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By Anja van den Berg

South Africans are slowly returning to the office – or at least to some form of hybrid workplace – and are finding that they have lost their co-working bond with many colleagues.

Over the past year and a half, most organisations have experienced some degree of change and fracturing. The world is now a different place after the challenges of remote work, dramatic uncertainty and colleagues passing away due to Covid-19.

The mass exodus of workers who had enough of cultures that make them feel devalued also threatens the sense of community. Social connections and cultural cohesion have been strained.

On top of all that, most remote work interactions have been only with our immediate colleagues. Research suggests that cross-functional collaboration went down by 25% as interactions within groups increased during the pandemic.

But fragmentation is not a by-product of remote work, says Ron Carucci, author of To Be Honest and Rising to Power. It is the result of a lack of intentional bridgebuilding to link groups and regions.

“Silos were certainly prevalent before the pandemic — hybrid work has simply created new requirements for effectively connecting teams that must work together to achieve shared outcomes,” Carucci explains.

Let’s look at three proven tactics that help leaders re-establish strong connections across organisational boundaries as they have shifted to hybrid work environments:

Assign task forces

Humans are naturally tribal beings, connecting with and identifying ourselves as one of our immediate group. Those outside the group are the “other”. This type of we-they thinking will intensify if cross-functional connections are not strengthened. To break down unhealthy tribalism, leaders should establish cross-functional teams, or task forces, to take responsibility for various parts of the organisation’s cultural health. Assign a network of teams to champion aspects like training, innovation, community building, etc. Each of these task forces should be composed of members from numerous functions and regions. Enabling people to establish new shared identities that bind them to one another more broadly helps reorientate their brains to form new relationships, seeing colleagues who were once “they” with fresh eyes.

Build a re-onboarding programme

Organisational solidarity means that team members create strong ties to one another while working towards a shared purpose. Relationships across functions are especially challenging to form with solidarity when people have not seen or spoken to one another in a long time. In many companies, a lot has changed during the pandemic. These changes can include a new organisation design, new colleagues, and shifts in people’s roles. Leadership must build a comprehensive re-onboarding plan for everyone in the company.

Build leadership learning cohorts

Carucci says the ultimate determinant of cross-functional health is the quality of leadership over the collaborating task teams. Leaders who model empathy, curiosity, proficiency with conflict, and who have a genuine desire to create widespread shared success build the strongest cross-functional partnerships. But these leadership skills don’t often come naturally. Carucci explains that the fastest way to shape strong, consistent, cross-functional leaders is to immerse them together in cohorts of leadership development. The idea is for small sub-teams, consisting of organisational leaders, to spend time on real projects. By establishing leadership cohort learning communities, leaders will intuitively feel more connected amongst themselves. It will also bind their shared organisational aspirations, which will naturally cascade down to their teams. The circle effect is that teams will now also connect more effectively with their cross-functional peers.

 

Sources:

Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2021/11/rebuilding-relationships-across-teams-in-a-hybrid-workplace

 

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