally promoting a compartmentalized workplace culture rather than an atmosphere of collaboration.
When new hires come aboard at the same time, create a cross-departmental mindset from the very beginning by training them together. Very often, the bonds created during these first few days will carry on through these cohorts’ careers.
Encourage everyone to chime in. All workplaces have a mix of extroverts and introverts. Make sure your quieter employees feel comfortable speaking up around their outgoing coworkers. If necessary, carve out a space during meetings for less talkative people to express their opinions.
Plan events outside of the office. Companywide events, such as picnics and volunteer days, are great ways for employees to form or deepen relationships with colleagues they don’t interact with often during the course of regular business.
Managing stressful situations
Handling unexpected issues in your own department is difficult enough. When it involves employees in other areas of the company, the increased complexity adds an unwelcome layer of anxiety.
To prepare for companywide crises, managers should set the groundwork for cross-departmental collaboration during periods of calm by:
Offering regular positive feedback. When staff from all areas of the organization feel appreciated, particularly in difficult or stressful times, they are likely to feel more committed to the company and to the success of their projects.
Promoting a no-blame atmosphere. During a crisis, the knee-jerk reaction is to point fingers. While that tendency may make some people feel better in the moment, it does little to promote cooperation. There’s plenty of time for debriefing and learning after the storm has passed.
Celebrating success as a group. After the emergency has run its course, be sure to recognize the results of your team’s collaborative efforts so that everyone moves on to the next project with a positive mindset. Thank them with a catered lunch, a free afternoon or simply a grateful companywide email.
Prioritizing conflicting deadlines
Your finance team has an upcoming target date for an important client and can’t afford any downtime. But the IT department, which has its own set of milestones, needs to upgrade the server, which requires 12 hours of downtime.
Partnering across the organization is tricky when deadlines don’t synchronize. These tips can help to keep things in order:
Communicate early. It’s impossible to anticipate every potential conflicting deadline. However, when managers meet to discuss upcoming projects, one of the topics should be coordinating departments’ schedules and priorities to minimize disruptions.
Cultivate an enterprisewide understanding among your staff. To excel in their jobs, accountants and finance specialists should have a solid understanding of how other departments work.
To help your employees acquire this broad-based business knowledge, encourage job shadowing, promote cross-departmental mentoring, and bring in other managers to explain their section’s workflow. The more enterprisewide knowledge your employees have, the more understanding and flexible they may be toward priorities for and processes in other sectors of the company.
It’s no secret that team diversity is a vital part of a company’s success. Having a variety of personalities and opinions encourages innovation and motivates employees to up their game. Coexistence may not always come naturally, but it is necessary — and there is much that management can do to foster a greater spirit of cross-departmental collaboration and cohesion.
For more insight on the challenges finance leaders face when navigating the cross-departmental hurdle, and for additional solutions, see the Robert Half Finance & Accounting blog post, Confronting the Challenges of 'Cross-Departmental Collaboration', by Robert Half senior executive director, Paul McDonald.