Does the membership department in your association know what the education department is planning? Do the two teams work closely together on joint initiatives with regular communication? Does the expertise of one team inform members of the other team?
If your answer is “no,” you aren’t alone. As much as we would like different departments to interact, the reality of association life is that teams often work in isolation, an environment we refer to as working in “silos.”
Isolated work can mean that different departments don’t see mutual benefits or savings in the projects they plan. They don’t benefit from the synergy of shared ideas. And isolation can encourage teams to work in opposition to other teams – exactly what you don’t want to happen.
It’s hard to collaborate when you work in a silo. Let’s explore this concept further.
[Related: How To Turn Your Board’s Vision Into Reality]
How Important is Associational Collaboration?
We know about an association whose education department wanted to build internal collaboration. They scheduled monthly luncheons for the education team. It worked well, and the rest of the staff could hear laughter coming from the lunchroom on education lunch days.
What the education department failed to recognize, however, is that other teams also wanted to be included. The symbol of a closed lunchroom door was a powerful negative message to their colleagues. And in the same way that education was building camaraderie in their department, they could have used this opportunity to strengthen ties with other departments. All the others needed was an invitation to lunch.
Of course, a shared lunch didn’t immediately solve all the problems of working in isolation. But it helped.
The benefits of collaboration are many and varied:
- Helps teams innovate
- Build friendships and a sense of shared purpose
- Discourages turf guarding
- Encourages information sharing
Coordinated efforts promote a healthy work environment that nurtures employees. Fostered over time, collaboration can increase to such a degree that it changes an association’s culture for the better.
To build a collaborative team, however, associations must break down departmental silos and hard divisions between senior and junior staff members. Communication must flow freely throughout the organization in a cohesive workplace. And it takes time and attention.
Departmental Goals for Improving Collaboration
If you’d like to break down the divisions between your departments, we have some suggestions for building more collaborative teams:
Make Collaboration an Association-Wide Goal
Describe the behavior you want and let everyone know why it’s important. Share what you expect to come out of new collaborative efforts and describe how collaboration will benefit staff members. Think about WIIFM (What’s in it for me?) from your staff’s viewpoint as you develop your message.
Reward the Behavior You Want
Create ways to recognize and reward collaboration wherever you spot it. You can use small gestures like praise in all-team meetings or larger gestures like prizes. Be sure to choose rewards that matter to your staff members.
Provide New Ways to Make Collaboration Easier for Staff Members
This might mean using a new collaboration or project management platform like Basecamp or Asana. It could mean a new communications tool like Slack.
We know one association whose culture required team members to respond to colleagues quickly. Phone calls between team members rarely went to voicemail; team members saw who was calling and picked up the phone. Likewise, team members answered texts within a few minutes and didn’t wait until the next day.
New communications technology could be helpful, but talking about making communication easier among staff members could produce positive changes without big expenditures.
[Related: Does Your Association Really Need an AMS?]
Encourage Departments to Develop Cross-Functional Teams
If a department has a special project or new challenge, encourage them to recruit colleagues from other departments. Working closely with other staff members allows a team to tap into new skills and helps build understanding across departments. This is particularly helpful for team members who are considering a move into a new department.
Make It Social
Buy lunch for the staff. Encourage departments to go out for lunch together. Meet up for a movie, bowling or other casual event. Make it fun and don’t require attendance. You can sponsor group lunches, even if your team works remotely. You also might consider happy hours or trivia contests. Check out the latest party games. Some of them can be adapted for remote teams.
Support Efforts to Collaborate
Encourage leadership (both paid and volunteer) to reward collaboration. Support efforts to interact among departments. Spring for a group lunch or make facilities available for a brown-bag luncheon. As a leader, collaborate. Show your staff, don’t just tell them.
Create Collaboration Spaces in Your Offices
Open-concept offices may not work for your association but ensure groups can meet comfortably together. Or provide software to meet digitally.
Including new people and ideas in planning sessions can create innovative approaches to existing challenges. Expect and reward innovation as it develops.
When collaboration produces great results, celebrate them together! Let everyone know how well the project went and the role collaboration played in having a great result.
Contact Dennison & Associates to Improve Collaboration at Your Association
Encouraging collaboration is an ongoing effort in associations and requires commitment from leaders and team members. Working in silos is so last century, but nothing will change without great leadership.
Encourage your team to collaborate and innovate to find new solutions. In the process of meeting new challenges together, they just might improve their work lives and their overall satisfaction with the association.
Are you interested in having a more collaborative association? But are you unsure how to get started, let alone implement an assessment? Contact Dennison & Associates today for a consultation.
Featured image via Pixabay