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Bridging the Divide

Sep 26, 2019

Following on from last month's video about the importance of getting people out of their lanes and into the messy intersections (in the context of collaboration), I had a great conversation with one senior leader about why this is so challenging. “It seems crazy,” she observed, “but even in smaller organisations, people experience stranger danger. I mean, everyone is polite to one another, but it’s hard to trust people when you don’t really know them.” Or, to quote The Doors: "People are strange when you're a stranger."

4 sure-fire ways to not be the stranger...

If you want people to collaborate, then you have to foster a strong sense of social connection. Collaborative leadership starts with an understanding of the boundaries and divides that exist between different parts of the business, and then taking steps to bridge them – well in advance of trying to initiate a collaborative endeavour.

What does that mean in practice? I approach this through the lens of my 4 ‘S’s – and collaborative leadership is about keeping initiatives alive on all 4 fronts:

  1. Socialise: How do you foster meaningful opportunities for people to spend time in one another’s company – no agenda, just to get to know one another? Think beyond Friday-night drinks (so many of us really just want to go home and spend time with our families). Instead, look to initiatives such as randomised coffee conversations that ritualise the idea of having coffee with a stranger. Or make a habit of inviting people from other teams as a guest to your own team’s morning team or daily quiz ritual. The key here is to make ‘invite a stranger’ a regular practice.

  2. Showcase: How do we let other people in to our world? How easy is it for people to get a clear sight of your team’s strategy, key projects, major lessons and biggest needs? One company I work with places posters up in all the bathrooms throughout the office, featuring Q&A interviews that showcase different people across the business. These change each month – and over my various visits, I feel like I’ve learned lots about different folks in a... well, captive environment!

  3. Scout: How do we make a deliberate effort to get out and find out about other teams, and bring back that learning to our own team? Even better, can we go and find people from the business to invite to our team meetings to share some insights about their work? Again, no agenda other than bridging divides and forging connection.

  4. Switch: Where can we find opportunities to let people come and sit in our own seat, while we sit in theirs? In one team I know, if the manager is away, their role is filled by someone from another team, as an opportunity to cross-pollinate ideas and learning. But if switching seems too hard, then its twin ‘S’ is Shadowing – where we look for ways to sit alongside someone in the business to get a sense of their world. “Hey, I’d love to get a first hand sense of what you do. Can I tag along to one of your partner briefing meetings – just for the insight?”

You know what I love most of all about all these ‘S’s? It’s that they’re simple and don’t need an organisational design workshop – or fancy collaboration platforms – to make them happen. All it takes is for leaders to regularly ask their teams a simple question: what can we do this week to forge connection and bridge divides? Would love to know what works best for you - just leave me a comment below. 

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