Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

The “You’ve got chocolate in my peanut butter” theory of innovation

That old Reese’s commercial makes a valid point — a brilliant new idea is often just the collision of two unlike things. The magic is in creating that sweet spot of overlap between two previously unrelated elements.

That’s why innovation in any field so often depends on the combined expertise of people from two or more different disciplines. But before that sort of collaboration can occur, you need to provide visibility across the company of different functions and areas of expertise.

Beyond visibility, the goal is to build respect across functional silos. For employees to value ideas contributed by someone from another discipline or with a different expertise, they first need to respect what others bring to the table.

We’ve seen this connection between respect and collaboration with a couple of clients recently. Each of these two companies depend on innovation and bringing new ideas to market in order to remain competitive. Both involve manufacturing and technology. Both are incredibly impressive in the way they collaborate across silos to create better solutions for customers in their industries.

When interviewing high-level engineers at both companies, they speak with great excitement about their collaborative efforts. They heap praise on the expertise of partners from other business units or functions and stress how lucky they are to be able to work with the collaborative team they’ve formed.

How does that happen? These two companies have developed their shared admiration for differing expertise organically. But if that’s not already the climate at your company, you can use communications strategies and tactics to sow the seeds of respect.

Build awareness of the work being done in other areas of the company — using whatever channels you have at your disposal. You can do this on your intranet, you can use an app, you can produce podcasts. You can publish a cultural magazine with articles that provide visibility for leading thinkers in the organization. You could even use digital signage for employee spotlights that highlight the work of various innovators.

By showcasing the talent in your company, you provide visibility into the wide range of expertise in your organization. When you can make celebrities of employees across a wide range of disciplines, you support a culture of respect. And a culture of respect helps create a work environment that fosters unexpected collaboration —  and that leads to innovation.

Interested in building a culture of innovation? Tribe can help.


Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

The Three Levels of Collaboration: Teams, Silos and Customers

What does collaboration mean in your company? When we talk with clients about collaboration in their organizations, almost all of them will mention the strong collaboration between team members.

Work teams are the first level of collaboration. To get the day-to-day work of the company done, you need teams who work together and support each other collaboratively, whether that’s in an operational department or a manufacturing cell.

People often feel strong emotional ties to their team members. They speak of having each other’s backs, or even of it feeling like family. In research, they often tell us they feel a much stronger connection to their immediate work team than to the company overall.

Cross-functional teams take collaboration to the next level. In companies with a strong overall vision that engages employees, we’re likely to see the second level of collaboration. Aligned with a common goal, employees collaborate across functions or geography or business units. Rather than confining their perceived team as their immediate work group or department, the sales team will see the product engineers as collaborative partners. The North American division will look to their colleagues in the EMEA regions for ideas. One apparel brand of a parent company will collaborate with another brand on developing better sourcing strategies.

The holy grail is having employees see the customer as their collaborative partner. Whether you’re selling technology or toilet paper, financial instruments or musical ones, a customer-centric focus indicates a highly evolved company culture.

This is not just for those employees are customer-facing. If you can create a sense of collaboration with the customer throughout the organization, you’ll be unstoppable. In an ideal world, employees will see their jobs in the context of the customer experience. Whatever they’re doing, from building a website to manufacturing products to developing a pricing structure to scheduling work flow, the big win is for them to see what they’re doing through the eyes of the customer and to consider their point of view.

Interested in taking collaboration to a new level in your organization? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Five ideas for engaging employees with wellness programs

HiResCompanies often launch employee wellness programs because of the health benefits, but these programs also can increase employee engagement. By activating the programs with initiatives that focus not just on the individual but help employees connect with their co-workers, build departmental and cross-departmental relationships and feel part of a group, wellness can foster a much higher level of employee engagement. Here are five ideas for how to make that happen:

1. Start a competition: This could be an annual fitness competition, based on sticking to individual exercise goals; it could be a weight loss challenge; it could be collecting miles walked or run to reach a collective mileage goal. 

2. Use your intranet to add a social element: Let your employee intranet make individual wellness efforts visible and create both a competitive spirit and a venue for support. Employees can establish individual fitness profiles with goals and report their progress against those goal; they can post their planned workout for the day; they can track their mileage or time,; or they could even find tennis partners or running buddies from the ranks of their colleagues.

3. Create a partner program: Whether employees are working on weight management or smoking cessation or just general fitness, studies show having a partner can increase success rates. That could mean pairing two people both working on the same sort of goals, or assigning a mentor who’s had success in that area to someone just beginning to make a change in their life. For instance, you might have an experienced runner mentor a co-worker just beginning to train for their first 5K. Or you might pair two people trying to quit smoking as support for each other. These partnerships can be established and maintained via the intranet.

4. Launch a virtual competition across locations: This can be a particularly strong program for companies with locations spread across the country or around the world. Competing against other locations helps employees realize they’re part of something bigger than just their own office, and can build great awareness of and engagement with far-flung business units and colleagues. 

5. Host a healthy lunch contest online: People love to post shots of whatever they’re eating online. Why not harness that same impulse for an employee competition? Employees snap a picture of what they brought for lunch, post it on the intranet, and then other employees can vote for it or simply “like” it. This could also include a recipe element, but doesn’t need to. Shots of hummus and raw vegetables or a healthy chili or big salad need little explanation for others to emulate — and could prompt some spontaneous online conversation as well, which can connect employees who might otherwise never have had any reason to interact.

Interested in more ideas for employee engagement? Tribe can help.

Ignite collaboration by promoting casual interactions

Encourage your organization’s employees to interact on a less work-related, more personal level. This can increase productivity, efficiency and even quality of work. In Tribe’s research, employees tell us it’s easier to collaborate with people they know. Creating human connections allows coworkers to account for someone’s personality or how they might respond to certain ideas. People are just more comfortable and open when they are familiar with the people that surround them day-to-day.

It’s all about who you know. One of the most common hurdles Tribe encounters with our clients is when employees need to reach out to a different department and don’t know who to call. Employees chatting with coworkers they don’t usually work with are opening doors and creating networks within their organization.

For example, say Jeff from IT hops on an elevator with Tim from Marketing. After chatting about their weekend they realize they both like the same NBA team, live near each other, like the same beer – it could be anything. Two days later, Tim is working on a project and needs insight from IT and doesn’t know who can help him. Then he remembers his new buddy Jeff from the elevator. Now he has at least somewhat of a starting point for finding a solution.

Besides boosting collaboration, casual interactions create a stronger culture within your organization. Allowing casual conversations every now and then can lighten the mood even at the most stressful times. Everyone needs a little break throughout the day and quick “meet and greet” style conversations are a great outlet for that.

Need help boosting collaboration in your company? Tribe can help!

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Creating innovation by venturing outside the silo

Silos are the enemies of innovation and sound decisions. When you can align employees with the company vision and values, and bring together people with different perspectives, expertise and experiences, the organization benefits in multiple ways.

Frits Van Paasschen, President and CEO of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, puts it this way. In a recent blog on the Harvard Business Review site, he says, “I strongly believe the best decisions happen when people with the same goals and values — but different points of view — speak frankly around the table.”

That comment might be overshadowed by the real news of the blog. Starwood has moved its headquarters to Dubai for a month to engage in an experiment that’s certainly attention-getting. “We’re here to be immersed in one of the world’s most dynamic regions,”  he writes, “and to see our global business through a sharply focused local lens.”

Van Paasschen is onto one of the best ways to cultivate creativity. To think outside the box, get outside the box. Try a new box. Try new combinations of old boxes. Do whatever you can to see things from a different perspective. Click here to read the complete blog.



Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Breaking down silos over lunch — and looping in non-desk workers

Innovation and collaboration are hot business objectives for many companies now. But how do you get your engineers to rub shoulders with your finance folks? How do you encourage employees to spend time with people in other business units?

A new app called Lunch Roulette takes a creative and practical approach to breaking down those silos. Employees enter a date they’re free for lunch and the place they’d like to meet, and the app randomly matches them with another employee.

The app went from idea to prototype in just a couple of days. To read more about that, you might like to see this Harvard Business Review blog or this piece from simply-communicate.com

This idea could also have powerful possibilities for non-desk workers, who often feel alienated from headquarters and invisible to executive management. If the CEO devoted just one lunch a month to meeting someone from the distribution center or the retail floor or the manufacturing plant, imagine what that could mean.

It could even go completely low-tech. It could be as simple as employees putting their names in a jar and having one of their names picked randomly for a lunchdate with the CEO or another high-level leader. This is an incredibly simple way to create the opportunity for a conversation between two people in the organization who would otherwise never be in the same room, much less sitting across the table from each other eating sandwiches.

This program would speak volumes to employees, and not just the ones who get picked for lunch. One of the most important messages it would send is that management values the non-desk employees and wants to hear what they have to say. In Tribe’s research with this part of the workplace population, we’ve found a widespread feeling that top management has no idea what’s it like on the front line or out in the field.

Besides, the CEO might actually learn something. The people who are actually making the widgets or creating the customer experience have valuable insights to share about the realities of the business.