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

How to promote collaboration for employees working from home

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAX_AAAAJDYzODQwYWRjLWRlZGEtNDY3ZC04OWVkLTk0ZWQxNzVhY2RkNwPromoting a culture of collaboration is hard enough when employees are all in the same place. Even companies with only one location can be so siloed that people in the same building but different functional areas resist collaborating.

So how do you get employees working from home to collaborate with others? That starts with laying some groundwork that will be the foundation of future collaboration.

Employees are more likely to collaborate with people they know. In Tribe’s national research with employees of large companies, respondents told us they feel much more comfortable sharing ideas when they already have a relationship with their collaborative partners.

Home-based employees don’t get the opportunity to bump into people in the hallway. While office-based employees may exchange a few words in the elevator, the break room or the cafeteria, home-based folks probably see the UPS guy more than their co-workers.

Building human connections happens one conversation at a time. But even just having a face to attach to a name seems to help. In our research, employees said they’re better able to collaborate by phone and email with colleagues in other locations when they’ve met them in person at least once.

It’s important to provide home-based employees with opportunities to brush shoulders with their office-based colleagues. For major projects, try to have them attend some meetings in person, even if that means travel. If there’s an annual managers’ meeting or sales conference, they can build the beginnings of relationships there, especially during the non-meeting portions of the meeting where people have an opportunity to interact socially.

Another brick in the foundation for collaboration is to help home-based employees not feel invisible. Being the only voice on the Polycom phone in the center of the conference room table is tough when all the other meeting participants can see each other. Promote a meeting culture that’s consciously inclusive of remote callers and gives them a chance to weigh in on the conversation.

If there are company events they don’t customarily attend because of travel, don’t forget your home-based employees exist. When Tribe helped plan a global employee event that occurred on the same day in 28 offices around the world, we sent the small minority of home-based employees an event in a box. They received a package (no doubt delivered by their buddy the UPS guy) that included the same T-shirt everyone else received at the event, plus the themed collateral, printed buttons, a noisemaker and even a cookie.

Those sorts of tactics may not seem directly tied to promoting collaboration. They may even feel a little fluffy. But you can’t just tell people “Okay, now collaborate.” First, you have to help them feel comfortable doing so. Not so ironically, there’s a clear business benefit to treating all those office-based employees with common courtesy and kindness.

Interested in building engagement and collaboration in your work force? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

The horizontal silo: When leadership is just talking to themselves

Sometimes the top leadership of a company can be something of a closed system. The C-level and management a layer below tend to exsit in a horizontal silo that separates them from the rest of the company. Without a strong effort to create channels of communication between top management and rank-and-file employees, it doesn’t happen naturally.

Leadership often thinks employees know things they don’t. Important things for engagement and alignment, like their vision for the company, their strategic plans for growth, the values they want the company to use in doing business.

Towards the end of the Recession, we did some research on this topic with a limited sample of four or five large companies. First we spoke with leadership about their plans for handling the economic downturn and coming out stronger on the other end of it.

Without a single exception, leadership from every company said they had a clear vision. When we asked if they believed the employees were aware of and understood this vision, they said, yes, absolutely, we talk about it all the time.

Then we asked the same two questions of employees at each of those companies. What we heard from most of them were comments like: “I don’t think they have any idea how to get us through this;” “There’s no plan, not that I know of;” and “I don’t thing there’s a vision and it scares me.”

Why would leadership think employees know these things when they clearly do not? It’s because they themselves hear about the vision every day. They’re all sitting in the same meetings, seeing the same Powerpoints and having the same discussions. They know the vision, and they know how their department or division of the company is expected to contributes to that vision.

 In short, they’re talking to themselves. What’s needed is a strategic approach to communicating top management’s strategic direction and vision to people at all levels of the company.

They’re also not hearing the views of employees outside the C-Suite. If there’s little to no communciation direct from leadership to employees, then there’s  probably not an established two-way communciation channel either. So corporate management is missing out on all that employees could tell them. From suggestions and innovations to complaints and concerns. Both are useful for improving the company in a myriad of ways large and small.

Interested in establishing communication channels between your C-level and the rest of the company? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

TRIBE TRIVIA: Silos and Company Vision

True or False: When employees are isolated in functional silos, they have trouble connecting to the goals of the company overall.

True: Understanding how their work connects to the company vision is one of four negative impacts of silos, according to Tribe’s national research on functional silos. The other three downsides to solos cited by employees are poor communication, limited collaboration and duplicated work.

For more information about this study, see Tribe’s white papers and other resources on the expertise page of tribeinc.com, or contact Steve Baskin, President and Chief of Strategy at Tribe. 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Fostering collaboration by building respect for other expertise

If collaboration is a priority at your company, start by building 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.

Providing visibility is the catalyst. Employees can’t respect each other’s expertise if they don’t know about each other. One of the most important elements of collaboration is awareness of the work being done in other areas of the company.

Develop a channel a two that provide windows into other silos. There are numerous ways you can do this, including your intranet. One of the tactics Tribe often recommends is an employee culture magazine that features the work of individuals and teams across the range of functional divisions or business units or geographical locations.

A magazine can turn employees into celebrities. A feature article can explore a project or initiative in some depth, quoting several of the employees involved and sharing their successes and solutions. A spread of employee spotlights can showcase the work of three or four or even more employees in various functional areas. A roundtable article that includes management from several different silos can share their perspectives on topics like innovation or team building or leadership.

Shining the limelight on employees supports a culture of respect. A magazine or another channel with the same intention of showcasing the talent in your company communicates to all employees the value that each individual can bring to the company’s success. And a culture of respect helps create a work environment that fosters collaboration.

Interested in increasing collaboration in your organization? Tribe can help.