Reading Arianna Huffington’s newsletter last weekend, I was reminded of Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella’s caution just a short time into the work-from-home experiment ushered in by the global pandemic. During those early days, he anticipated risks, suggesting that we should “be on the lookout for what is lost.”
What’s been lost as a result of working from home?
Recently Microsoft clarified the risks and losses in its Work Trend Index: The Next Great Disruption Is Hybrid Work—Are We Ready? Based upon research with 30,000 people in 31 countries, the report offers a surprising insight. It turns out that “interactions with our immediate team, or close network, strengthened with the move to remote work. However, our interactions outside of that team, or distant networks, have diminished,” according to the report.
It’s a good news-bad news story. Team cohesion has remained strong – in some cases to the point of becoming more siloed – while connections with others in the organization have weakened. Let’s celebrate the leaders who took action to maintain and even enhance the health of their teams. But let’s quickly pivot to the challenge before them – and us. Weakening distant connections across teams represents one of the risks that Nadella foreshadowed.
Why do cross-team connections matter?
You don’t have to arrive at the ‘turf war’ or ‘us versus them’ level of dysfunction to see how siloed teams can present a danger to organizations. Something as innocuous as simply not thinking about other groups can wreak havoc on communication, innovation, customer satisfaction, culture, and more. That’s why building distant connections represents the next frontier for leaders and organizations committed to effective remote and hybrid work.
What can leaders do to radiate their intra-team connections outward toward inter-team success?
Gratefully, there are several easy-to-implement strategies that can help enhance cross-team and cross-function connection and interrupt the possible negative consequences of siloed thinking and behavior within a team. Consider any of the following alone or in combination for even greater results.
- Put it on the agenda (literally). Invite someone from another team to speak briefly to share their group’s contributions, cross-functional dependencies, and challenges during regularly scheduled team meetings. Making it a standing agenda item sends a clear signal about the importance of understanding and connecting more broadly.
- Establish liaisons or buddies. Pair up members of your team with colleagues from other groups. Set the expectation that they’ll regularly connect, share information, and report back with insights and learnings. Personal connections will strengthen cross-team connections and open multiple lines of communication.
- Make it a combo. Find excuses to bring different teams together. Why conduct training just for your group if it’s needed by others? Strategically invite other teams to join in for the learning and considerable side benefits that come along with it.
- Identify collaborative projects. Offer people compelling, real-work reasons to work together with those from other teams. There’s nothing like rolling up your sleeves and working shoulder-to-shoulder to build understanding, respect, and relationships.
- Offer a visceral experience. Walking in someone else’s shoes has the power to inspire profound connection. So, work with your peers who lead other teams to enable opportunities for temporary rotations. Find meaningful reasons to exchange employees for a short period of time. In addition, blurring team boundaries in this way can quickly break down siloes and build cohesion among teams.
How do these connections help the organization as a whole?
These strategies break down walls, enhance understanding, facilitate personal relationships, and build connections across teams. But let’s face it, the most powerful strategy is your leadership modeling. Practicing what you preach. Demonstrating what it looks like to invest in relationships outside of your core circle. And talking about those connections with your team and highlighting what you’ve learned and gained from others. Employees take their cues from leadership; so, make sure those cues point to silo-busting behaviors that will inspire others to act accordingly.
Leaders should celebrate their efforts over the past two years related to building strong connections within their teams. And those who want to ensure the success of remote and hybrid work should build upon their successes by finding ways to encourage the more distant – but equally vital – connections between and among teams.
Download a sample of Julie’s new book, Promotions Are So Yesterday here.