5 ways to get people collaborating more effectively across departments

December 1, 2017 4:31 am Published byAzesta

I’m writing this article from the point of view of both a trainer and a consultant, so the majority of the tips below are for organisations to implement although you can help them as either an external consultant or a member of the internal HR or L&D

1. Use a great ‘inter-teamworking’ tool to help people shift their mindset

It is really useful to give people an emotional insight that reveals their natural human instinct to focus only within their own team and to be competitive as opposed to doing what is best for the organisation as a whole. Tasks where multiple teams work together to achieve a shared objective will usually result in sub teams simply trying to beat the others so it is great to include an exercise like this in a development programme as a way into a discussion about when this happens in the workplace and the impact that it has on business results. Some of the best Metalog tools that I have for this are ‘Catapults’ (where three teams work to construct, test and then catapult balls into different zones with the aim of achieving the highest possible number of overall catches) and ‘Pipeline’ (where teams must co-ordinate their efforts to deliver simultaneous results). It tends to take a while before they work out that better results can be achieved by co-operating across the teams. Training people in the skills they need to effectively collaborate such as effective communication, resolving conflicts and building trust-based relationships is also shown to have a clear positive impact on collaborative behaviour.

2. Make time and space to collaborate and have a purpose worth the effort

It’s not going to happen if people just say ‘we really must collaborate more’ as all everyone will do is simply collaborate to the point of meeting their own priorities. Collaboration needs to be purposeful, meet all parties’ interests and help them achieve core objectives. For example, people need to arrange to get together with a clear objective: ‘by the end of this meeting, we will have worked out how we can change this process in order to benefit both the sales and the accounts department’. When forming new teams, such as to manage projects, try to ensure that there are a number of people that already know each other to give collaboration a head start. Clearly define roles and objectives, but leave the route to getting there ambiguous and open to exploration and collaboration.

3. Ensure senior leaders model collaborative behaviour effectively

Senior leaders have been shown to have a big effect on the extent to which collaboration happens. They need to be seen not only to be collaborating themselves, but to be mentoring, coaching and helping people to build the networks they need to work across organisational boundaries. In addition, they are able to model job shadowing and spending time to meet with and understand departments other than their own as well as ensuring that this happens at lower levels.

4. Ensure a sense of community in an organisation

Space can help with this, where the organisation is open plan and has informal meeting spaces where people can congregate, collaboration and the sharing of best practice tend to be more common. At the extreme, some organisations, as well as providing kitchens and canteens, provide shops, restaurants and even sports facilities to make informal relationships between colleagues from different departments and collaboration more likely. Obviously, this is not always financially viable but even smaller organisations can sponsor group events and activities to help develop relationships across departments and can also invest in up to date technology to enable regular quick and easy virtual collaboration.

Organised events and celebrations will also provide informal networking opportunities and create a sense of community and fun.

5. Focus on and emphasise the importance of collaboration

We all aware that what gets recognised gets done and while it is difficult to turn cross team working into a specific KPI, it is possible to recognise it and help it to grow. In team meetings, positive stories and examples of collaboration can be told and in one–to-ones, managers can ask staff how they’ve helped improve things by collaborating, how they’ve shared best practice and how they’ve
collectively improved the way the organisation operates.

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