Fostering a collaborative work environment has always been a core business concern, and it grows in significance as an organization grows. Even so, it’s frustratingly common for a modern company to have minimal communication between its departments. This ultimately diminishes its overall productivity (after all, a great team should be more than the sum of its parts).
Let’s suppose for the sake of argument that your business is in that position. Your operation consists of various distinct departments, each with a unique mandates. The departments exclusively (or near-exclusively) work on their specific projects. This isn’t ideal for anyone: it dampens creativity through a lack of outside perspectives and ultimately leads to stagnation.
In that case, what should you do? How can you get your departments working together to get things done more quickly and effectively? Here are some suggestions you can implement to get your employees working and learning together more frequently and effectively:
How well do your colleagues understand one another’s responsibilities? Being at a managerial level, you’ll know what everyone does, but don’t make the mistake of assuming it to be common knowledge. You might find that your two biggest departments have barely any crossover. Each would struggle to describe the other’s daily workload.
This is where colleague shadowing becomes extremely useful. The concept of simple enough. Take an employee from one department away from their usual tasks for a day, and have them instead spend it shadowing (which is to say following and attempting to mimic) an employee from another department.
The objective? To have them pick up first-hand experience of what it’s like to work in that department, and gain some valuable perspective.
Some businesses struggle with a collaborative work environment because their departments operate in very different ways, get their information from different sources, and avoid sharing what they don’t see as a value add to other departments.
Collaboration software such as a company intranet helps to improve employee collaboration by centralizing company news, knowledge sharing, outlining processes, vendor lists, important links and workflows. This can give all of your employees the ability to not only keep up with what’s going on elsewhere in the business but also get involved.
However, just because the platform is available at your organization doesn’t guarantee it will be used. An intranet requires delegation, keeping content relevant, and all documents, standards and policies to the most up to date version.
Once your employees know their respective responsibilities and are capable of communicating effectively, they’re perfectly capable of collaborating. Why not put that to the test? Try partnering individuals from diverse departments on group projects. Your teams are working cross functionally towards common goals, and tackling the same problems with different brains in the room.
As for the projects you should assign, choose a problem a department is struggling with overcoming. Aim for something that will return meaningful value to the business, and don’t have too many cooks in the kitchen. Some examples of a cross functional collaborative work environment initiatives are:
Remember to wrap up with analysis, because you should be able to infer a lot from each group project. Which employees stepped up and took responsibility? Which weren’t sure how to proceed? Not only will this information help you come up with action plans for each individual employee, but it will also tell you the best team configurations for future projects.
Even when departments are busy working on their unique tasks, the possibility of smooth collaboration with other departments is valuable, because there’s often value to be found in seeking external perspectives. And when the need arises for people to work together, it’s mission-critical that they can do so capably. Implement the tactics we’ve looked at, and you should be able to achieve some major improvements.
If you’d like more information on fostering a collaborative work environment, check out our HR Ebook for an engaged workplace.
This article was contributed by guest blogger Kayleigh Alexandra. After years working in the sustainability, marketing and creative industries, Kayleigh now loves to devote her time to supporting other businesses to grow and thrive.