“Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” – Vince Lombardi
While there’s been much talk about ‘returning to the office’, and the various incentives being dangled to lure workers back, there’s absolutely no doubt hybrid and remote work is here to stay. Sweatpants aside, the perks of flexible work are enormous – and thanks to the recent digital communication boom, businesses are easily able to keep everyone connected. But what if the cost of that connection is, ironically, the emergence of more isolated teams? Teams that communicate more amongst themselves, but less between each other? And how do we to get everyone working together again?
According to Harvard Business School research, many companies around the world experienced a similar ‘siloing’ issue during the pandemic days of remote work. The study of 360 billion emails between workers at 4,000 organisations revealed that employees digitally split off into more isolated and well-defined groups – and although communication within those stand-alone groups intensified, communication between them dropped markedly.
Now, even with remote mandates long gone, those communication silos remain. And those silos, according to Author Pearl Zhu, “are not just physical structures, they are also mental constructs that inhibit communication and collaboration.”
Alison Hill, respected Author, business coach and psychologist, believes that without the ad hoc cross-pollination that occurs organically in an office setting, or the pull towards collaborative problem-solving or project coordination across divisions, collaboration between teams is the biggest challenge we face with a dispersed workforce.
And unfortunately, when people focus solely on their own role and team, they can lose sight of how their work impacts the bigger picture. It can also breed a ‘silo mentality’, an ugly ‘us v’s them’ mindset between departments that creates competition, interdepartmental turf wars and a lack of cooperation – not exactly the makings of a thriving company culture.
So how do you create a coordinated business from a collection of stand-alone groups? How can you facilitate cross-functional knowledge sharing, create greater efficiencies, collaboration and cooperation? How can you build stronger relationships between departments? Glad you asked…
3 Ways to Reconnect Your Teams
1) Share the big picture
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the people to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Lencioni, in his book ‘Silos, Politics and Turf Wars’, declared that businesses should have a “a rallying cry” that brings people together across divisions. A common purpose that stirs people’s passion and binds people together.
There’s a great story about John F. Kennedy that epitomises this shared purpose connection. During his visit to NASA in 1962, JFK noticed a janitor carrying a broom. He walked over to him, introduced himself, and asked “What are you doing?” The janitor proudly responded, “Well Mr. President, I’m helping put a man on the moon.” True or not, it’s pretty powerful stuff.
Research clearly shows that employees want to be part of something larger and more important than themselves. As Simon Sinek says in his famous Ted Talk, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” They want to work for a company with a purpose they can get behind, to feel personally connected to the company’s purpose and to feel like they’re contributing to it.
Phill Nosworthy, renowned futurist, executive advisor and speaker, also advocates for the ‘why’, saying “Your brand wins when you have people addicted to coming to work because that’s the place they know they can make it count.”
Disney’s purpose is to create happiness. Patagonia’s is to save our home planet. Nike wants to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world. Starbucks wants to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighbourhood at a time.
What’s your company’s purpose? It’s real beating heart? Get it right, and it can be your rallying cry, the unifying ‘why’ that brings everyone together.
2) Create a collaborative culture
Imagine this… you go to a classical concert and find the violinist, the cellist, the pianist and the conductor all facing different directions, doing their own thing. On their own their work may be beautiful… but when they work together? That’s when the real magic happens.
Recent research conducted by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) and Rob Cross, Professor of Global Business at Babson College, found that companies that promoted collaborative working were 5 times more likely to be high performing than those that didn’t. And for employees, simply feeling like you’re part of a team working on a task results in higher engagement, lower fatigue and a higher success rate according to one Stanford study.
Collaboration works on so many levels. Contrary to the popular saying, great minds don’t always think alike. In fact, great minds think very differently, and it’s when you put those different minds together – with their unique experiences, skills and perspectives – that really special things happen.
Holly Ransom, globally recognised speaker and disruption strategist, believes that “In an age of intensifying digital echo chambers, breaking from routine thinking and giving ourselves over to unconventional collaborative experiences is paramount to creativity, critical thinking and empathy.”
So how can you build a more collaborative culture, where individuals and teams work together to share ideas, achieve common goals and create magic? Here are some ideas to get you started:
– Reward collaborative efforts rather than individual ones. A little gratitude and public acknowledgment goes a long way!
– Slack, Asana, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Trello… digital tools have made remote collaboration easy. Ask for responses via chat, do a quick poll, have everyone add their input to a shared document, build an information hub everyone can access – regardless of where or how you’re working, the opportunities to collaborate are endless.
– For a fun way to help people get to know each other, create regular cross-functional team-building opportunities.
– Select specific individuals to be conduits between departments / teams – these point people need to be excellent communicators and comfortable across all sections of the business.
– Hire people who will be adept at networking and collaborating, and reinforce the importance of those skills through the onboarding process.
– Provide staff training and continuous learning in areas like teamwork, emotional intelligence, conscious communication and networking.
– Create informal shared spaces to encourage organic cross-departmental mingling. Throw in some couches, a ping-pong table, encourage hot-desking – whatever suits your culture. Face-to-face conversation and social interaction increase engagement between individuals and departments, so make the most of the time people are in the office!
3) Foster open communication
Open communication is essential for facilitating a collaborative work environment where people feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and ideas without fear of judgement or repercussion. It’s not only great for employee morale, but for business too – employees who feel their voice is heard are 4.6 times more likely to be empowered to do their best work!
A safe space where people can share their perspectives also helps foster trust and transparency, encouraging the free flow of information and ideas – essential for engagement, inclusion, connection and innovation.
Here are some ways you can foster open communication in the workplace:
– Keep the doors open. If doors are always closed, people won’t share their views or concerns.
– Encourage employees to speak up and share their ideas and concerns openly and honestly. Empower them to speak up!
– Regularly solicit feedback from employees (and act on it) – it helps build trust and transparency, and ensures people feel heard and valued.
– Encourage managers to actively listen and respond constructively to employee feedback.
– Create an environment where people feel comfortable challenging the status quo – reward out-of-the-box thinking.
– Be invested in employee goals as much as business goals – it’s a two-way street.
– Ensure leaders are approachable, and get to know staff on a personal level too. It’s difficult to be honest with people you don’t know.
– Create open channels ofcommunication. Regular team meetings, internal newsletters, anonymous suggestion boxes, employee surveys – there are plenty of tools you can use to keep the lines open.
Building strong inter-departmental relationships takes time and a co-ordinated effort from all levels of the business. But there’s no doubt that those relationships build higher-functioning, more profitable and innovative organisations. They also build more engaged, connected and happier teams – and as Matthew Woodring Stover said, “If you take out the team in teamwork, it’s just work. Now who wants that?”
We have some of the world’s best leadership and communication experts, including Simon Sinek, Anthony Laye, Phill Nosworthy, Alison Hill and Holly Ransom, ready to help your teams build stronger inter-departmental relationships to harness the power of collaboration. If you’d like us to introduce you, simply get in touch with us for a chat!