Lucy dhr
Lucy Adams
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Almost every leader I speak to is looking to create more collaboration. The need to work across departmental or geographical boundaries is, of course, largely driven by digital technology which has no respect for traditional silos. As HRD at the BBC I faced the challenge of creating more cross-departmental working and one collaboration in particular caused a bit of grief. The BBC had a history of operating in “gangs”; TV, Radio, News, etc, but the changes to how we consume media because of digital meant that the BBC TV and BBC Online teams had to work much more collaboratively to create a better experience for audiences.

There were many barriers to this relationship being easy. BBC TV had always been seen as the cool older brother with its large budgets and its network of TV celebs. BBC Online was kind of the younger, nerdier sibling – perceived as bearded guys, historically producing websites for the latest season of ‘Strictly Come Dancing’. They worked to different timeframes, with a TV series taking years from commission to transmission, whereas Online guys prized ‘shipping products’ quickly. For TV executives, landing a job at the BBC was often seen as the ultimate prize, whereas the Online recruits were likely to aspire to tech companies in their career planning. The need to work together posed a real problem as the relationship often suffered from a lack of trust, respect for each other’s talents and common goals. Sound like any teams in your organisation?

A need for collaboration between teams with seemingly insurmountable relationship problems or who just don’t know/trust each other is something many HR teams/leaders are wrestling with. Unfortunately, many of our traditional approaches to people leadership do nothing to help foster better working relationships and, in some cases, actively work against them. So how can HR/leaders help to create greater collaboration? Here we look at four of the approaches that companies are taking to ensure their people focus on beating the competition and not the team next door.

Importing Talent from the ‘Enemy’

Nothing helps break down silos better than getting to know each other and realising that they aren’t quite so odd and different. So, there’s more reasons to get your people to move around the organisation than just providing career development. When you import talent from the ‘enemy’ they help to build bridges and break down trust barriers. How are you rewarding and encouraging leaders for hiring from outside their department? One major US bank brings together clusters of leaders from different Divisions once a month for a “Talking Talent” hour. During this session they discuss the people in their teams who might be ready for a move or roles they have that need filling. Over time, they have seen much higher levels of movement between Divisions as leaders got to know (and trust) the talent in their peers’ teams. The once a year Talent Review just doesn’t get the same results. Where this approach increased the demand for cross-team moves, Nielsen, the global consulting firm, increased their supply with their “Ready to Rotate” initiative. This made it more acceptable to flag if you wanted to try out a new area of the business. Instead of rewarding leaders for clinging onto talent, we have to celebrate them when they share.

Peer to Peer

Traditional performance management systems rarely foster collaborative behaviour. Our objectives cascades from the senior team down to each individual reinforce the traditional silos. Performance ratings focus our attention on individual rather than collective contributions. And if you are unlucky enough to be suffering with the agonies of forced rank distribution, then you are actively discouraging collaboration as it only becomes possible for me to get the best rating if you get a lower one. New approaches to managing performance are reducing the emphasis on the individual and are focusing on where the work actually gets done – in teams – and very often, cross-functional teams. Frequent objective setting at a team level, including within project/agile teams, help to reinforce the need to work together to deliver. Smarter organisations are also introducing more frequent team reviews where the team leader acts as a facilitator of peer review rather than the parental dynamic of the one-to-one. Using the team review format with cross-functional teams helps to build understanding and trust. One manufacturing company we worked with introduced this to great effect. The HRD told me that, whilst it felt a bit uncomfortable at the beginning, the teams got better and better at it and the impact on both individual performance and collaborative working was significant.

Generosity Wins

In Margaret Heffernan’s brilliant book “Willful Blindness” she dedicates the whole of Chapter 10 to the problems with bonuses and their negative impact on collaboration. Given that most companies I meet cite collaboration and breaking down silos among their main priorities, spending millions on a reward structure that encourages selfishness and individual over team effort seems counter intuitive. One example of a different approach comes from TINT a US social-media company who got rid of individual sales commission. They recognised that the sale process is a complex one, involving several different employees in the customer lifecycle (including marketing lead-generation, account managers, developers solving bugs, ongoing customer support, etc) and that paying sales people differently to the rest of the organisation was divisive. They wanted to weed out selfish behaviour and encourage true collaboration and their solution was to replace individual commissions with a monthly team bonus to reward everyone who touches the customer.

Companies are also experimenting with encouraging employees to reward each other and recognise collaborative behaviours. Rewards provider Next Jump have an app called “Top 10” which they also run for their own people. For the monthly Top-10 award, only one question is asked: “who most helped you to succeed this month?” It has nothing to do with how much revenue or profit you made – its sole focus is how you helped others. Asking “who helped you to succeed” dramatically changed the type of nominations received. It became all about people and recognising the right, collaborative behaviours.

And finally, leaders

Most of the organisations I have worked in have expressed dismay at the existence of impenetrable silos whilst, in practice, have set leaders up to compete with one another. The way we set targets, measure performance and reward bonuses all combine to encourage leaders to look after and protect their own budgets, clients and teams. There are some smarter companies who are recognising that their desire for innovation and agility will only be achieved if they start to value different types of leaders. Red Bull have developed an amazing new assessment tool (called Wingfinder) to help them hire the right kind of people and that means people who are connected and are able to build great relationships. Similarly, Cisco carry out a robust assessment of leadership performance based, in part, on their ability to interact and collaborate with each other. Connectivity as a key attribute for leaders can only become more important in this joined up world.

Whilst the changes we made at the BBC to help build a better relationship between TV and Online did lead to some small improvements, things only improved dramatically when both teams had a change of leader. Both of the new appointments were fantastic role models of collaboration and mutual respect. The way they spoke about each other’s teams, the way they were open to hiring from and losing talent to each other, the way they were prepared to share information and resources – all set the tone for their respective team members. If we’re not helping our business to choose leaders who inherently see the benefits of collaboration, and who value individual achievement over collective impact, then those silos stand firm.

HR has a huge role to play in creating the conditions where collaboration can thrive. From how we define, manage and measure performance, to the behaviours we choose to reward and the individuals and teams that get hired (and fired) – every move we make will either scream “greed is good” or will encourage a greater generosity of spirit.

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