Strong, healthy and prosperous organizations are often the ones where everyone works together as a team, towards common goals and outcomes, understanding the significance of their own contribution in achieving these results.
When workplaces are dysfunctional, they can often operate in “silo” type situations where different teams fail to work together or even communicate effectively with one another.
But when teams unite they can achieve many goals: for example they might boost sales, increase growth, become more productive, have more successful marketing campaigns, hire the best people, attract investors and more.
Research by i4cp found that high-performing companies are around 5.5 times more likely than their competitors to encourage collaboration across the board within their organizations. And a 2016 Nielsen study found when teams of three or more people develop an idea, it has 156% more appeal with consumers than ideas that were developed by teams where only one or two people had a hands-on role.
Why a collaborative culture in the workplace is important
When organizations embark on large-scale projects without adequate consultation and collaboration between colleagues, it can lead to confusion, wasted time and resources, lost money, delivering a project that isn’t fit-for-purpose and, ultimately, the project could fail entirely.
A hypothetical example is a large utility company that decided to offer new plans and services to its customers. However, as these plans and services were released they soon realized that there were issues between the sales and marketing and billing teams within the organization when customers were incorrectly billed for the new services. The company’s call centre was not adequately prepared for the influx of complaints that it received when customers began receiving their bills. Customers were angry and felt both duped and inconvenienced and some even took their business elsewhere to other utility providers.
The negative outcomes in this scenario could have been avoided completely if the different teams within the organization struck up a collaborative approach from the very start of the project. Regular project meetings where every team understands the objectives of the project and what actions they are responsible in order to make it a success, as well as follow up issues to mitigate any unforeseen circumstances would have helped this firm to pull together to deliver the new initiatives successfully without damaging their reputation and losing customers.
Common obstacles to cross departmental collaboration
There are several common issues that crop up time and time again in organizations where creating a collaborative culture in the workplace is problematic.
1. Inability to consider other perspectives
Sometimes employees just focus on their own job and their own team and don’t take into account the different needs and perspectives of other teams with different functions. This is often the place where most communication failures happen. It can also cause hostility, frustration and resentment between colleagues and hurt working relationships.
This challenge can be overcome by employees spending more time getting to understand other teams within the organization, such as through job shadowing or training opportunties. A comprehensive onboarding/induction process when new recruits join the organization should also be adopted so that employees can gain an understanding of the roles and responsibilities of each department within the organization and why they are important.
2. Ineffective meetings
Meetings are used widely in organizations when collaboration is needed between different teams… but if not run properly they will not yield the results that are needed.
According to Doodle’s 2019 State of Meetings Report, which examined 19 million meetings and surveyed 6,500 professionals in multiple countries, poorly organised meetings can sometimes do more harm than good. 44% percent of respondents said that poorly organized meetings meant that they don’t have enough time left in the day to complete the rest of their work, 43% said unclear actions leads to confusion, 38% said bad organization leads to a loss of focus on projects and 31% said irrelevant attendees slow progress.
This challenge can be overcome by being more careful about scheduling meetings. Consider carefully what the objectives are, have a clear agenda, appoint a note taker and have a plan in place to follow up on actions that were decided on at the meeting. Have someone in charge of the meeting who can keep it to time and stop it from getting sidetracked on irrelevant issues. Also don’t invite people who really don’t need to attend. Conversely, for cross departmental collaboration to be effective you need to ensure you have the right teams and the right team members in attendance.
3. When silos develop
Silos develop when teams work in isolation from other teams and don’t often think about the “big picture” the organization is trying to achieve – just the role they have within their team and what their team’s goals are. In small organizations its not uncommon for different teams to work alongside one another in a physical location (although this does not mean they are effectively communicating or sharing information).
But in large organizations, structures can mean that teams never even see one another and therefore don’t always think about or know about other areas. For example the legal team may be on one floor of a large office building while the IT department is on another. Or they may operate out of different buildings entirely. Or different cities. Even different countries.
Colleagues being able to build interpersonal relationships with one another and departments building relationships with other departments helps your organization to run more smoothly. It can be as simple as knowing where to go and who to ask for assistance with a particular issue. It can also mean teams work together more effectively.
Solutions can include less formal gatherings, such as social events, where employees have the opportunity to get to know one another. Different departments and teams could host these events. You can also profile different teams on your internal communications channels and highlight the work they do.
A good example of breaking down silos and fostering a collaborative culture in the workplace would be if the internal communications department was looking to purchase software to send important information to employees’ desktops but didn’t have the budget. They could work collaboratively with the IT department, explaining how the IT department itself could use the software to send information about important IT issues such as outages. They could also work with the teams responsible for security and emergency management who would benefit from using the system to send security or emergency alerts. Together these teams could share expenses and have a new system to keep employees well-informed.
4. Lack of clear direction
In many organizations, some managers can be just as guilty as operating in a silo as their teams are. There could be many reasons for this: they may not get clear instructions from the very top, they may only be worried about their own teams results and meeting their KPIs, or they may just lack vision and effective leadership skills.
Training and building capacity in your management team to develop these types of skills is essential for building a collaborative company culture. It’s not a quick fix and will take time to achieve.
How to measure if you have a collaborative organisational culture?
To determine if a collaborative work culture exists in your organization, all you have to do is ask the people at the coal-face: your employees.
Employee surveys are a good tool to gauge just about anything in your organization, including whether or not the culture of collaboration is embedded in your workplace. Ask specific questions about collaboration. This will give you a benchmark and you can ask these questions again later to help determine if any actions you have put in place to boost cross departmental collaboration have been effective.
Forget about paper-based surveys, you can easily send a survey to employee desktops via DeskAlerts and save time by getting results instantly.
Creating a collaborative culture in the workplace
Empowering your employees to be able to collaborate is one of the best things you can do for your business. Aside from some of the solutions mentioned above to overcome common issues, such as training your leadership team and holding events, some other strategies for building relationships in the workplace with other departments include:
1. Have clear organizational goals
It’s hard for everyone to be united and working towards the same goal if no one is quite sure exactly what that goal is. Clearly set out your organization’s goals, mission, vision, targets and KPIs in a corporate plan and clearly establish the ways this will be achieved and how each team will contribute to these outcomes.
2. Provide tools to help
Other than meetings, there are other great ways for employees to share information. Team apps like Slack, Asana or Basecamp help people to share information both formally and informally. Corporate social media channels can also help people get to know one another a bit better, as can instant messaging.
DeskAlerts, for example, can be deployed to share news and information, quiz or survey employees and send RSVPs and reminders about social and corporate events.
3. Provide training opportunities
Not everyone has the skills and experience to naturally know how to collaborate with others, especially when they might come across different or difficult personality types and behaviors in the workplace. There are a range of training solutions that can help to equip your team members to work better together, allowing for differences.
4. Provide opportunities to work together meaningfully
Sometimes when a new project is announced, organizations don’t make effective use of the skills and people they already have in-house and outsource some functions. Other times there is just little or no consultation – Team B might require Team A to dedicate a chunk of time to a project, not understanding or factoring in that Team A is at capacity already with other deliverables.
When people share information better and work more closely with one anothers’ teams they can come up with proactive strategies to get things done together.