What is the one thing most needed in the workplace? Collaboration. It is not just collaboration within your own team, but also — often more importantly cross-boundary collaboration across the organization.

So what is cross-boundary collaboration? According to a paper written by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO), it is "a process in which two or more entities agree to cross-organizational boundaries and combine resources in order to achieve joint goals."

Here are five tips for engaging in cross-boundary collaboration throughout your organization.

1. Define obstacles

Teams within an organization want to stay within their boundaries. Each group sees themselves as an island unto themselves. Teams end up not wanting to contribute to projects outside of their areas.

When a team member's abilities are required, the leadership should define the obstacles they feel will take away from the team's objectives.

Each leader should be able to define the benefits that can be derived. It is best to see it from a cooperation standpoint — how this is beneficial to both the team member and the organization. Using another team member's expertise will not only give that person cross-training, but will also help the project's goals be achieved.

2. Define goals

Goals are a good first step in the collaboration process. Define what each goal will achieve. What are the milestones and benchmarks required for the success.

According to NASCIO paper, "Understanding the issue or problem to be solved, as well as the goals to be achieved, are essential."

These goals will enable true collaboration. All parties will understand what is expected of each. Additionally, if a problem arises, there is always room for discussion. These goals should be able to be changed based on the needs of the project and the organization.

3. Building relationships

Once these goals are agreed upon, the next step is relationship building. It is not enough just to write down the goals. What is more important is fostering relationships, not only within the team environment, but also across the organization.

There will be times when a team member's skill set will be required. By already having developed these good relationships, it will enable a smoother transition of use of that employee for that project.

The leadership should look at this as an opportunity for all concerned. Each party gets what it needs, and the organization as a whole wins with this type of collaboration.

4. Building trust

When a team or department needs an employee for a project, this can be a hurdle that maybe insurmountable. For example, the NASCIO paper indicates that, "Underlying suspicion of partnerships with other organizations can lead to distrust and may cause frustration among the entities attempting to collaborate."

The paper suggests the best way to solve this suspicion and mistrust is to do the following:

  • Trust but verify
  • Examine the risks to both sides and determine how to minimize or address them
  • Have a common plan for handling the relationship from start to finish

5. Communication

Communication is probably the most important factor in cross-boundary collaboration. This is not a one-time venture, but must be continuous throughout the entire project cycle. Too often, this is where there can be real trouble, and miscommunication can abound.

The NASCIO paper relates that "for these reasons, continuous communication throughout the life of the collaboration is essential for consistent support from all organizations and stakeholders involved."

Finally, cross-boundary collaboration is essential tool for teams and the organization. It keeps lines of communication open, is an opportunity for cross-training of individuals, and can open up the doors for success across all areas of the organization.