by Charlotte Trueman and Hannah Williams

How CIOs can improve collaboration with other departments, and why they should

Aug 29, 2019
IT Leadership

When asked to name a strength during a job interview, most people would probably say they work well in a team. However, while it might be the case that you and your desk mate bounce ideas off each other all the time, collaborating with colleagues that work in a different department, or country, to yourself can sometimes be challenging.

As industries continue to embrace digital technologies, collaboration has become paramount in every organisation.

There are several ways to boost workplace collaboration, and with the rise of collaboration and video conferencing tools, there are simple steps CIOs can take to encourage idea sharing between departments.

Here, we take a look at why that is so important and provide some best practices to help you improve collaboration throughout your business.

Why is collaboration so important?

As organisations continue to embrace digitisation, many employees are needing to look beyond their traditional skill set in order to excel at their role. While the IT department is always going to be responsible for keeping all the tech up and running and the finance department will continue to deal with all things monetary, as business models change and technology advances, departments can no longer afford to remain siloed.

‘Collaboration’ has become something of a business cliché, however there is real value to be found in organisations that have fostered a collaborative working environment.

As the jobs and the skills of the future continue to become less easily defined, working with and learning from others is invaluable. Beyond the obvious benefits of getting to know other people in your organisation a bit better, collaborating with people outside of your immediate team can help to inspire innovation and creativity and offer employees a chance to learn about a role that is wholly different to their own.

George Tunnicliffe, Head of IT Operations at the National Theatre, told CIO UK earlier this year that the key to ensuring his department and the wider organisation runs successfully is through the promotion of a collaborative culture.

Rather than sheltering in the safe territory of back-office operations, Tunnicliffe is keen on learning what other teams in the theatre are working on, even if that means leaving the comfort of his office. From actors to producers via box office and backstage, the Head of IT Operations engages with all different departments to understand how IT can best assist them.

This not only stops his team from being a “a faceless IT department” but also means staff at the NT now feel comfortable to talk to him about what they are doing, the projects they are working on, and how IT might be able to support that.

However, collaboration is not something that happens overnight. People need to want to get together and those holding positions of leadership need to provide both the support and necessary tools to ensure a collaborative work environment is successful and long-lasting.

How to improve cross-departmental collaboration

Before you can institute change you need to know what you are working with, so assessing the current policies in place at your organisation and how they impact work and culture is an essential first step.

Evaluate the tools, if any, that are currently being used and why they may not have already worked effectively in improving collaboration between departments.

Go on a fact-finding mission and gather the views of employees across departments – not just IT, but HR, marketing, finance and so on – and learn from the coalface what they think has or hasn’t worked so far, and most importantly, what they would like to see.

Rolling out collaboration tools are an easy and effective way to increase communication, monitor workflow and support teams during shared projects.

Popular tools for collaboration such as Slack, Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams, can all help to improve communication across teams and departments and help break down the barriers between departments that wouldn’t otherwise have an opportunity to communicate with each other.

However, it is important to understand that every individual and department in the workplace will have their own requests and ideas.

When the financial management and HR software vendor Workday went on a mission to find a ‘best of breed’ (rather than one size fits all) communication tools to adopt across the company, they convened several focus groups, with each comprising hundreds of staff across different functions and locations. The company’s CIO, Diana McKenzie, told CIO UK that Workday also collected feedback about the communication tools that were already in use across the various geographies.

Any new collaboration strategy will impact employees across all departments, so it is only right to make sure all changes are first discussed with your workforce.

A thoughtful CIO should consider what tools and processes would benefit others across the departments, and then consider forming an inclusion framework where everyone is able to share their thoughts and ideas before coming to an agreement.