Why Working Across Departments is Important

Ever wonder what your coworkers do all day? Perhaps you’ve been in meetings with your colleagues from other departments and have an inkling of what their jobs entail, but you’re not really sure how it all fits into the grand scheme of things. You may find yourself going back to your desk to work on your own projects, the insights from your meetings a faded memory.

With an already full to-do list, it might be hard to envision the benefits of creating and/or tackling cross-departmental projects. After all, we work in separate departments for a reason! But the benefits to your organization and to you are worth the effort.

When you’re entrenched in your own responsibilities, it’s easy to forget that other departments not only exist, but that you’re all serving one main goal: fulfilling the mission of your organization. And while having a well-oiled department that functions on its own is nothing to sneeze at—it shows that you’ve gotten into a good rhythm for your work—sometimes what is best for the organization (and you personally!) is to look beyond yourself to the other departments that play a part in its success.


Benefits to your organization

Employees gain a holistic view of the organization’s work

Learning what other departments do and working with them on collaborative projects are ways to avoid losing sight of the organization’s other moving parts. Organizations with employees from different departments who work together on projects can benefit from sharing information and asking questions. According to Chris Canialosi, a contributing writer at Forbes, having a working understanding of other departments will give you broader-picture insights.

Complement the needs of multiple departments

Use the projects you work on to complement the needs of each department, instead of each team working independently and producing moderate efforts. Avoid duplicating work and help streamline processes wherever you can.

Share ideas

When each department shares how it does its work, you have the opportunity to look at the way you do work through your colleagues’ “fresh set of eyes.” What questions do they ask about your department? What is confusing to them about the way you do your work, and how might that help you in discovering ways to work better?

Instill a spirit of camaraderie

When you work across departments and learn each one’s motivations and how it relates to the whole organization, you may gain a feeling of “we’re in this together” among you and your coworkers (and perhaps ideas for communicating that message to your audience). You also can gain a greater sense of empathy for your colleagues’ work and challenges.

Benefits to you

It’s a great way to build your professional experience and develop a varied body of work for your resume/portfolio

Developing your strengths and keeping at the top of your game in regards to your skillset can be instrumental in making a career transition. If you are seeking to switch directions in your career, honing your skills in an area that you would not typically focus on in your “main” role can give you the experience you need to transition to a new line of work.

It can make you more marketable when it comes to looking for a new job

When it comes to moving on (or up), keeping your skills sharp can always be useful in finding a new job or being considered for a promotion. Even if you’re not seeking a full-on career change, having varied responsibilities that allow you to use your strengths effectively can be a real game-changer when applying for another role.

It’s another low-cost professional development opportunity

Working with another team can give you new skills and perspectives. You can simultaneously help serve your organization’s mission and your own need for professional development by partnering with another team. Work on a goal in that department that is complementary to your “typical” work but different enough to give you new insights and vision into how that other department serves the organization’s mission.

What are your ideas for using your skills on an interdepartmental team? How will you use the ideas from this article to increase your value to your organization and enhance your professional skills?  

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I became acquainted with Idealist in late 2000 while working in the career development office at a private liberal arts college in NYC. I used it almost daily to help students and alumni find meaningful careers. After a 12-year stint in higher education, I worked as a career coach for professionals in various industries (and still used Idealist). During one of those many searches, a listing really caught my eye- the one for the newly-created position, Careers Program Coordinator. So... I jumped at the opportunity. Since then, I took on the role of Manager of Career Content for Idealist Careers, creating career content for job seekers, leaders, and other nonprofit professionals. Understanding the roles that a positive outlook and holistic self-care play in career success, I've shared with our readers time-honored methods for improving confidence and productivity. Now, as Manager of College and Professional Development, my focus is on lifting the advice from Idealist Careers "off the page". Drawing from my experience in career development, I propel job seekers and career changers towards taking control of their searches with confidence and removing fear, uncertainty, and other blocks to success via in-person workshops and seminars, webinars, and conference programming. My great loves are cooking (preferably without a recipe, otherwise I doctor it up), dancing, live cultural performances, identifying the tasting notes in a good cup of coffee, exploring neighborhoods for hidden gems, and anything else that sparks the senses and allows me to experience all the beauty, dynamism, and intrigue that vivaciously living in a remarkable world offers.
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    • Irene
    • January 5, 2016

    What about when this doesn’t work? My organization is super centralized and when approaching other departments like Marketing/Communications or HR, it can be very difficult for those departments to meet the needs of my own while toting the company policy towards uniformity.

    1. Hello Irene, and thank you for writing in! This article is part of a series and the upcoming articles will focus on how to approach your manager about the idea of working on an interdepartmental project, and how to deal with pushback. These articles will be published on January 12th and January 19th.

    • Bianca Howard
    • January 6, 2016

    This article made me more interested in working on a cross-departmental project that exists, but has languished for a few months. I find the challenge in working across departments is to keep the projects going when leadership changes.

    1. Thank you for sharing, Bianca! Please let us know how things go if you pursue that cross-departmental project.

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