Cross-functional communication is key to achieving sustainable growth. If two apps are supposed to talk to each and they’re not – or if two departments are supposed to talk to each other and they’re not – this can block important information from being shared with others and halt the production of needed processes. This is sometimes done with the intent of not sharing information with departments with different priorities or different sets of data (as integrating systems used to be a difficult, costly process), but in the world of SaaS where these barriers are slowly being removed, there’s no longer a need in most cases to hold up these walls.
As people get further wrapped up in their day-to-day, it can get harder to convince teams (or management) that you should join forces with other departments that may need access (like finance and sales, for example, to speed up the financial close or IT, Controls and HR for hiring and onboarding). Aside from halting productivity, this can also unfortunately perpetuate feelings of distrust and competitiveness amongst teams that should have the same goal – making business more profitable, valuable and efficient.
For business systems, this is equally as important. Though they’re quickly identifiable as the group that ensures that these systems and departments do indeed talk to each other, they also need to have mechanisms in place that supports them having the best rapport with lines of business so that they’re consistently getting things done efficiently. Without said relationship, business as a whole can’t function well – which negates the point of having them solve these communication and data issues in the first place. Business systems can’t help you communicate better if they don’t communicate well amongst themselves or with their stakeholders either.
Techniques for Open and Effective Communication at Work
So, how does one do that? How does the team that ensures lines of business are more efficient keep themselves efficient at the same time? And what other measures do people take across business?
1. Build a bridge between systems and lines of business
It may seem strange adding even more people into the mix, but the systems business systems teams often work with are very customizable (like Salesforce, for example) and would certainly benefit from having additional SMEs to filter through requests and determine exactly what they are, what their ROI is, pull all of the necessary information from the end user, and propose a hypothesis before presenting the issue to systems and working with them to administer it. This can be done by granting the liaison team access to sandboxes where they can test certain solutions and once they come up with one that’s workable, present it to systems for review. This group, in turn, arms systems with all they need to begin work right away and eases their workload.
This group can also work with LOBs to determine high-level classification of the requests and generate content based on these FAQs. This, in turn, will help systems focus on more complex, high value tasks, while also providing end users answers to the questions they need via self service.
Some orgs may separate these “middleman groups” into those who work with LOBs or systems that are customer facing and those that aren’t, but it depends on the makeup of your business.
If having SMEs of a particular system isn’t your preference, you could also create a project management office (PMO) that works alongside systems in more of a systems-neutral role, whose main goal is to ensure alignment and timelines between groups. A PMO can also help deliver a systems roadmap spelling out business priorities for the next cycle. By weaving project management into your business priority cadence, lines of business are kept more immediately informed about projects and systems is better supported to work on high-value initiatives.
2. Make customer service more like a community
Just as there’s a greater move to SaaS, more companies are opting to use contact centers as opposed to just call centers and/or email, giving customers more choice as to how they communicate with support. Though this can also give companies greater options as to how they handle tickets internally – it’s not without its challenges. In converting incoming emails to email-to-case, for example, this can leave support teams without a lot to work with as the emails can have minimal information entered by the client. This can lead to no underlying categorization, which means the issue cannot be routed to the appropriate agent.
To solve this with a hub app like Salesforce, for example, systems teams may opt to enact Salesforce Communities, which is a centralized hub (like a forum or community board) where customers can come in and see others who are having the same issue and get the help they need. Within this community, you (as a systems leader) can compile knowledge articles based on FAQs and have a section where customers can submit cases directly within the community (web-to-case).
If you’re using a separate CMS that’s disconnected from where people are submitting cases, the information becomes fragmented. There’s no real way to see where the end user’s coming from and how it connects to their issue. If agents are accessing it, there needs to be another layer of authentication so that you know and trust who the users are. All of this is possible, but the process needs to be efficient and scaled.
By enacting Salesforce Communities (and other programs like it), systems teams can ensure a seamless appearance by making the community accessible through their company’s products with the touch of a button. By clicking on it, the user can be authenticated through Salesforce into the community as a logged-in user.
This is beneficial because you, as a company, know that the person is a trusted contact – and you can see exactly what they’re searching for, their click stream and how they’re interacting with you as a company. This information can be used to inform content creators where you’re deficient in certain areas and boost your overall knowledge base.
3. Communicate throughout business proactively
Systems teams are huge proponents of making it easier for lines of business to communicate – whether it’s approving processes in Microsoft Teams or Slack, hosting stand-up meetings, sharing files, or having a quick chat. With today’s tech, it’s never been easier to let someone know right away when something’s going on or has been changed. This can help users take the appropriate action if something has altered their previous scope or move on to the next thing if it speeds up their process.
4. Use email minimally
Depending on people’s roles or the severity of their workloads, their emails can pile up quickly – meaning that they could miss key information. On top of that, outside of those included on the email list, no one else has access to that information, potentially leaving important individuals out. The more knowledge locked away in emails, the longer it takes new hires to start their work, and the more likely it is that people will duplicate efforts or repeat mistakes their colleagues have already made – simply because it wasn’t accessible to everyone.
5. Make your documents discoverable
Whether you’re using Google Docs or SharePoint or Box for content management, it can be easy to only grant access to users who immediately need it – locking everyone else out. Make documents open by default (give anyone with a link commenting or viewing access) and force yourself to justify restricting viewers as opposed to the other way around.
6. Use chat rooms liberally
Chat rooms are where work happens today – it’s just the nature of instant access and communication. Use Slack channels for workstreams, projects and teams. That way, people from anywhere in the company can pop in to ask a question or get up to speed quickly by scrolling back through the chat archive. For this to work, however, and be used as a reliable resource, everyone has to: 1) know that the channel exists, and 2) use it for the appropriate reasons and use it liberally.
7. Keep it relevant and brief
Though making content discoverable to anyone with a link is important, only sharing updates with the need-to-know people is also recommended. Everyone in tech is busy, so making updates available on a self-serve basis to those who don’t immediately require the information encourages efficiency at all times and whenever it best suits the user or need.
When You Break Down Information Silos, You Increase Business Efficiency
Free-flowing information means everyone can produce greater work. There’s fewer mistakes repeated, fewer re-inventions of the wheel, and fewer people left out of the loop. While making documents discoverable can open the door for people to add feedback at a time when you’re not ready for, it’s better than the alternative: catching mistakes at a time when it’ll cost you resources or business.