You've probably heard the saying “It takes a village to raise a child”. The same concept holds true in business, regarding the successful generation, development, and completion of a project.
Multiple departments need to work seamlessly together in order to get the job done right and "birth" a product or service that customers really want. Your research department needs to be on the same page as the marketing group, and your business office has to be in sync with the IT department. How do you get those very different groups of people to work together? It all starts when you stop looking at them as departments and start looking at them as people.
Tip 1: The Off-site Activity
An off-site activity involves taking your employees out of the workplace and allowing them to interact with each other in a different setting, with different goals. Ideally, the activity forges new relationships, builds a spirit of teamwork, and allows people to let their guard down, relax, and discover a whole new side to their coworkers.
Getting an off-site activity to work well can be tricky. For example, you don't want to pit the marketing team against the IT guys in a bowling tournament, especially if there is already a rivalry or bad blood between those groups. Instead, think about randomly assigning people to different groups so that you have units of individuals from every department. Then, give them a challenge to face or a problem to solve together. Unite everyone against a common foe, like a market obstacle, a rival company, or a complex product plan that needs to be clarified and improved. Perhaps your teams could purchase food and cook dinner for everyone together, or work on a community project such as playground cleanup, collecting for a food bank, or building affordable housing.
Depending on the size of your company, you may have to do multiple off-sites in order to get everyone engaged and involved. If your company is very large and the event is too big, people will simply congregate in comfortable groups that consist of only their direct coworkers, and the event will not have the impact you intended. Mix it up with different individuals from each department, and remember that good food always has a disarming effect on human beings.
Tip 2: The Gratitude Strategy
Thanks to technology, there are a myriad of new ways to encourage your employees to connect with each other. Using the Slack program, you can consolidate all your communications within the business. Your employees can chat in groups using various channels indicated by hashtags, similar to Twitter feeds. Once you implement Slack, you can also try using Bonus.ly. This program gives each employee a certain amount of cash which they can award to other employees at your company.
Let's say that Dave in the design department needed a specific program installed so that he could work on a new aspect of a product. Megan from IT took time from her other duties and worked diligently to install and set up the software. To express his gratitude, Dave decides to give Megan $4 via Bonus.ly. Positive feelings of kindness and gratitude flow from Dave to Megan in a tangible way via the bonus, and Megan feels valued and grateful in return. A bridge is built for future collaboration between those departments.
Tip 3: The Empathy Effect
Often, discord amongst departments occurs when people don't understand each other. When humans don't understand something or someone, they tend to regard that thing or person with suspicion, dislike, or disdain. Openly sharing all the information and placing it in context is vital to combating misunderstandings. Eliminate or explain the departmental jargon that could cause confusion, and encourage clarity and common terms instead.
You can take this strategy a step further. As the old adage states, sometimes you need to walk in someone else's shoes in order to understand that person. Consider implementing a monthly program in which you have two randomly selected employees shadow each other for a couple of days so they can better understand each other's perspectives. Each pair of employees should come out of the experience with much more empathy towards one another.
Ultimately, any strategy that helps your employees see each other as people, not departments, can be very successful in building interdepartmental collaboration. With more collaboration comes greater productivity, which in turn benefits your business as a whole. Take a few moments to plan your next off-site, investigate Bonus.ly, or strategize some ways to build empathy among your employees.