Last week, we talked the benefits for your organization (and you) when you work across departments on collaborative projects. While you now may be aware of the perks, a good next step is to assess the need and viability of working across departments at your specific organization.
What are some interdepartmental projects that you could propose to your organization? Let’s look at an example to help you get some ideas:
Imagine working at a fellowship program for high school graduates in underserved communities. Your organization’s mission is to improve the lives of local graduates by helping them find purpose while building their professional skills. Let’s say two departments at your organization typically speak to the same constituents (alumni of the program) throughout the year. Your fundraising team is likely interested in following up with alumni to invite them to galas and to request support for new initiatives. Your admissions team probably wants to talk to these same individuals, inviting them to speak to prospective participants about the benefits of the program. Each has unique reasons for communicating with alumni, but ultimately, each serves the mission of the organization.
What type of projects might these teams work on together and what benefits may result from their efforts?
- They can send a message from both departments in one mailing. Benefit: save time and money.
- They can acquire and use a shared client management system to track correspondence that each department has with alumni. Benefit: identify creative ways each alumnus can provide assistance to the departments.
- They can coordinate a joint event or program. Benefit: an opportunity to demonstrate a unified message to alumni that reflects the organization’s mission.
How might you identify types of interdepartmental projects that your organization needs?
Assess your organization’s culture
Are interdepartmental projects currently nonexistent at your organization? What is the likelihood that the powers-that-be will be on board with your recommendations? Identify whether your organization is one in which taking ownership and offering ideas are lauded or discouraged. Who can you get to advocate for you and get your organization on board? If you feel you’ll have the support to create an interdepartmental project, start gathering more information (see the next steps below) and fleshing out some ideas. Later, you’ll want to develop a “script” you can use based on your organization’s culture to present your idea to your manager in an approach they are likely to be most receptive to.
Talk to people in other departments
Learn what their needs are and brainstorm ideas for making a contribution. What work is being duplicated and how can it be streamlined? In what areas might your skills be most valuable? How might the people in other departments help you with your projects?
Identify opportunities at your organization to contribute your skills
If you want to use your interpersonal skills, what opportunities exist for you to do so? Try to think of ways that relate to your actual job in some way. For example, if you are a bookkeeper, you might use your interpersonal skills at work serving on an event-planning committee.
Have a conversation with your manager
Let him or her know that you are interested in improving your organization’s processes by working on an interdepartmental project. Also mention the skill you’d like to use or enhance by working on the collaborative project you are proposing. Be sure to outline your ideas for using it on the job and in which department(s) you think you can contribute. Two ways your manager can support you is by initiating the conversation with managers from the other departments about your interest in contributing and how. If additional approval is needed, your manager can be the person to advocate for the project.
If your organization does not currently engage in working across departments, consider starting a conversation about it. It’s a great way to practice adaptive leadership, demonstrate your leadership abilities even if it’s not in your job title, and provide low-cost professional development opportunities organization-wide. Collect anecdotes from other nonprofit professionals who have effectively used cross-training. Make the case that when coworkers have a better understanding of each other’s work and a broad picture of how to use resources together, your organization benefits!