How to get different departments working together smoothly

They exist in every company, small or large.

Cliques.

They stare at each other across the refectory, workshop or conference room. You could cut the tension between them with a knife.

Who are they? Research. Marketing. HR. IT. Admin. Back Office. Sales. The Mailroom. Delivery Guys. Service. Et cetera ad infinitum.

Yet they all need to work together seamlessly to get a project completed, whatever it is … birthing a new product or service, rolling out a new brand, updating the company website, organizing the Christmas Party…

But how do you get these very different groups of people to work together? At Social Seeder we think the solution is:

“Stop looking at them as departments and start looking at them as people”

We would like to present three ideas how to do this.

Idea One: Take them off-site

The objective here is to give your employees space and time to interact with each other in an unfamiliar setting, where different goals come into play. We believe that the activity will allow people to let their guard down, relax, and discover a whole new side to their coworkers. It will forge new relationships, and build a spirit of teamwork.

Of course, it’s fraught with the potential for disaster. If two groups aren’t talking to each other across the factory, then pitting them against each other as competing teams in a game of touch rugby could well lead to some pretty heavy touches!

The trick is to mix and match, randomly assigning people to different groups to break up the cliques. Then give them a challenge or a problem which will hopefully unite them against a common foe as they join forces to find the solution.

Practical ideas could be serving the local community in some way, such as cleaning up a local park of its litter, repainting the crèche down the road, or planting trees with the local nature conservation organization. Or why don’t you ask them to come up with a task themselves?

Idea Two: Learn thankfulness

At first sight, the idea of giving each other money as an expression of thankfulness for a job well done also sounds potentially disastrous. There’s ample opportunity here for mutual embarrassment from both sides. The gift might be perceived as too little, too much, or simply inappropriate, whatever the amount.

However, we consider this a great way to encourage employees to connect with each other. Let’s take a concrete example.

Just imagine that Bram in the design department needed a specific program installed so that she could work on a new aspect of a product. Jef from IT took time out from his normal duties to install and set up the software. To express her thanks, Bram decides to give Johan 5 EUR via Bonus.ly. Positive feelings of kindness and gratitude flow from Bram to Jef in a tangible way via the bonus, and Jef feels valued and grateful in return. A bridge is built for future collaboration between those departments.

If you think it’s likely to work in your organization, why don’t you try it out first with a pilot project involving just three or four people? If it works well, they’ll be great evangelists. (If it doesn’t, you may have to pay them to keep quiet!)

Idea Three: Exchange places

A famous proverb accredited to the Cherokee tribe of Native Americans says “Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes.” Harper Lee had the same idea in To Kill a Mockingbird: “You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

The point is that disagreements frequently arise from misunderstandings, and putting yourself in the position of your adversary can help you understand his or her perspectives, challenges and problems. And who knows, even some opportunities that that person was unaware of.

To put it into practice, why not 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? We believe that each pair of employees will come out of the experience with much more empathy towards one another.

 

So there you are: three ideas to break down those annoying silences, petty frustrations and apparent incompatibility between departments. Try one or all of them out, and let us know how you get on!

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Sebastian Matoso is Co-CEO of Social Seeder, passionate about the Social Media ecosystem and the power of Word-of-Mouth. Sebastian is also a fan of startups, thus when not at work he is exploring new disruptive ideas and models or bringing his family to explore new frontiers.