And this challenge has only been heightened by the Covid 19 pandemic; with an increasing number of people working remote (completely from home) or hybrid (a mixture of at home and in the office) making it more difficult to communicate and collaborate in person.
Alongside the challenges of a distributed workforce, common reasons why cross-team collaboration fails within organizations include lack of trust, commitment and accountability, and fear of feedback. But, according to Enablo Co-Founder, Dave Nixon, the biggest reason why cross-team collaboration efforts fail is not having the right ‘culture-tool’ (or ‘people-product’) fit.
“Either the collaborative norms aren’t baked into the company culture or their communication tool is limiting cross-team collaboration effectiveness in some way – for example the entire organization isn’t on the tool or the tool hasn’t been configured with the right channel structures to deliver great cross-team collaboration,” says Dave.
So, as a leader, how can you implement (and nurture!) a collaborative working approach in today’s world?
1. Pay attention to culture and employee experience
An organization’s emotional culture sets the tone for how employees feel, largely influencing their happiness, job satisfaction, advocacy and how they communicate and collaborate with their colleagues. So, to improve cross-team collaboration, it’s important to get this culture right and leaders play a critical role.
Regardless of your organization’s size, there are some key things you can do as a leader to build a collaborative culture:
- Give all employees a voice. Introduce the right digital workplace tools so every employee, from shop floor to head office, can easily connect and collaborate organization-wide.
- Encourage asynchronous communication and ‘working out loud’ using your company’s digital workplace tools. The best way to do this is leading by example and celebrating those in your team who do this.
- Establish a culture where ‘Nothing is someone else’s problem’ by empowering your employees to take ownership of any problems they encounter rather than pass the buck, or do nothing. A great way to do this is by encouraging ideation and innovation programs using your digital communication channels. These allow employees to work together to solve problems in an open and transparent way.
In addition, it’s important for leaders to measure team collaboration before, during and after new tactics or policies are implemented. Because “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”
2. Use the right technology to connect and communicate
The way we work is changing; 37% of the global workforce is now outside of an office setting, and that’s impacting organizations’ ability to collaborate and communicate effectively using traditional methods. Digital technology is having a profound effect, from where you can work, to how you need to manage people, and leaders need to be proactive in embracing these tools.
New tools can drive changes in behaviour and culture, but there needs to be a willingness to change and a strong plan in place to make this happen.
“If there is a lack of trust and transparency in your organization driven by leaders making decisions behind closed doors, unless leaders are willing to change this behaviour, bringing in a new digital tool won’t drive the change on its own,” says Dave.
Culture-tool fit is incredibly important when it comes to selecting the right digital tools for your organization. Also important to consider is what type of workforce your organization has; for example, the proportion of desk-based people versus frontline. Digital work tools are not new, but traditional tools are often difficult to use, and are generally only accessible to desk-based workers – leaving a huge proportion of the workforce in the dark and unable to collaborate. They also often take a great deal of organization-wide change management to implement and therefore face adoption challenges.
Dave explains that people’s expectations are changing when it comes to work tools as well, especially when it comes to younger generations.
“People have access to these amazing consumer apps in their personal lives, and then they go to work and have to use clunky old enterprise tools. It causes a great deal of frustration and lowers collaboration and productivity.”
The good news is, there are tools developed more recently that are easy to adopt and accessible to all that can drive improved cross-team collaboration and connectivity across the whole organization, no matter where they work from And while the advancement of technology has had a positive impact on the pace and transparency of communication, if the right support isn’t in place this can also quickly lead to information overload.
“Misuse and overuse of synchronous messaging, chat tools and channels can mean constant pings, rings and dings, impacting productivity and making it near impossible for employees to keep up (or catch up!) if they’re not online all at the same time,” says Dave.
To combat this, organizations need to shift their focus to asynchronous, open communication tools and channels that are backed by a great search experience and the ability to automate work and integrate with other tools.
3. Lead networks and teams, not hierarchy
Alongside the change in working styles and the technology that is available, senior management roles are changing to facilitate cross-team collaboration. According to Deloitte, there has been a large shift away from a more traditional top-down management style to an ‘alongside’ management style, which places more of a focus on “facilitating the exchange of ideas, the flow of conversations across the organization, and providing greater autonomy at team and individual levels”.
This style of leadership is essential to facilitating conversations and providing greater autonomy for teams to openly collaborate with not only each other, but leaders in the organisation.
Similarly, as communication and collaboration behaviours flow from the top-down, a leader’s approach to cross-team collaboration has a massive impact on the rest of the organization’s willingness and ability to communicate and collaborate with other employees and teams.
With the right tools in place, there are a number of things leaders can do to promote transparency and collaboration:
- Using open, two-way asynchronous communication channels – so, rather than video meetings (synchronous) being your only form of company communication, you need to also lean into communication that doesn’t demand an immediate response from people so they can tune in and contribute no matter where they are working from or what time they are online.
- Producing authentic communication experiences in real-time, including live video and ‘on-scene’ posts.
- Getting involved in and encouraging conversations, moving away from traditional broadcast communications.
- Providing a variety of mediums in which to communicate, from video messages and live streaming, to long or short-form text, images and emojis.
- Continuously measuring the effectiveness of the digital tools to see how they are delivering against strategy and collaboration goals.
Lead from the front
Ultimately, leaders must recognise that their approach to collaboration needs to evolve to meet the needs and expectations of a more distributed and tech-savvy workforce. Senior leaders must be early adopters of tech tools and new ways of working and act as role models to promote and lead the charge in cross-team collaboration within their organizations.
How can Enablo help improve cross-team collaboration?
At Enablo, we are digitizing work in order to build the best distributed work experiences and drive connection, communication, collaboration and productivity for everyone, anywhere. Whether your people are serving customers, out on the road, collaborating in an office, or juggling kids while working from home, we want them to do their best work, together.
Through our partnerships with Workplace from Meta, Google Workspace and Asana, we work alongside our customers to launch and embed the tools, then measure and drive their ongoing success. We’ve helped hundreds of organizations transform their approach to collaboration.
Dave Nixon, Co Founder of Enablo